College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
The LSU Tigers jumped three spots to No. 2 in college football's latest AP Top 25, but they are still projected to miss the College Football Playoff.
It's not because they aren't one of the four best teams in the nation. Given the early road win over Texas and the 42-28 victory over Florida on Saturday, it wouldn't be difficult to argue that LSU is the best team. But the Tigers have a likely road loss at Alabama coming up in a few weeks, while it's still possible that the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC will each have a 13-0 champion.
There's a good chance that at least one of those teams will slip up, though.
Per ESPN's FPI projections, Alabama (38.2), Clemson (62.0), Ohio State (31.9) and Oklahoma (30.4) each has a better than 30 percent chance of winning out. But if you multiply those percentages together, there's only a 2.3 percent chance that all four run the table.
Translation: There's still a lot of football to be played.
Outside the Top Five, Georgia was the biggest plummeter in this week's AP poll, dropping from No. 3 to No. 10 after its home loss to still unranked South Carolina. Minnesota, Missouri, Appalachian State and Washington all climbed into the Top 25, while Wake Forest, Virginia, Memphis and Texas A&M fell by the wayside.
Both the Big Ten and the SEC have six teams in this week's poll, while the losses by Virginia and Wake Forest leave Clemson as the only ranked team in the ACC. But the ACC has more projected bowl teams (11) than any other conference, since it seems like the entire league is destined to go 6-6.
Group of 5 Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Ohio
Frisco Bowl: Marshall vs. Memphis
New Mexico Bowl: Florida International vs. Wyoming
Cure Bowl: Louisiana vs. UCF
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane vs. Western Michigan
Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs. Liberty*
New Orleans Bowl: Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB vs. Temple
Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Navy
Arizona Bowl: Air Force vs. Arkansas State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Central Michigan
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo
*Liberty takes a spot the Sun Belt is unable to fill.
Since UCF's Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh, everyone has been penciling in Boise State as the Group of Five's representative in the New Year's Six. If Appalachian State is able to run the table, though, the Mountaineers could finish ahead of the undefeated Broncos. And after their road win over Louisiana this past Wednesday, it's time to start seriously considering that scenario.
In the Sun Belt hierarchy, it's App State up top, a big gap to Louisiana at No. 2 and then another, bigger gap down to the likes of Arkansas State, Georgia State and Troy. Thus, with that 17-7 victory over Louisiana, it's unlikely that the Mountaineers will suffer a loss in conference play.
There is one substantial hurdle remaining, though. It's a hurdle that even mighty Georgia couldn't clear: South Carolina. App State has a road game against the Gamecocks on Nov. 9 that is likely to nullify this hypothetical.
Conversely, that contest could give the Mountaineers two road wins over competent Power Five opponents, having already won at North Carolina last month. That would create a tough debate, considering Boise State plays in the tougher conference and also opened the season with a road win over Florida State. The Mountaineers might have the edge, though.
At the other end of the spectrum, BYU dropped to 2-4 by blowing a late lead for the second straight game. The Cougars led Toledo by seven at the end of the third quarter in Week 5 and held a nine-point lead over South Florida at the same juncture this past Saturday, but they were outscored 27-0 in those fourth quarters and are now on thin ice.
BYU hosts Boise State this coming Saturday followed by challenging road games against Utah State and San Diego State in November. The Cougars need to win at least one of those games or they will be ineligible to claim their spot in the Hawaii Bowl.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): San Diego State vs. USC
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): Louisville vs. Florida Atlantic
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): SMU vs. Virginia Tech
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas Tech vs. Louisiana Tech
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Florida State vs. Cincinnati
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Army* vs. Hawaii
*Army takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
So, Louisville is 4-2.
Who saw that one coming?
One week after eking out a 41-39 home win over Boston College, the Cardinals went on the road and somehow won a 62-59 game in which No. 19 Wake Forest had 40 first downs.
The defense is, obviously, still not great, but Scott Satterfield has to be the midseason favorite for ACC Coach of the Year, given the way he has brought this offense back from the dead in his first season at the helm. They averaged 19.8 points per game in 2018, but they have improved by 88 percent to 37.3 this season.
Even in their two losses, the Cardinals played well. They came back from a 21-0 deficit at Florida State and briefly took a fourth-quarter lead before a back-breaking interception ignited a Seminoles rally. And in the season opener against Notre Dame, they put up 17 points and accumulated more rushing yards (249) than the Fighting Irish have allowed to any other team thus far.
In a conference where no one is even close to holding a candle to Clemson, Louisville just might be the second-best team. If not, things could unravel in a hurry, because the next four games—vs. Clemson, vs. Virginia, at Miami, at North Carolina State—might drop the Cardinals to 4-6.
Speaking of drastically improved offenses, SMU will be back on the field after a bye week, seeking to score at least 37 points for a seventh consecutive victory.
The Mustangs will get Temple at home before playing at Houston five days later. They should win both of those games to carry an 8-0 record into Memphis in early November. If they can get a W there, they'll officially be in the mix with Boise State and Appalachian State for the Group of Five's NY6 bid.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Michigan State vs. NC State
Pinstripe Bowl: Indiana vs. Pittsburgh
Texas Bowl: Missouri* vs. Oklahoma State
Cheez-It Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU
Redbox Bowl: Arizona State vs. Nebraska
Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Wake Forest
Belk Bowl: Duke vs. Texas A&M
Sun Bowl: North Carolina vs. California
Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Mississippi State
Gator Bowl: Iowa vs. South Carolina
*Missouri is banned from postseason play, but it has an appeal pending. Until there is concrete news to the contrary, we'll continue to entertain the possibility of the Tigers in a bowl game.
The NCAA needs to decide whether Missouri, who appealed in March, is eligible for postseason play because the Tigers are currently alone in first place in the SEC East following losses by Georgia and Florida.
Missouri is 5-1 with four likely wins remaining against Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. The Tigers also have a road game against Georgia and a home game against Florida. If they happen to win that coin-flip game against the Gators and if the Gators happen to beat Georgia on Nov. 2, welcome to a world in which Missouri would play in the SEC Championship Game if eligible.
One step at a time, though. Missouri has won five straight, but all five of those games were at home against teams who might not qualify for bowl season. Once the Tigers take that show on the road, losses could pile up in a hurry. But they should win at least one of their final six games, so come on already, NCAA. The limbo has lasted long enough. Make a decision.
Shifting gears to the Big Ten, is Michigan State good, bad or simply a litmus test for determining whether its opponent is competent on offense and defense?
Against bad offenses, the Spartans D looks like a brick wall. Good offenses haven't had much difficulty scoring against them, though. Likewise, when Michigan State has the ball, it scores almost at will against bad defenses and looks completely hopeless against the good ones.
Against Tulsa, Western Michigan and Northwestern, Michigan State looked like a juggernaut. Against Ohio State and Wisconsin, things got ugly in a hurry. It'll probably be a similar story in Week 9 against Penn State. And perhaps again in Week 12 for the rivalry game at Michigan.
With games remaining against Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland, the 4-3 Spartans should become bowl-eligible with room to spare. But we may never reach a consensus on whether Michigan State is anything other than average.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Minnesota vs. Washington
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Iowa State vs. Miami
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Texas vs. Utah
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Penn State vs. Florida
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn vs. Michigan
When are we going to start talking about Minnesota?
Most of the undefeated Power Five teams are constantly mentioned as title contenders, but the Golden Gophers are sitting at 6-0 and no one seems to have noticed. Moreover, they get Rutgers, Maryland and a bye in the next three weeks, so they're probably still going to be undefeated heading into Week 11.
Sure, they have only faced FBS one team that currently has a winning record, but that was a 34-7 shellacking of Nebraska this past Saturday. After squeaking out wins in their first four games, the Golden Gophers have won back-to-back contests by at least a three-possession margin. They also rushed for more than 300 yards in both of those games and seem to be putting it all together on offense.
Look, I get it. You ain't nobody until you beat somebody. If Minnesota knocks off Penn State on Nov. 9, the world will take notice. But I'll be curious to see if and where the Golden Gophers land in the College Football Playoff selection committee's inaugural Top 25 prior to that big game against Penn State.
Those Nittany Lions just improved to 6-0 with a marquee win at Iowa. They have held every opponent below 14 points, and they might keep that trend going in the next two weeks against Michigan and Michigan State. Should they win both of those games, they would certainly move up for a projected New Year's Six bowl, and it would make their Nov. 23 showdown with Ohio State arguably the most important game of the regular season.
For now, though, Penn State remains the odd elite team left out of the New Year's Six, relegated to this tier because we need to find space for Virginia, Baylor, Oregon and Boise State.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Boise State vs. Notre Dame
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): LSU vs. Virginia
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Georgia vs. Baylor
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Without question, the biggest Week 7 development was Georgia losing to South Carolina. The Bulldogs were supposed to cruise through October without facing any significant challenges, but the Gamecocks had other plans.
The loss delivered a near-lethal blow to the Dawgs' playoff hopes, but it didn't change our projection for them. They should still win the SEC East, so they are still on track to play in the Sugar Bowl. If there is another regular-season loss in their future, though, that one may well knock them out of the New Year's Six range.
Virginia also lost this week, failing to score a single touchdown against Miami. But thanks to Wake Forest also losing (vs. Louisville), the Cavaliers remain the ACC's projected participant in the Orange Bowl. We're just throwing a dart at that thing, though. There are currently 11 teams in the ACC with either a 4-2 or 3-3 record.
The only change to this tier from last week is undefeated Baylor supplanting Texas in the Sugar Bowl following the Longhorns' loss in the Red River Rivalry. That battle for second place in the Big 12 likely won't be decided until the Bears host Texas on Nov. 23, and it's starting to feel like Baylor might be the favorite in that game.
One last note here: Wisconsin just pitched its fourth shutout of the season and is putting up numbers on defense unlike anything we have witnessed since 2011 Alabama, but the road game against Ohio State on Oct. 26 is keeping the Badgers out of the playoff picture. Same goes for LSU because of its road game against Alabama on Nov. 2. If Clemson and Oklahoma fail to go undefeated, though, buckle up for a playoff with two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Ohio State
Same four teams as last week, but with a significant tweak to the order.
It's not often that you get to say this about a team that gives up 27 points, but Oklahoma was extremely impressive on defense in its win over Texas. The Sooners sacked Sam Ehlinger nine times and neither allowed a completion that went for more than 22 yards nor a passing touchdown.
It was hard to make any conclusive judgments about the improvement of Oklahoma's defense through the first five weeks, given the caliber of opponents it was facing. It's clear now, though, that the Sooners are a more complete team than they had been the previous few years.
That revelation was enough to move them up one spot to No. 3, dropping Clemson to No. 4 in spite of its complete desecration of Florida State.
If Alabama and Ohio State both go 13-0 and LSU goes 11-1 with a competitive road loss to Alabama, that jostling between undefeated Oklahoma and Clemson could be critical. Clemson neither has a win nor has a remaining game against a currently ranked team. Thus, even if the Tigers run the table, there will be a compelling argument that they deserve to be ranked behind one-loss LSU.
Considering the next South Carolina-over-Georgia type of upset could be lurking around any corner, there's no point in starting that debate yet. But that would be a nightmare scenario for the selection committee.
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 (Birmingham Bowl), Memphis (Frisco Bowl), Navy (Hawaii Bowl), SMU (Military Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (11 teams): Clemson (Peach Bowl), Duke (Belk Bowl), Florida State (Birmingham Bowl), Louisville (Independence Bowl), Miami (Camping World Bowl), NC State (Quick Lane Bowl), North Carolina (Sun Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Orange Bowl), Virginia Tech (Military Bowl), Wake Forest (Music City Bowl)
Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Sugar Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Kansas State (Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl), Oklahoma State (Texas Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl), Texas Tech (First Responder Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Indiana (Pinstripe Bowl), Iowa (Gator Bowl), Michigan (Outback Bowl), Michigan State (Quick Lane Bowl), Minnesota (Holiday Bowl), Nebraska (Redbox Bowl), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl), Penn State (Citrus Bowl), Wisconsin (Rose Bowl)
Conference USA (7 teams): Florida Atlantic (Independence Bowl), Florida International (New Mexico Bowl), Louisiana Tech (First Responder Bowl), Marshall (Frisco Bowl), Southern Miss (Bahamas Bowl), UAB (Gasparilla Bowl), Western Kentucky (New Orleans Bowl)
Independents (4 teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (Camellia Bowl), Notre Dame (Cotton Bowl)
Mid-American (5 teams): Ball State (Camellia Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Ohio (Bahamas Bowl), Toledo (Mobile Bowl), Western Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl)
Mountain West (6 teams): Air Force (Arizona Bowl), Boise State (Cotton Bowl), Hawaii (Armed Forces Bowl), San Diego State (Las Vegas Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Redbox Bowl), California (Sun Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), Stanford (Cheez-It Bowl), USC (Las Vegas Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Peach Bowl), Auburn (Outback Bowl), Florida (Citrus Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Music City Bowl), LSU (Orange Bowl), Mississippi State (Liberty Bowl), Missouri (Texas Bowl), South Carolina (Gator Bowl), Texas A&M (Belk Bowl)
Sun Belt (4 teams): Appalachian State (Mobile Bowl), Arkansas State (Arizona Bowl), Georgia State (New Orleans Bowl), Louisiana (Cure Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.