College Football Playoff Projections: Week 7 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
The College Football Playoff selection committee won't start releasing its Top 25 rankings for another few weeks, but the Associated Press poll is a decent indicator of where things stand. It's likely the order would be different in the eyes of the 13 people who will have the final say—for instance, we're projecting AP No. 6 Oklahoma for the No. 4 seed in the playoff—but the tiers would probably be the same.
There is a clear Top Six of (in alphabetical order) Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Good luck finding anyone whose playoff projection doesn't have four of those six teams.
Beyond that, Florida and Wisconsin are in a mini-tier at Nos. 7 and 8. Each has beaten a quality team at home—Florida vs. Auburn this weekend; Wisconsin vs. Michigan in Week 4—but neither one has done enough to break into the Top Six.
They're close, though, and they'll have opportunities to knock off LSU, Ohio State and Georgia over the next month. Put it this way: Neither the Badgers nor the Gators would be in the Top Six today, but they may well be Nos. 1 and 2 if they're still undefeated when the first CFP Top 25 is released in early November.
And then there are five others—Auburn, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State and Texas—who have at least a perceptible playoff pulse.
With four AP Top 10 teams playing away from home against ranked opponents, and with Clemson, Georgia, Wisconsin and Notre Dame hosting quality unranked opponents, Week 7 is going to throw a few wrenches into what has been a well-oiled machine. Expect significant changes to the New Year's Six projections next week. But this is what the bowl picture looks like now.
Win-loss projections for the next two months factored heavily into this exercise. There are teams with 2-3 records included and others with 3-2 records excluded because of the difficulties of their remaining schedules. There's also a team ranked No. 20 in the New Year's Six, while No. 7 Florida fell short of that group. We'll explain why when we get there.
Group of 5 Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Liberty* vs. Western Kentucky
Frisco Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Navy
New Mexico Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Wyoming
Cure Bowl: Louisiana vs. UCF
Boca Raton Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Ohio
Camellia Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia State
New Orleans Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. Louisiana Tech
Gasparilla Bowl: North Texas vs. Temple
Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Hawaii
Arizona Bowl: Air Force vs. Arkansas State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Fresno State vs. Western Michigan
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo
*Liberty takes a spot the MAC is unable to fill.
San Jose State (3-2) didn't quite sneak into this projection, as the Spartans still have five likely losses left on their schedule. But their quest for bowl eligibility is perhaps the greatest Group of Five Cinderella story this season.
SJSU already has as many wins as it did in the previous two seasons combined (3-22), including a stunning road triumph over Arkansas in Week 4. Behind 405 passing yards from Josh Love, the Spartans got back above .500 last week with a 32-21 win over New Mexico in which they opened the game on a 26-0 run. If they can win this week's toss-up game at Nevada, a 6-6 finish will become a possibility.
Speaking of six wins, is any team in the Mid-American Conference East going to get there? All six teams have sub-.500 records and a negative scoring margin. Moreover, not one of them has won multiple games against FBS opponents. Ohio and Buffalo still appear to be the two best teams in the division, though the latter just lost at home to the former to fall to 2-4. Ohio is the only MAC East team in this projection.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): San Diego State vs. Washington
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): Army* vs. Memphis
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): SMU vs. Virginia Tech
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Kansas State vs. UAB
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Miami vs. Tulane
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Maryland vs. Utah State
*Army takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
Mid-October is always the peak time for talking yourself into the Group of Five going undefeated against the Power Five in this tier.
Aside from Boise State—which is projected for a New Year's Six Bowl—these are the best Group of Five teams. SMU and Memphis are still undefeated, and Tulane might be the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference. San Diego State has one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, and UAB and Utah State have quarterbacks who are going to play in the NFL.
Meanwhile, each of the Power Five teams (and Army) has already suffered multiple losses and looks like it could fall apart at the seams at any given moment. Neither Washington nor Kansas State was even competitive in its Week 6 loss, and neither Virginia Tech nor Miami came away from their head-to-head battle smelling like roses. At least Maryland blew out Rutgers, but is that even the type of win that can be used to build momentum?
Of the bunch, the Birmingham Bowl looks like the most entertaining. The Tulane defense is no joke, and four of Miami's five games have been decided by one possession. Of course, the 2-3 Hurricanes need to turn things around to even become bowl-eligible. If they lose to Virginia on Friday, their 41-year streak of seasons with at least five wins could be in jeopardy.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Nebraska vs. North Carolina
Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh
Texas Bowl: Kentucky vs. TCU
Cheez-It Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Washington State
Redbox Bowl: Arizona vs. Indiana
Music City Bowl: Syracuse vs. Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. North Carolina State
Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. California
Liberty Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Iowa State
Gator Bowl: Michigan State vs. Missouri*
*Missouri is banned from postseason play, but it has an appeal pending. Until there is concrete news to the contrary, we'll entertain the possibility of the Tigers in a bowl game.
It was inadvertent that it worked out this way, but how amazing would it be if the Cheez-It Bowl—which was a 10-7 calamity between TCU and California last year—had the highest over/under of bowl season with Mike Leach going up against the team he used to coach? Texas Tech put up 45 points and nearly 600 yards last week in a statement win over Oklahoma State, and Washington State has scored at least 58 points in three of its five games.
At the opposite end of the point-scoring spectrum, a Gator Bowl between Michigan State and Missouri would be a "race" to 14 points.
The Spartans took one on the chin against Ohio State last week, but they have been sensational on defense against teams that don't have one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. Meanwhile, since a season-opening loss to Wyoming, Missouri has held its last four opponents to 7.8 points and 186.8 yards per game. And it's not like Michigan State is anything close to an offensive juggernaut.
Somewhere in between those two extremes, Nebraska vs. North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl would be a fun one. The Cornhuskers were supposed to be a fringe contender for the College Football Playoff in Scott Frost's second season. The Tar Heels were supposed to finish in the basement of the Atlantic Coast Conference in Mack Brown's first season. After six weeks, though, UNC would probably be a slight favorite for what would be a highly entertaining quarterback showdown between Sam Howell and Adrian Martinez.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Arizona State vs. Iowa
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Baylor vs. Wake Forest
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Oklahoma State vs. Utah
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn vs. Michigan
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Penn State vs. Florida
In theory, the New Year's Six should feature the 12 best teams in the nation.
In reality, there will be teams in this tier that would likely destroy a few squads in the New Year's Six, due to the conference affiliations for the Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowls and the need to include the best Group of Five team in the Cotton Bowl.
In this case, AP No. 7 Florida*, No. 10 Penn State and No. 12 Auburn all get relegated to this tier because No. 13 Oregon, No. 14 Boise State and No. 20 Virginia have to represent their conferences in NY6 games. The end result is that the Citrus Bowl and Outback Bowl—which are actually played on New Year's Day—will likely be more entertaining than the NY6's Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28) and Orange Bowl (Dec. 30).
But instead of lamenting the potential fate of teams that still have national championship aspirations, let's discuss this Camping World Bowl projection for a moment.
Baylor and Wake Forest are two of the biggest positive surprises of the 2019 season. Neither received a single preseason vote in the AP poll, but both are sitting at 5-0, lurking as teams who could throw a colossal wrinkle into everyone's College Football Playoff expectations.
Could Baylor win one of its back-to-back home games against Oklahoma and Texas, throwing a wrench into the Big 12 championship picture? Is there any chance Wake Forest wins that road game against Clemson on Nov. 16, possibly stealing the Tigers' spot in the ACC title game?
The answer to both questions is: probably not. If they're still hanging around with zero or one loss by mid-November, though, it will keep things mighty interesting in conferences that otherwise would get quite boring toward the end of the regular season.
*If projections were solely based on current AP rankings, Florida would be in the Cotton Bowl instead of No. 9 Notre Dame. However, Notre Dame is projected to win each remaining game to finish at 11-1 while the most likely result for the Gators is a 10-2 record with losses to LSU and Georgia. In that scenario, the Fighting Irish would finish ahead of Florida.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Boise State vs. Notre Dame
Will either of these teams be tested again this season? Boise State has a couple of tricky road games against BYU and Utah State, but there's nothing the Broncos can't handle. And aside from the road game against Michigan later this month, nothing on Notre Dame's remaining schedule stands out as a possible loss.
But it would take a whole lot of chaos for these wild cards to play their way into the playoff conversation. Even if Clemson and Oklahoma both dropped out of the picture, a Top Four with two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams seems more likely than one with the Broncos or the Fighting Irish, as the strengths of schedule won't even be comparable.
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): LSU vs. Virginia
"ACC runner-up to Clemson" against "Either Notre Dame or one of the best non-playoff teams from the SEC or Big Ten" has the potential to get all sorts of ugly. But this projected showdown between Joe Burrow and a darn fine Virginia secondary could be an exception.
We're going to find out a lot more about both of these teams this week. LSU will face a respectable defense (Florida) for the first time, while Virginia has to go on the road for a Friday night game against a Miami team in desperation mode. The Tigers face the much more difficult opponent from the Sunshine State, but those are key games for both the ACC and SEC standings.
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Georgia vs. Texas
The College Football Playoff selection committee's worst nightmare would be Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State all going 13-0 while Georgia goes 12-1 with a close loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship. Would the Dawgs—who would have wins over Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M—get left out in favor of teams like Clemson and Oklahoma that play a significantly weaker schedule?
Either a few upsets will happen and the debate will be moot, or we'll have another two months to figure out the answer to that question. For now, though, we're still leaving Georgia out of the playoff and sending it on a second consecutive trip to the Sugar Bowl. Should the Bulldogs draw Texas in that game once again, maybe they'll actually show up this time.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon vs. Wisconsin
"Hey, Siri, what's the record for fewest combined points scored in the Rose Bowl?"
Wisconsin has the nation's stingiest defense, allowing a meager 178.6 yards and 5.8 points per game. Oregon isn't far behind, ranking in the top seven in both categories at 261.4 and 9.8, respectively.
Yet, in the midst of what figures to be a rock fight, the Badgers have a running back (Jonathan Taylor) who might set some career FBS rushing records, while the Ducks have a quarterback (Justin Herbert) who might go No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL draft. The Rose Bowl is always a must-watch affair, but this particular B1G-P12 combination could be the rare low-scoring, thrill-a-minute contest.
(In case you're wondering, California and Washington & Jefferson played a 0-0 tie in the 1922 Rose Bowl. The lowest-scoring Rose Bowl in the past four decades came when Wisconsin beat Stanford 17-9 on Jan. 1, 2000. Oregon and Wisconsin could go under 26 points, though.)
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 3 Clemson
After six weeks, not much has changed from our preseason projections. The Peach Bowl matchup is exactly the same, and the Fiesta Bowl just has Clemson facing a different Big Ten champion—Ohio State instead of Michigan.
The dearth of major upsets this season has felt a bit boring at times, but it's also thrilling to realize we're about 40 percent of the way to seeing this quartet duke it out in a storyline bonanza.
In the Peach Bowl, not only would Alabama vs. Oklahoma be a rematch from last year's semifinal, but it could also be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Heisman vote for the second straight year. Except this time, there's even more drama because Oklahoma's quarterback used to be Alabama's quarterback. Jalen Hurts vs. Tua Tagovailoa would be amazing.
As would Justin Fields vs. Trevor Lawrence in the Fiesta Bowl, considering recruiting experts spent much of 2016 and 2017 arguing about which can't-miss stud was the best prospect in last year's freshman class. Clemson and Ohio State both have excellent defenses, too, making this arguably the more intriguing of the two fantastic matchups.
Of course, we've still got a long way to go before this is anything close to a reality. Oklahoma could lose to Texas this weekend. Alabama and Ohio State would each need to win four more games against currently ranked teams to get to 13-0. And Clemson demonstrated in its most recent game against North Carolina that any Saturday can be a potential disaster.
Bowl Games by Conference
Here is the full breakdown of bowl projections, listed alphabetically by conference. New Year's Six games have been italicized and underlined to help those of you who just scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee games.
American (7 teams): Cincinnati (Boca Raton Bowl), Memphis (Independence Bowl), Navy (Frisco Bowl), SMU (Military Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Birmingham Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Clemson (Fiesta Bowl), Florida State (Sun Bowl), Miami (Birmingham Bowl), NC State (Belk Bowl), North Carolina (Quick Lane Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Syracuse (Music City Bowl), Virginia (Orange Bowl), Virginia Tech (Military Bowl), Wake Forest (Camping World Bowl)
Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Camping World Bowl), Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Kansas State (First Responder Bowl), Oklahoma (Peach Bowl), Oklahoma State (Alamo Bowl), TCU (Texas Bowl), Texas (Sugar Bowl), Texas Tech (Cheez-It Bowl)
Big Ten (10 teams): Indiana (Redbox Bowl), Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Maryland (Armed Forces Bowl), Michigan (Citrus Bowl), Michigan State (Gator Bowl), Minnesota (Pinstripe Bowl), Nebraska (Quick Lane Bowl), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl), Penn State (Outback Bowl), Wisconsin (Rose Bowl)
Conference USA (6 teams): Florida Atlantic (Frisco Bowl), Louisiana Tech (New Orleans Bowl), North Texas (Gasparilla Bowl), Southern Miss (New Mexico Bowl), UAB (First Responder Bowl), Western Kentucky (Bahamas Bowl)
Independents (4 teams): Army (Independence Bowl), BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (Bahamas Bowl), Notre Dame (Cotton Bowl)
Mid-American (4 teams): Eastern Michigan (Camellia Bowl), Ohio (Boca Raton Bowl), Toledo (Mobile Bowl), Western Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Arizona Bowl), Boise State (Cotton Bowl), Fresno State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), San Diego State (Las Vegas Bowl), Utah State (Armed Forces Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona (Redbox Bowl), Arizona State (Holiday Bowl), California (Sun Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Las Vegas Bowl), Washington State (Cheez-It Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Peach Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Outback Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Texas Bowl), LSU (Orange Bowl), Mississippi State (Belk Bowl), Missouri (Gator Bowl), Ole Miss (Liberty Bowl), Texas A&M (Music City Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Mobile Bowl), Arkansas State (Arizona Bowl), Coastal Carolina (New Orleans Bowl), Georgia State (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Cure Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.