College Football Playoff Projections: Week 9 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
This week's college football Associated Press Top 25 wasn't about who won but rather who lost.
Wisconsin dropped seven spots to No. 13 after its shocking misstep at Illinois. Arizona State also dropped seven spots from No. 17 after amassing just eight first downs and three points in a loss at Utah. And Boise State took the biggest tumble, dropping eight spots to No. 22 for its road loss to BYU.
Aside from that trio of free fallers, almost all the movement in the new poll was a product of teams moving up to fill in the gaps. For destroying Arizona State, Utah moved up just one spot to No. 12, and only because of Wisconsin's drop. Same goes for Penn State climbing to No. 6 following its marquee win over Michigan. Were it not for the Badgers' blunder, neither one of those teams would have been rewarded for their most impressive victory.
But can someone please explain why Ohio State leapfrogged Clemson for the No. 3 spot?
The Tigers went on the road and defeated four-win Louisville 45-10, while the Buckeyes beat up on a no good, very bad Northwestern team 52-3.
If either victory was more impressive, it was Clemson's, right? And if either team was going to gain ground because of Wisconsin's loss, it should have been Clemson. There were five voters in the Week 8 poll who had Wisconsin ahead of Clemson as opposed to just three who had the Badgers outranking the Buckeyes.
Yet, for some reason, Ohio State gained 25 points (to 1,429), most of them at the expense of Clemson, which lost 19 votes (from 1,427). Seems like some people are already looking for any reason to discredit Clemson's perfect record.
We still have both the Buckeyes and the Tigers projected to reach the College Football Playoff, though, so maybe this thing will be settled on the field in a couple of months.
Read on for the full Week 9 bowl projections along with commentary on some of the most noteworthy movers.
Group of 5 Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Western Kentucky
Frisco Bowl: Navy vs. Southern Miss
New Mexico Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Wyoming
Cure Bowl: Georgia State vs. UCF
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane vs. Western Michigan
Camellia Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs. Ohio*
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB vs. Temple
Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Hawaii
Arizona Bowl: Air Force vs. Arkansas State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Central Michigan
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Ball State vs. Louisiana
*Ohio takes a spot the Sun Belt is unable to fill.
With the exception of Wisconsin losing to Illinois and Tua Tagovailoa's high ankle sprain, the biggest development Saturday was BYU's upset of previously unbeaten Boise State.
The Broncos were ranked No. 14 in the AP poll and were the obvious pick to fill the Group of Five's spot in the New Year's Six. Now, it would be a tough call between Appalachian State, Cincinnati and SMU with Boise State a distant fourth. While that decision isn't part of this tier, it has a trickle-down effect in which either the American Athletic Conference or Sun Belt will be unable to place teams into all its affiliated bowls.
On the plus side of that upset, BYU snapped a three-game losing streak, improved to 3-4 and earned a drastically better chance of filling its reserved spot in the Hawaii Bowl. The Cougars have two easy wins remaining (Idaho State and Massachusetts), and they should win a home game against Liberty. Even if one of those games slips away, road games against Utah State and San Diego State are coin flips.
One other significant Week 8 result off the beaten path was Georgia State's 28-21 victory over Army. The Panthers stunned Tennessee in Week 1 and improved to 5-2 with an impressive win over an opponent that took Michigan to double overtime in early September. In this new bowl projection, they'd get another shot at a marquee victory in the Cure Bowl against UCF. They also look like a serious threat to knock off App State on Nov. 16.
The loss dropped Army to 3-4, but the Black Knights still have home games remaining against San Jose State, Massachusetts and VMI. They should be fine to get to six wins.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State vs. California
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): Cincinnati vs. NC State
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State vs. SMU
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Liberty* vs. Louisiana Tech
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Fresno State** vs. Memphis
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Army*** vs. San Diego State
*Liberty takes a spot the Big 12 is unable to fill.
**Fresno State takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
***Army take a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
As evidenced by the copious amount of asterisks above, we've hit the point in the season where it feels like the Power Five leagues are overflowing with mediocrity and unlikely to produce enough bowl-eligible teams.
Take the Atlantic Coast Conference, for example.
Clemson is excellent, Virginia and Wake Forest are beginning to separate from the pack, and Georgia Tech—despite a surprising road win over Miami this week—is the only team that is almost definitely not going to a bowl game. Outside of that, it's 10 teams who seem dead set on finishing 6-6.
Pitt and Virginia Tech are 5-2, but they have a combined scoring margin of plus-six. One of the two will surely become bowl-eligible because there's a head-to-head game remaining, but each is average enough to put together a five-game losing streak to finish at 5-7.
Then you've got four 4-3 teams—Boston College, Duke, Louisville and NC State—that have a combined total of one quality win (Louisville at Wake Forest) and that each have at least three more potential or likely losses. In fact, Boston College doesn't even appear in this projection, since four of its final five games are on the road, including a pair against Clemson and Notre Dame.
Worse yet, there are four 3-4 teams—Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Syracuse—that might be good enough (and that have remaining schedules easy enough) to win at least three of their final five games but that each lost by one possession in Week 8 and shouldn't be trusted to beat anyone.
And in spite of that clear-as-mud outlook, the ACC is one of the conferences that's actually projected to fill all of its bowls.
It's even worse for the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, for which the handful of haves are so frequently taking care of business against the have-nots that only eight or nine teams are going to get six wins. Even though most of the SEC teams still have a guaranteed win on their schedule in the form of a November home game against the likes of Tennessee-Martin, Abilene Christian or East Tennessee State—and even though we're including Missouri as a projected bowl team despite its still-unresolved bowl ban situation—it still doesn't have enough projected bowl teams to place one in the Birmingham Bowl.
Long story short: These bowls are supposed to be 6-6 or 7-5 Power Five teams against 10ish-win Group of Five squads, but it's unclear whether the former will hold up its end of the bargain.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Indiana vs. Louisville
Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Pittsburgh
Texas Bowl: Kentucky vs. Oklahoma State
Cheez-It Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Washington State
Redbox Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC
Music City Bowl: Duke vs. Missouri*
Belk Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Virginia Tech
Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. North Carolina
Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. South Carolina
Gator Bowl: Michigan State vs. Mississippi State
*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.
It is still way too early to start projecting the outcome of these games. Best-case scenario, four of these 10 matchups end up happening. Worst-case scenario, 10 of these 20 teams fail to even become bowl-eligible.
Still, let's demonstrate why we designated this tier as having "potential."
First and foremost, how fun would it be to see Nebraska and USC in the Redbox Bowl? It's the team of the 1990s against the team of the 2000s. The Cornhuskers basically passed the torch of national relevance to the Trojans in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, and they haven't been particularly good at the same time in several decades, but those are two massive fanbases. They met once before in the postseason, in the 2014 Holiday Bowl, and it was a 45-42 barn burner.
There's also a highly intriguing projected battle in the Cheez-It Bowl between Texas Tech and Washington State. The Red Raiders have lost four of their last five, and while the Cougars finally snapped their three-game losing streak, they still have road games remaining against Oregon, California and Washington. Thus, we are rapidly losing faith in the possibility of an unofficial "Mike Leach Bowl." But if both teams finish 6-6, here's hoping the higher powers do the right thing and give us a game with more than 1,000 passing yards.
(In addition to the Mike Leach Bowl, a not-projected-here-but-totally-feasible "Jimbo Fisher Bowl" between Texas A&M and Florida State would be all sorts of fun.)
Speaking of coach-based intrigue, a Sun Bowl featuring Arizona State's Herm Edwards and North Carolina's Mack Brown might be the best possible outcome from this tier. People questioned why in the world both of those guys decided to get back into coaching after several-year gaps as studio analysts, but they're doing quite well. Plus, it would be an entertaining battle between Jayden Daniels and Sam Howell, who have thrown for more yards than any other true freshmen in the Power Five.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Minnesota vs. Washington
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Iowa State vs. Wake Forest
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Texas vs. Utah
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Wisconsin vs. Florida
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn vs. Michigan
Eight of these 10 teams are in the exact same spot as last week, even though two of them (Michigan and Washington) suffered losses to ranked opponents. Another one (Texas) needed a last-second field goal to avoid losing at home to Kansas. Kansas!
Minnesota kept its unlikely undefeated dream alive by becoming the latest Big Ten team to dismantle Rutgers. The Golden Gophers get Maryland at home next week to likely improve to 8-0, and then they have a bye before a four-game gauntlet that includes home games against Penn State and Wisconsin and a road game against Iowa.
Given Wisconsin's loss to Illinois—more on that shortly—Minnesota could lose to both Penn State and Iowa, yet still win the Big Ten West by knocking off the Badgers to end the regular season, even if Wisconsin wins at Ohio State this weekend. Regardless of where it goes from here, these are unusually exciting times for a Minnesota program with only one 10-plus-win season since the turn of the century (2003).
Elsewhere, Florida also kept a more-likely-but-still-improbable scenario intact, staving off South Carolina's latest upset attempt to improve to 7-1. The Gators will get Week 9 off before their colossal showdown with Georgia on Nov. 2. The winner of that game will almost certainly represent the SEC East in the conference championship with a chance to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Auburn also maintained a one-loss record this week, but with LSU, Georgia and Alabama still on the schedule, a spot in either the Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl seems to be its destiny. We'll re-evaluate if they happen to upset LSU in the Bayou this coming Saturday.
But far more noteworthy than what stayed the same is the one major change: Wisconsin dropping down to this tier (and Penn State moving up to replace the Badgers in the NY6).
After back-to-back shutouts of Kent State and Michigan State, Wisconsin held a seemingly insurmountable 20-7 lead over Illinois late in the third quarter. But the Badgers missed a field goal, fumbled in the red zone and threw a late interception to keep the Illini alive for a 24-23 upset.
It felt like that defense was a lock for no worse than the Rose Bowl, but now there are major questions about whether the offense is potent enough to win at least four of the remaining five games. The Badgers have road games against Ohio State, Nebraska and Minnesota as well as home games against Iowa and Purdue.
Similar to the aftermath of Georgia's unconscionable loss to South Carolina in Week 7, it's still feasible that Wisconsin would be comfortably in the playoff picture by winning out. Given what just transpired against Illinois, though, only the home game against the Boilermakers feels like a sure thing.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Appalachian State vs. Georgia
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Notre Dame vs. Virginia
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. LSU
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon vs. Penn State
As previously mentioned, it's a tough call for the Group of Five's spot in the Cotton Bowl following Boise State's loss to BYU.
The American Athletic Conference's SMU (7-0) and Cincinnati (6-1) are both ranked in the AP Top 20 and seem to be on a collision course to play in the conference championship. However, both teams still have road games against 6-1 Memphis, and SMU has to play at 5-1 Navy as well. There's a good chance that the AAC title game is a 10-2 vs. 10-2 showdown between teams just trying to finish in the Top 25.
Appalachian State (6-0) also has a likely loss on its remaining schedule, playing at South Carolina on Nov. 9. If the Mountaineers at least show up in that game and then end up with a 12-1 record, they should be the CFP's highest-ranked team. But before any hypothetical runaway train leaves the station, Appalachian State won't sniff the playoff picture even with a 13-0 record. Don't go there.
In other undefeated news, Baylor (at Oklahoma State), LSU (at Mississippi State) and Penn State (vs. Michigan) each improved to 7-0 to keep a ton of pressure on the top four teams.
Each of those teams still has a game remaining against one of our top four—Baylor vs. Oklahoma on Nov. 16; LSU at Alabama on Nov. 9 and Penn State at Ohio State on Nov. 23—as well as an additional game remaining against a currently ranked opponent. Each one has passed several tests already, but there are many yet to come.
And while almost all of the CFP focus is on the SEC, Big Ten, Clemson and Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Oregon are lurking in the weeds, too. The Ducks won a surprisingly high-scoring game at Washington this week, while the Fighting Irish rested up for next week's road game against Michigan. Both one-loss squads have a reasonable shot at winning out and making things interesting when the next Illinois-over-Wisconsin or South Carolina-over-Georgia type of stunner happens.
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
All four of these elite teams defeated unranked foes by at least three touchdowns this week, and each held the opposition to 14 points or fewer. (Oklahoma's night-and-day improvement on defense compared to the previous three years remains one of the most intriguing subplots of the season.)
In spite of the blowouts, there was a potentially massive development in Alabama's 35-13 win over Tennessee. Crimoson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa left in the first half with a right ankle injury and had surgery to repair it within 24 hours.
He underwent the same procedure on the opposite ankle last year after the SEC championship and looked good as new against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. But he had four weeks to rehabilitate and prepare for that game as opposed to only three weeks this year until the gigantic battle with LSU.
Tagovailoa has already been ruled out for next week's home game against Arkansas (no big deal), after which Alabama has a beautifully timed bye. If he was going to suffer an injury during the regular season, the Crimson Tide couldn't ask for a better time.
Still, the big unknown is how he'll look against the Tigers and Joe Burrow. Even though it's a home game in which the Crimson Tide surely would have been favored by at least a touchdown if Tagovailoa was healthy, they need him at 100 percent to keep pace with this LSU offense.
The annoying-but-interesting wrinkle is the possibility that Alabama could "get away with" a loss to LSU because of the injury.
In college basketball this past season, Duke lost three of its final six regular-season games with Zion Williamson injured, but the Blue Devils still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament based in no small part on how good they looked in the ACC tournament with him back on the floor. Alabama might be in a position to do something similar.
Should the Crimson Tide lose to LSU with a visibly hampered Tagovailoa—or with him not playing at all—and then bounce back to destroy Mississippi State, Western Carolina and Auburn, they would almost certainly be regarded as the best one-loss team in the nation, even without a division title or a conference championship. Whether they finish in the top four would depend on whether LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State/Penn State are all able to finish 13-0, which is highly unlikely.
But if it does end up happening, get ready for a fun argument as to whether 13-0 Clemson or 11-1 Alabama is more deserving of the No. 4 seed.
We're still projecting Alabama as both the No. 1 overall seed and the national champion, but with considerably less confidence than a week ago.
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 (Independence Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), Navy (Frisco Bowl), SMU (Military Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Clemson (Peach Bowl), Duke (Music City Bowl), Florida State (Military Bowl), Louisville (Quick Lane Bowl), NC State (Independence Bowl), North Carolina (Sun Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Orange Bowl), Virginia Tech (Belk Bowl), Wake Forest (Camping World Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (Sugar Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Kansas State (Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl), Oklahoma State (Texas Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl), Texas Tech (Cheez-It Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Indiana (Quick Lane Bowl), Iowa (Pinstripe Bowl), Michigan (Outback Bowl), Michigan State (Gator Bowl), Minnesota (Holiday Bowl), Nebraska (Redbox Bowl), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl), Penn State (Rose Bowl), Wisconsin (Citrus Bowl)
Conference USA (6 teams): Florida Atlantic (New Mexico Bowl), Louisiana Tech (First Responder Bowl), Marshall (New Orleans Bowl), Southern Miss (Frisco Bowl), UAB (Gasparilla Bowl), Western Kentucky (Bahamas Bowl)
Independents (4 teams): Army (Armed Forces Bowl), BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (First Responder Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Ball State (Mobile Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Camellia Bowl), Ohio (New Orleans Bowl), Toledo (Bahamas Bowl), Western Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl)
Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Arizona Bowl), Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl), Fresno State (Birmingham Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), San Diego State (Armed Forces Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Sun Bowl), California (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), USC (Redbox Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Cheez-It Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Peach Bowl), Auburn (Outback Bowl), Florida (Citrus Bowl), Georgia (Cotton Bowl), Kentucky (Texas Bowl), LSU (Sugar Bowl), Mississippi State (Gator Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), South Carolina (Liberty Bowl), Texas A&M (Belk Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Cotton Bowl), Arkansas State (Arizona Bowl), Georgia State (Cure Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Mobile Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.