Final College Football Playoff Projections, Pairings for Every Bowl Game
With conference championship week done, the 2018 college football regular season is over except for the shouting.
And, buddy, there will be shouting.
Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are going to the College Football Playoff. But out of Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and UCF, only one team will be happy with the No. 4 seed. (You can safely assume UCF will be one of the three unhappy schools from that group, but the Knights will just declare they won another national championship and feel better about the snub once again.)
There wasn't an upset among the six major championships, though, so our playoff projections haven't changed from one week ago. We still have Oklahoma making the cut to face (and likely get destroyed by) Alabama, while Georgia and Ohio State are left to settle for the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, respectively.
And in case you can't wait until Sunday afternoon's hours-long selection show, we've got projections for all 40 bowl games.
Group of 5 Bowls
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Nevada
AutoNation Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette*
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Ohio vs. Georgia Southern*
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State* vs. UAB
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee
DXL Frisco Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Utah State
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo* vs. Florida International*
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise State vs. Buffalo
Dollar General Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Troy*
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii* vs. Louisiana Tech*
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State* vs. San Diego State
*Teams have already accepted bowl invites
A hearty thank-you goes out from all of us in the bowl projecting business to the Sun Belt Conference for already announcing in which bowl games its five teams will play. It was also nice of Toledo, Florida International and Louisiana Tech to lock in their spots ahead of time, minimizing the amount of guesswork that goes into the picks for C-USA and the MAC.
There's still a ton of uncertainty, though, as none of the Group of Five conferences have a hierarchy for their bowl assignments. Aside from the Mountain West champ going to the Las Vegas Bowl and the Sun Belt champ to the New Orleans Bowl, just about everything is up for grabs.
And this year, there's even the added element of too few bowls for all the six-win teams. Thanks to Virginia Tech's Week 14 win over Marshall, five bowl-eligible teams will be left out of the postseason picture.
The natural assumption is that those will be Southern Miss, Miami-Ohio, Wyoming and Louisiana-Monroe, since those are the six-win teams from each of the four worst conferences, in addition to independent school Liberty. However, there's no guarantee those schools will miss the cut.
But if these are the 11 matchups in this tier, sign us up for the New Orleans Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. In the former, UAB gets a chance against Appalachian State to show the world how quickly it has recovered from that two-year hiatus without a football program. And in the latter, Buffalo vs. Boise State is one heck of a "consolation" game between the losers of the MAC and MWC championships.
Lower-Tier Power 5 Bowls
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: California vs. Fresno State*
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Duke vs. South Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Wake Forest
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: BYU vs. North Texas
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Temple vs. Georgia Tech
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
There were only a couple of minor changes in this tier from last week, since the majority of these teams didn't play in conference championships.
One of the noteworthy games came when Virginia Tech took care of business against Marshall to lock up its sixth win and secure a spot in a bowl game for the 26th consecutive season. It won't be a high-profile contest, of course. And if the Hokies do play Cincinnati in the Military Bowl, the Bearcats might smash them. But they succeeded in their mission of scheduling this last-ditch effort to play in a bowl.
Elsewhere, Stanford beat California in a makeup game from two weeks ago and bumped the Golden Bears down to this tier to face the Mountain West Conference champ—a rite of passage for the sixth-best/most marketable team out of the Pac-12. There's a reasonable case to be made that Arizona State (No. 7 in the Pac-12 pecking order) should also move ahead of Cal, but the Sun Devils should draw a much better crowd in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix.
The only other noteworthy change here was a swap of Duke and Georgia Tech. We previously had Georgia Tech slated to face South Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, but several readers astutely noted that those teams already faced each other back in September and probably wouldn't be matched up again unless it was the only choice—and there are plenty of options for shuffling the lower-tier ACC teams and the American Athletic Conference teams.
Georgia Tech vs. Temple should be a more entertaining game anyway. Ryquell Armstead vs. TaQuon Marshall could be a blast.
Power 5 Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Virginia vs. Michigan State
Cheez-It Bowl: Arizona State vs. TCU
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Purdue
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Baylor
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Minnesota vs. Vanderbilt
Belk Bowl: NC State vs. South Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College vs. Stanford
Redbox Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Auburn vs. Miami
As with the previous tier, changes here were few and far between from one week ago, and they were primarily a trickle-down effect from when LSU replaced Washington State in the New Year's Six bowls. Prior to last Tuesday's rankings show, I assumed the two-loss Cougars would be ranked ahead of the three-loss Tigers. However, LSU was No. 10 and Washington State was No. 13, so some changes were necessary.
Because of that shift, the SEC's Mississippi State moved up to the next tier and Vanderbilt moved here from the previous one. It also impacted the Pac-12, bumping Oregon down to this tier and enabling the conference to fill its affiliation with the Cheez-It Bowl (Arizona State).
Without a close runner-up, the most entertaining game of this group should be the Liberty Bowl, provided you're entertained by high-octane passing attacks and minimal defense. Missouri's Drew Lock and Oklahoma State's Taylor Cornelius might combine for 900 passing yards against those mutually ineffective secondaries.
As far as the secondary ticket market is concerned, though, the best game would be Auburn vs. Miami in the Gator Bowl. It was a woefully disappointing season for both of those preseason AP Top 10 teams, but those fanbases will travel—and neither one needs to travel all that far to Jacksonville, Florida.
Keep an eye out for this Belk Bowl matchup, too. Not only would both teams be well-represented in Charlotte, North Carolina, but both NC State's Ryan Finley and South Carolina's Jake Bentley will be looking to make big final impressions on NFL scouts. (Bentley's a junior, but there's a non-zero chance he'll declare.) That game will get overshadowed by the College Football Playoff semifinals and the Peach Bowl, but it could be an entertaining affair all the same.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Camping World Bowl: Iowa State vs. Syracuse
Valero Alamo Bowl: West Virginia vs. Washington State
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. Utah
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State
Could the Alamo Bowl be the most entertaining of all the bowls? Prior to the Apple Cup, we had been projecting Washington State to face Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, which would've been a ridiculous, five-hour game with more than 100 points and close to 1,500 total yards. But the Cougars might still land in that type of contest against West Virginia that would feature QBs Gardner Minshew II and Will Grier.
The Holiday Bowl will be a much different story, pitting two of the nation's stingiest defenses against a pair of mediocre offenses that have struggled with quality defenses.
If we get those two matchups, there should be a prop bet on whether there will be more scoring plays in the Alamo Bowl or more first downs in the Holiday Bowl. (Tip: Pick the Alamo.)
Elsewhere, Penn State's New Year's Day game will be a lot of fun. If it's Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley against Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen, it'd be an outstanding battle of some of the underappreciated great players from this season. Conversely, if the Nittany Lions draw Mississippi State instead, it'll be two dual-threat QBs going head to head, with the added factor of MSU head coach Joe Moorhead versus the team he left last offseason. Either way, the general public can't lose with that SEC/B1G showdown.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec. 29): No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Michigan
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): No. 8 UCF vs. No. 11 LSU
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Washington
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): No. 16 Texas vs. No. 5 Georgia
Projecting Sunday's final CFP rankings for context
Alabama QB Jalen Hurts is going to get all of the national attention for his performance in relief of an injured Tua Tagovailoa, but holy cow was UCF's Darriel Mack Jr. fantastic filling in for McKenzie Milton, who is recovering from a devastating leg injury.
Memphis jumped out to an early 24-7 lead over the Knights, and it looked like there was going to be a major shake-up with the Mountain West champion replacing UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But Mack was sensational in leading the Knights on five consecutive touchdown drives in the second half, storming back for a 56-41 victory. He finished the afternoon with 407 combined passing and rushing yards and six total touchdowns.
It won't be enough for the Knights to climb into the Top Four. Maybe they move up one spot ahead of Michigan. They also might slip one spot behind Pac-12 champion Washington. We shall see what the committee decides, but it doesn't matter. They're going to the Fiesta Bowl to take on either LSU or Florida in hopes of extending their winning streak to 26 games. (And locking down another self-proclaimed national championship.)
Elsewhere in this tier, I learned earlier this week that there's no scenario in which West Virginia would represent the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, even if the Mountaineers (currently No. 16) end up ranked ahead of Texas (currently No. 14). Following its loss to Oklahoma—and given its head-to-head loss to WVU—there's a good chance the Longhorns will drop behind the Mountaineers in the final rankings. However, the Big 12 has a rule stating that its champion goes to the Sugar Bowl, unless that team ends up in the playoff, in which case the runner-up goes to the Sugar Bowl.
If Georgia remains ranked ahead of Oklahoma, though, the Sooners would go to the Sugar Bowl, either LSU or Florida would slide into the Sugar Bowl, Texas would disappear from this tier, and No. 12 Penn State would rise up to face UCF, LSU or Florida.
College Football Playoff
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Clemson
This was our projection one week ago, and everything played to form in conference championship week. Thus, no changes.
Of course, there will be vigorous arguments.
Georgia came oh-so-close to beating Alabama and arguably proved in the process that it is one of the four best teams in the country. However, the Bulldogs blew a 14-point lead and looked helpless on defense against a backup quarterback. Granted, Jalen Hurts isn't your average backup, but they had every opportunity to win that game, and they blew it. And to put a two-loss team that didn't win its conference in the playoff ahead of multiple one-loss power-conference champions would be a bit ridiculous.
Ohio State will also claim it deserved to be ranked ahead of Oklahoma, thanks to last week's statement win over Michigan and wins away from home over Penn State, TCU, Michigan State and Northwestern. But the Buckeyes dug themselves too deep a hole with their poor play in early October through mid-November. They needed to blow out Northwestern and get some help in the form of an Oklahoma loss, and neither of those things happened. (They won by 21, but that was no blowout.)
So if the selection committee does what it should, we'll get a fantastic battle between Heisman front-runners Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray in the Cotton Bowl and a showdown of undefeated teams Clemson and Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. And if those games play out the way that most expect, it'll be Alabama vs. Clemson in the College Football Playoff for a fourth consecutive year.
Bring it on.
Bowl Games by Conference
Teams are listed in alphabetical order by conference.
American (seven teams): Cincinnati (Military Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), South Florida (Gasparilla Bowl), Temple (Independence Bowl), Tulane (Cure Bowl), UCF (Fiesta Bowl)
ACC (11 teams): Boston College (Sun Bowl), Clemson (Orange Bowl), Duke (Gasparilla Bowl), Georgia Tech (Independence Bowl), Miami (Gator Bowl), North Carolina State (Belk Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Syracuse (Camping World Bowl), Virginia (Quick Lane Bowl), Virginia Tech (Military Bowl), Wake Forest (Birmingham Bowl)
Big 12 (seven teams): Baylor (Texas Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Sugar Bowl), West Virginia (Alamo Bowl)
Big Ten (nine teams): Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Michigan (Peach Bowl), Michigan State (Quick Lane Bowl), Minnesota (Music City Bowl), Northwestern (Outback Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Purdue (Pinstripe Bowl), Wisconsin (Redbox Bowl)
Conference USA (six teams): Florida International (Bahamas Bowl), Louisiana Tech (Hawaii Bowl), Marshall (New Mexico Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Boca Raton Bowl), North Texas (First Responder Bowl), UAB (New Orleans Bowl)
Independents (three teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (First Responder Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)
Mid-American (six teams): Buffalo (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl), Northern Illinois (Dollar General Bowl), Ohio (Camellia Bowl), Toledo (Bahamas Bowl), Western Michigan (Frisco Bowl)
Mountain West (six teams): Boise State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Fresno State (Las Vegas Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Frisco Bowl)
Pac-12 (seven teams): Arizona State (Cheez-It Bowl), California (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Redbox Bowl), Stanford (Sun Bowl), Utah (Holiday Bowl), Washington (Rose Bowl), Washington State (Alamo Bowl)
SEC (11 teams): Alabama (Cotton Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Peach Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Citrus Bowl), LSU (Fiesta Bowl), Mississippi State (Outback Bowl), Missouri (Liberty Bowl), South Carolina (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas Bowl), Vanderbilt (Music City Bowl)
Sun Belt (five teams): Appalachian State (New Orleans Bowl), Arkansas State (Arizona Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Cure Bowl), Troy (Dollar General Bowl)
Six-Win Teams Left Out: Southern Miss (C-USA), Miami-Ohio (MAC), Wyoming (MWC), Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt), Liberty (Independents)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.