College Football Playoff Projections: Week 10 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
The LSU Tigers knocked off an AP Top 10 opponent for the third time this season and subsequently jumped ahead of Alabama for the No. 1 spot in this week's poll. Even more importantly, thanks to Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State, both LSU and Alabama are projected for the College Football Playoff, even though one of them is guaranteed to lose in Week 11.
The gap atop the poll is razor-thin, though, and not just between Nos. 1 and 2. Ohio State picked up a good chunk of votes after blowing out Wisconsin and now sits just eight points behind LSU at No. 3.
Elsewhere, Oregon moved up four spots to No. 7, bypassing Auburn, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and idle Georgia despite needing a last-second field goal to win a home game against unranked Washington State.
Without question, the most intriguing part of next week's initial College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings will be seeing where Oregon and Utah (now No. 9 in the AP poll) debut. That should speak volumes to whether the Pac-12 has legitimate playoff aspirations.
Also intriguing is the rapidly-heating-up race for the Group of Five's spot in the New Year's Six.
Undefeated SMU (No. 15 in new AP poll) still has the edge as far as voters are concerned, but likewise unbeaten No. 20 Appalachian State has a strong argument as well. Should both of those teams slip up between now and Selection Sunday, No. 21 Boise State and newly ranked No. 24 Memphis and No. 25 San Diego State are champing at the bit. So are unranked-but-close Navy and UCF if either one wins the AAC championship.
And what's the latest scuttlebutt on 7-0 Baylor and 8-0 Minnesota? Is either one projected for a New Year's Six Bowl?
Yes, but it's not the same one as last week. We'll explain as we detail the full bowl picture heading into Week 10.
Group of 5 Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Ball State vs. Western Kentucky
Frisco Bowl: Fresno State* 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: Buffalo vs. Georgia Southern
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs. Liberty*
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB vs. Temple
Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Hawaii
Arizona Bowl: San Diego State vs. Arkansas State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Central Michigan
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Toledo vs. Louisiana
*Fresno State takes a spot the AAC is unable to fill.
**Liberty takes a spot the Sun Belt is unable to fill.
Not much changed in the Group of Five projections from last week. There was plenty of drama, including an excellent game between Navy and Tulane. However, most of the favorites took care of business, keeping shake-ups to a minimum.
The biggest developments came from the Mountain West, where the Fresno State Bulldogs lost a home game to Colorado State, while the San Jose State Spartans went on the road and stunned Army. The Bulldogs (3-4) are still projected for six wins, and the Spartans (4-4) still are not. But they have a head-to-head game in San Jose at the end of the regular season that is shaping up to be a 5-6 vs. 5-6 affair.
Aside from that, best of luck to anyone trying to make sense of the MAC's bowl outlook. Per ESPN's updated FPI projections, there are eight teams from that conference projected for at least 6.2 wins, but not one has a projected win total greater than 7.4.
Each of the other nine leagues has at least one team projected for 9.9 or more wins, but it is still mathematically possible for the MAC to have 11 teams finish at 6-6, with Akron bringing up the rear at 0-12. Alternatively, there's a scenario in which Ball State, Ohio and Toledo each goes 4-0 the rest of the way, Akron wins a home game against Eastern Michigan and the league ends up with eight 5-7 teams.
To sum up that chaos, it's still feasible the MAC could have as few as three bowl-eligible teams or as many as 11. Fun stuff. We're projecting eight to get to six wins, but only six of them receive bowl invites, as it appears that we are headed for a surplus of six-win teams nationally.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State vs. Washington State
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): Miami vs. SMU*
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State vs. Navy
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Memphis vs. NC State**
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Ohio*** vs. Air Force
*SMU takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
**NC State takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
***Ohio takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
With so many Big Ten and SEC teams projected for New Year's Six bowls—three for the Big Ten and four for the SEC—it's impossible to draw up a scenario in which those leagues manage to fill their designated spots on this tier.
We're even including Missouri (appealing bowl ban) as well as Illinois, Nebraska, Mississippi State and Tennessee (each projected for 5.3-5.7 wins by ESPN's FPI), and they're still sending "pinch hitters" to these games.
Still, we should be getting a fun collection of G5 against P5 showdowns.
The Las Vegas Bowl projection changes every week, but it just keeps getting juicier. Boise State is averaging more than 35 points per game, and its defense hasn't been anything special lately. Putting quarterback Hank Bachmeier's Broncos on the field against Washington State's Air Raid offense/no-show defense would be a delight.
Louisiana Tech has quietly won seven consecutive games since its season-opening loss to Texas. The Bulldogs could be headed for some Big 12 redemption against TCU—which just surged back into the projected bowl picture with its upset of Texas on Saturday.
And then we've got a trio of AAC vs. ACC matchups in which the AAC may go 3-0. Memphis, Navy and SMU have suffered a combined two losses, while Florida State, Miami and NC State are each sitting at just four wins with a lot of work to do just to become bowl-eligible.
Also, there's a huge game in the American Athletic Conference in Week 10 with 8-0 SMU traveling to 7-1 Memphis. If the Mustangs manage to win what might be a race to 50 points, they would replace Appalachian State as the projected Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six. Alternatively, if the Mountaineers lose at South Carolina in Week 11, the projected AAC champion would then take that spot.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois vs. Louisville
Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh
Texas Bowl: Kentucky vs. Oklahoma State
Cheez-It Bowl: Texas vs. Stanford
Redbox Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC
Music City Bowl: North Carolina vs. Missouri*
Belk Bowl: Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech
Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Virginia
Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Cincinnati**
Gator Bowl: Indiana 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.
**Cincinnati takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
Three noteworthy departures from last week's projections are Duke, South Carolina and Texas Tech.
Two weeks after upsetting Georgia and one week after putting up a good fight against Florida, South Carolina gave up nearly 500 yards and a pair of punt-return touchdowns in the process of getting smashed by Tennessee.
The loss dropped the Gamecocks to 3-5 with home games remaining against two undefeated teams (Appalachian State and Clemson) and a road game against Texas A&M. Even though they should easily take care of Vanderbilt this coming weekend, six wins just doesn't look feasible anymore.
It's a similar story for Texas Tech, which dropped to 3-5 with a road loss to Kansas. The Red Raiders' remaining schedule—at West Virginia, vs. TCU, vs. Kansas State, at Texas—isn't all that difficult, but can anyone be trusted to win three out of four right after punctuating a stretch of five losses in six games with a misstep at Kansas?
Leaving out 4-4 Duke was the toughest exclusion of the bunch, but the Blue Devils only have themselves to blame after running back Deon Jackson threw a last-minute interception at the goal line in a 20-17 loss to North Carolina. With likely losses to Notre Dame and Wake Forest looming in November, the season finale against Miami will determine Duke's fate.
Illinois and Tennessee were the biggest benefactors of those losses, as the Illini and Volunteers both look like six-win teams for the first time in years.
The Illini improved to 4-4 with a 24-6 monsoon win at Purdue. They still have home games against Rutgers and Northwestern, who are a combined 0-10 in Big Ten play. Illinois might also be able to win the road game against Michigan State, given how woefully incapable of scoring the Spartans have been lately.
Tennessee has considerably more work to do with a 3-5 record. Home games against UAB and Vanderbilt look like they should both be wins, but we'll see if the Vols can steal a road game against either Kentucky or Missouri. If so, it would be quite the coup for a team that started out 0-2 with home losses to Georgia State and BYU.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Iowa vs. Washington
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Iowa State vs. Notre Dame
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Baylor vs. Utah
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn vs. Michigan
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Texas A&M vs. Wisconsin
Baylor's chances of playing in the Big 12 championship improved drastically this weekend. Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas all suffered losses while the Bears were idle, leaving 4-0 Baylor in first place and 4-1 Oklahoma in second place ahead of a bunch of teams with multiple conferences losses.
Even if the Bears lose their home games against Oklahoma and Texas, so long as they win the other three, there's a good chance they'll get a rematch with the Sooners in the conference championship.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the trickle-down effect of Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State bumped the undefeated Bears out of the projected New Year's Six. They were previously holding down the Big 12's spot in the Sugar Bowl, but that now belongs to the no-longer-in-the-playoff-mix Sooners.
Unlike the other nine teams in this tier, though, Baylor probably still controls its own destiny. Playing arguably the weakest nonconference schedule in the nation (Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and Rice) won't do the Bears any favors in head-to-head debates, but they should be a College Football Playoff team if they somehow get to 13-0.
Even if Baylor fails to secure the Big 12 title, there's still a chance it sneaks into the New Year's Six, provided the loser of Week 10's Georgia-Florida battle finishes behind the Bears in the CFP rankings. For that to happen, though, Baylor probably needs to go 12-0 before losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.
What I'm trying to say is: Don't read too much into this "demotion." Only in the fickle world of bowl projections did Baylor's postseason outlook get worse. If you thought the Bears had a shot at winning the Big 12 one week ago, you should be feeling even better about that notion now.
Also worth noting: Utah still has a feint playoff pulse too. The Utes annihilated California 35-0 this week and have now beaten their last three opponents by a combined score of 108-10. If they can win the road game against Washington this week, the back end of their schedule (vs. UCLA, at Arizona, vs. Colorado) has 11-1 written all over it.
Add on a Pac-12 championship victory over Oregon and hope for another few weeks of AP Top Six teams losing to unranked foes, and you've got the recipe for a Pac-12 team in the playoff.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Appalachian State vs. Florida
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Minnesota vs. Wake Forest
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon vs. Penn State
Aside from the Rose Bowl, this collection of games looks a lot different than it did one week ago.
Oklahoma's loss was the biggest catalyst for change. That opened the door for LSU to climb into the Top Four while bumping Baylor out of the New Year's Six. And because LSU moved up, Georgia was promoted from the Cotton Bowl to the Sugar Bowl as the top non-CFP SEC team. That means the Sugar Bowl changed from Baylor vs. LSU to Georgia vs. Oklahoma.
(Please, college football gods, give us a repeat of the incredible Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl battle from two years ago.)
The Orange Bowl also received a complete makeover with both of last week's projected teams—Virginia and Notre Dame—suffering losses. Notre Dame's 45-14 defeat to Michigan was the uglier of the two, but Virginia's loss at Louisville was the type of result no one could have predicted two months ago. The Cavaliers have now lost three of four, and the ACC Coastal Division is a crapshoot.
As a result, it's plausible that the projected Atlantic Division runner-up Wake Forest will represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. It's also plausible the Demon Deacons will face currently undefeated Minnesota in that game.
The Golden Gophers have won each of their last four games by at least a 23-point margin, but with Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin still on the docket, at least one regular-season loss is coming, right?
But Minnesota has a two-game cushion over both Iowa and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West, and those two teams still have a head-to-head game coming up, meaning at least one will pick up a third conference loss. All the Golden Gophers need to do is beat the winner of that Iowa-Wisconsin game, and they'll be in the Big Ten championship. Even if they end up at 10-3, that might be enough for the Orange Bowl.
Last but not least, there's finally room for Florida in the New Year's Six in a Cotton Bowl matchup with Appalachian State. Even if the Gators lose to Georgia on Saturday, there's a good chance they'll finish 10-2 and ranked in the CFP Top 10.
Had Notre Dame gone 11-1, Florida likely would have been left in the lurch. Now that the Fighting Irish are out of the picture and unlikely to return, the SEC is in great shape for four New Year's Six teams.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 LSU
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama over No. 2 Ohio State
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know that colossal showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama coming up in Week 11? The one that we've had circled on our calendars since Joe Burrow decimated Texas back in Week 2 to prove that LSU's offense had national championship potential?
Well, there's a chance that game means nothing aside from which team gets to rest during conference championship week and which one gets to wear the home jerseys in the Peach Bowl.
It goes without saying that we are still a long way away from that scenario. But if the loser of LSU-Alabama finishes 11-1 and the winner goes 13-0, how do you not put both of those teams in the playoff in the aftermath of Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State?
If Clemson, Baylor and the Big Ten champion all go 13-0, then, sure, there's a world in which the Alabama-LSU loser gets left out in favor of four undefeated Power Five champs. But ESPN's FPI projections give Baylor a 2.4 percent chance of running the table. Multiple that by Ohio State's 58.3 percent and Clemson's 79.1 percent, and you're talking about a less than 1-in-100 possibility.
If Baylor doesn't win out, the best-case scenario for the rest of the country is 13-0 Clemson, 13-0 Ohio State/Penn State/Minnesota, 12-1 Oklahoma and 12-1 Oregon/Utah. In that case, the SEC, ACC and B1G champs occupy the top three spots, and it's a heated debate between the Big 12 champ, the Pac-12 champ and the SEC West runner-up for the No. 4 seed.
If that runner-up is LSU, it'll have a resume with wins over Florida, Auburn, Texas, Texas A&M and possibly bowl-bound Mississippi State, Utah State and Georgia Southern. More importantly, perhaps, it's a resume on which the only loss came against No. 1 seed Alabama.
Oklahoma (at Kansas State) and Utah (at USC) each has a substantially more questionable loss, and neither one has anywhere near as many quality wins. And while Oregon's loss (Auburn) is relatively forgivable, LSU beat that opponent, and there's a good chance the Ducks will end the regular season with an 0-1 record against teams in the CFP Top 25. A Pac-12 championship win over Utah would provide a nice boost, but LSU's resume looks better.
If Alabama loses to LSU, its 11-1 resume wouldn't be as strong as LSU's, but it does have the X-factor of the "Tua Tagovailoa wasn't at 100 percent for the loss" argument if the offense doesn't look as crisp as usual. That's a bridge we'll cross if we get to it, but there's at least a possibility that the Tide edge out a one-loss Pac-12 or Big 12 champ.
One last thought: There is about a 0.1 percent chance this playoff projection will change a week from now.
Alabama, Ohio State and LSU all have byes. So does AP No. 5 Penn State. And Clemson has a home game against FCS school Wofford. Unless the Terriers pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football history, the only way our top four might change is if Georgia or Florida beats the other so mercilessly that it becomes likely the one-loss SEC East Division champ knocks off the undefeated SEC West Division champ in the conference title game.
It's hard to see either Georgia or Florida becoming the SEC favorite this weekend, though.
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 (Liberty Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), Navy (Military Bowl), SMU (Independence Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Clemson (Fiesta Bowl), Florida State (Military Bowl), Louisville (Quick Lane Bowl), Miami (Independence Bowl), NC State (Birmingham Bowl), North Carolina (Music City Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Sun Bowl), Virginia Tech (Belk Bowl), Wake Forest (Orange Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (Alamo Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Kansas State (Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl), Oklahoma State (Texas Bowl), TCU (First Responder Bowl), Texas (Cheez-It Bowl)
Big Ten (10 teams): Illinois (Quick Lane Bowl), Indiana (Gator Bowl), Iowa (Holiday Bowl), Michigan (Citrus Bowl), Michigan State (Pinstripe Bowl), Minnesota (Orange Bowl), Nebraska (Redbox Bowl), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl), Penn State (Rose Bowl), Wisconsin (Outback 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 (3 teams): BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (New Orleans Bowl), Notre Dame (Camping World Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Ball State (Bahamas Bowl), Buffalo (Camellia Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Ohio (Armed Forces Bowl), Toledo (Mobile Alabama Bowl), Western Michigan (Boca Raton Bowl)
Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl), Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl), Fresno State (Frisco Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Sun Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), Stanford (Cheez-It Bowl), USC (Redbox Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl), Washington State (Las Vegas Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Peach Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Cotton Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Texas Bowl), LSU (Peach Bowl), Mississippi State (Gator Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), Tennessee (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Outback Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Cotton Bowl), Arkansas State (Arizona Bowl), Georgia State (Cure Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Mobile Alabama Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.