College Football Playoff Projections: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
After 72 hours of wondering, theorizing and preemptively (and furiously) arguing, we finally have our answer: The College Football Playoff selection committee still views Alabama as the fifth-best team in the country following the loss to LSU. The win pushed the Tigers up to No. 1, dropping Ohio State to No. 2. And to the surprise of nobody, 10-0 Clemson moved up to No. 3.
Will the Crimson Tide ultimately land in the Top Four, though? As things currently stand, we think not—and will explain why later.
More noteworthy than Alabama's current position in the Top 25 was Minnesota vaulting all the way from No. 17 to No. 8 following its win over Penn State—which also dropped the Nittany Lions from No. 4 to No. 9.
The Golden Gophers were an afterthought in the initial rankings, slotted behind not one, not two, but six teams that already had two losses. Now they have rowed the boat ahead of all those teams, and they ought to jump ahead of both Pac-12 teams into the Top Six if they win at Iowa this week.
Because of Minnesota's meteoric rise, Oklahoma and Baylor each dropped one spot to No. 10 and No. 13, respectively. However, the winner of this week's head-to-head showdown is going to get right back into the thick of the race and also likely to jump ahead of both Oregon and Utah into the Top Six or Seven. At any rate, the committee clearly values the Big 12, as Texas (No. 19), Oklahoma State (No. 22) and Kansas State (No. 24) also appear in this week's poll.
And don't look now, but Appalachian State is back in the Group of Five picture at No. 25 following its road win over South Carolina. We'll spend more time discussing the Mountaineers shortly, but don't lock the AAC champion into the Cotton Bowl just yet—even though Cincinnati and Memphis both moved up three spots to No. 17 and No. 18, respectively.
Read on for the full bowl projections heading into Week 12.
With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, let's take another stab at figuring out whether we'll be above, below or smack dab on the target of 78 bowl-eligible teams.
There are already 56 teams with at least six wins and 16 others sitting at either 5-4 or 5-5. That means 72 teams have either already done enough or are just one win away from sealing the deal; Missouri is one of the teams with five wins, but the status of its bowl-ban appeal is still inexplicably unknown.
Aside from Boston College (5-5 with road games left against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh) and Florida International (5-5 with a home game against the Miami Hurricanes and a road game against Marshall), each of those five-win teams should win at least one more game. That would get us to 70 bowl-eligible teams.
There are also 31 squads with four wins, of which Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky are likely to win at least two of their remaining games. As long as at least four of the other 27—let's actually call it 29 by factoring in BC and FIU—can pull off an upset, there will be enough bowl-eligible teams.
Thus, a surplus seems much more likely than a shortage, which is bad news for the Group of Five, as no eligible Power Five team would get left out of the bowl picture.
If there is a shortage, though, and we end up needing to use APR scores to fill out the final couple of spots with 5-7 teams, here is a top-10 APR ranking of teams with either four or five wins:
1. Duke (4-5, 992 APR)
2. Boston College (5-5, 989 APR)
3. Stanford (4-5, 986 APR)
4. Louisville (5-4, 984 APR)
5. Ohio (4-5, 981 APR)
6. Arizona State (5-4, 980 APR)
7. California (5-4, 979 APR)
8-tie. Ole Miss (4-6, 978 APR)
8-tie. Iowa State (5-4, 978 APR)
10. Nebraska (4-5, 977 APR)
Group of Five Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Miami-Ohio (5-4) vs. Western Kentucky (6-4)
Frisco Bowl: SMU (9-1) vs. Southern Miss (6-3)
New Mexico Bowl: Charlotte (5-5) vs. Wyoming (6-3)
Cure Bowl: Georgia State (6-3) vs. UCF (7-3)
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane (6-3) vs. Western Michigan (6-4)
Camellia Bowl: Buffalo (5-4) vs. Georgia Southern (5-4)
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall (6-3) vs. Arkansas State (5-4)
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB (6-3) vs. Temple (6-3)
Hawaii Bowl: BYU (5-4) vs. Hawaii (6-4)
Arizona Bowl: San Diego State (7-2) vs. Louisiana (7-2)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State (5-4) vs. Central Michigan (6-4)
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Toledo (6-3) vs. Appalachian State (8-1)
It's a darn shame Appalachian State lost to Georgia Southern in Week 10, because the Mountaineers would have been the new front-runner for the Cotton Bowl thanks to their Week 11 victory over South Carolina. Coupled with the September victory at North Carolina, they have two wins against Power Five teams. Not bad, considering their most recent one before this season was that never-to-be-forgotten stunner over No. 5 Michigan to open the 2007 season.
If Boise State fails to win out—the Broncos have been flirting with disaster as of late—and if the AAC champion ends up being a two-loss team, there's still a chance for Appalachian State to represent the Group of Five in the New Year's Six. The Mountaineers better just focus on handling their business, though, because the road game against Georgia State on Saturday could easily knock them right back out of the conversation.
If all hell breaks loose in the AAC, MWC and Sun Belt, it's also possible Louisiana Tech sneaks into the tail end of the CFP Top 25 and goes to the Cotton Bowl. The Bulldogs have not lost since the season opener at Texas, and they have averaged 52.0 points over their last four contests. If they can keep it rolling for four more games and end up being the only one-loss Group of Five champion, Skip Holtz and Co. could make history for Conference USA.
One final note on this tier: It is with great sadness that we must report it is no longer possible for the MAC to have an 11-way 6-6 tie for first place. No one has gotten to seven wins yet, but Toledo (6-3) will face Central Michigan (6-4) in Week 14, producing at least one team with at least seven wins.
It is still mathematically possible, however, that all six members of the MAC East Division finish with a sub-.500 record, although that scenario would require Akron (0-9) to suddenly start winning a few games.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State (8-1) vs. California (5-4)
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): North Carolina (4-5) vs. Eastern Michigan* (4-5)
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State (5-5) vs. Navy (7-1)
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Louisiana Tech (8-1) vs. Nevada^ (6-4)
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Cincinnati (8-1) vs. Duke** (4-5)
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Ohio^^ (4-5) vs. Air Force (7-2)
*Eastern Michigan takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
^Nevada takes a spot the Big 12 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.
Let's try to make some sense of the ACC bubble, since it accounts for 50 percent of the league.
Florida State is 5-5 with a home game against Alabama State on Saturday. There's no telling who will be coaching their bowl game, but it's safe to assume the Seminoles will qualify for one. Same goes for 5-4 Louisville, which has three games remaining against sub-.500 teams, including a home contest against 3-6 Syracuse.
The Orange technically could still win out and get to six wins, but there's almost no chance they'll win back-to-back road games against Duke and Louisville and then seal the deal at home against Wake Forest.
But Boston College (5-5), Duke (4-5), North Carolina (4-5) and NC State (4-5) are all gigantic question marks, meaning the league could end up with as few as eight or as many as 12 bowl-eligible teams. (Or nine and 13, respectively, if you include Notre Dame, which is an ACC team as far as the majority of bowl affiliations are concerned.)
The only head-to-head game of the bunch is UNC's trip to NC State at the end of the regular season. The Wolfpack should beat Georgia Tech in Week 13, and North Carolina has a gimme at home against Mercer the same week. That means there's a decent chance that's a 5-6 vs. 5-6 loser-goes-home type of game. And based solely on how each team looked against Clemson this season, we're giving the edge to the Tar Heels.
As previously mentioned, Boston College's remaining games are both on the road against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Maybe the Eagles manage to knock off the Panthers, but we've got to pencil them in for a 5-7 record.
And then Duke finishes the season with Syracuse at home, a road game against Wake Forest and then a home game against red-hot Miami. It's a toss-up whether the Blue Devils finish at 5-7 or 6-6, but let's not forget they have the highest APR score among potential five-win teams, should that factor come into play. For now, we're putting them in ahead of both Boston College and NC State.
It wouldn't be a big surprise if all four finish at 5-7, though, leaving us grasping at straws in the lone Power Five league that felt for most of the season like a sure thing to fill all of its spots.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois (6-4) vs. Louisville (5-4)
Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State (4-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-3)
Texas Bowl: Kentucky (4-5) vs. Kansas State (6-3)
Cheez-It Bowl: TCU (4-5) vs. Liberty^ (6-4)
Redbox Bowl: Florida Atlantic^^ (7-3) vs. USC (6-4)
Music City Bowl: Miami (6-4) vs. Missouri* (5-4)
Belk Bowl: Tennessee (5-5) vs. Virginia Tech (6-3)
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (5-4) vs. Wake Forest (7-2)
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (5-4) vs. Texas A&M (6-3)
Gator Bowl: Iowa (6-3) vs. Mississippi State (4-5)
*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.
^Liberty takes a spot the Pac-12 is unable to fill
^^Florida Atlantic takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
Allow me to assure you that the Redbox Bowl pairing—aka the Lane Kiffin Revenge Game—was a happy accident. But now that I've seen it as a possibility, all I want from this tier of bowl games is to watch the guy USC fired on the tarmac open a can of you-know-what on an underachieving USC team with yet another interim head coach.
Elsewhere, the biggest Week 11 development of this bunch came when Illinois erased a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit on the road against Michigan State to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014. And since the Illini have a home game against Northwestern yet to come, there's a strong possibility they will finish the regular season with at least seven wins for the first time since 2007.
I can appreciate that Minnesota's P.J. Fleck is the no-brainer pick for Big Ten coach of the year, but Lovie Smith deserves some sort of honorable mention for this four-game winning streak.
Speaking of four-game streaks, landing on the wrong side of that comeback was the fourth consecutive loss for the Spartans. The road game against Michigan on Saturday will likely push that skid to five games too. But we're still projecting MSU for a 6-6 record, thanks to a favorable finish against Rutgers and Maryland.
On the subject of 4-5 teams, three others in this tier are worth mentioning: Kentucky, Mississippi State and TCU.
Even without a quarterback, Kentucky may well finish at 7-5 against a remaining schedule of Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville. That's one FCS team and a pair of defenses that allowed more than 50 points this past weekend. The 'Cats will find a way to get at least two more W's.
Mississippi State will probably lose to Alabama this week; however, the Bulldogs ought to rally for home wins over Abilene Christian and Ole Miss. Anything can happen in the Egg Bowl, but Ole Miss doesn't have anything close to a quality win this season.
TCU is the least likely of the three to get to six wins. It's plenty feasible, though. The Horned Frogs still have a road game against Oklahoma, but at least it is sandwiched between likely wins over Texas Tech and West Virginia—two teams with a combined record of 1-9 against above-.500 opponents.
It should be noted, though, that neither Kentucky nor Mississippi State is a lock, and no one seems to know whether the NCAA will rule Missouri eligible. If things end poorly for all three of those teams, we could end up with just seven SEC teams in bowl games. That would be quite the drop-off after five consecutive years with at least 11 bowl games from the conference.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Indiana (7-2) vs. Washington (6-4)
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Oklahoma State (6-3) vs. Notre Dame (7-2)
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Texas (6-3) vs. Utah (8-1)
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Florida (8-2) vs. Michigan (7-2)
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn (7-2) vs. Wisconsin (7-2)
This tier features three changes from one week ago, each of which was the result of a team dropping down as opposed to one moving into the New Year's Six picture.
Idle Indiana moves up to replace Iowa after its loss to Wisconsin, and idle Oklahoma State does the same following Iowa State's loss to Oklahoma. Neither loss was unforgivable, as both came on the road in close fashion against a superior foe. But there's so little separating the fifth-best and sixth-best teams in those conferences that it was enough for a slight shake-up.
The most noteworthy change came when Texas knocked off Kansas State and took what had been the Wildcats' spot in the Alamo Bowl.
Even though Texas has two potential losses coming up at Iowa State and at Baylor, the head-to-head wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State give the Longhorns a significant advantage in the race for third place in the Big 12. And with both Baylor and Oklahoma projected for the New Year's Six, that would give Texas the coveted spot in the Alamo Bowl against the best non-NY6 team from the Pac-12.
(We already discussed last week why Utah is in that spot rather than a New Year's Six Bowl, despite its impressive spot in the rankings.)
There's also a possibility that Texas still plays its way into the New Year's Six mix. If the Longhorns win out and Oklahoma beats Baylor, Sam Ehlinger and Co. would get another shot at the Sooners in the Big 12 championship. Win and they get the Sugar Bowl. Lose and they still could get the Sugar Bowl if it propels Oklahoma into the playoff.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Georgia (8-1) vs. Memphis (8-1)
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Penn State (8-1) vs. Virginia (7-3)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama (8-1) vs. Baylor (9-0)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon (8-1) vs. Minnesota (9-0)
Yes, that is Alabama you see in the Sugar Bowl, projected to miss the four-team playoff for the first time ever. If Clemson, Ohio State, LSU and either the Big 12 champ (Oklahoma or Baylor) or Pac-12 champ (Oregon or Utah) get in, the Crimson Tide would figure to be left out.
The odds that will happen are still relatively slim, though.
Per FiveThirtyEight's projections, Clemson has a 77 percent chance of winning out, Ohio State is at 51 percent and LSU is 46 percent. Multiply those together and you've got an 18 percent chance that all three will finish undefeated.
Read a different way, there's an 82 percent chance that one of them will suffer a loss. There's also a remote possibility that—even if Clemson, Ohio State and LSU hold serve—Alabama sneaks in because Texas knocks off both Baylor and Oklahoma to win the Big 12 while Utah wins the Pac-12 with a resume deemed not as impressive as Alabama's.
There's still plenty of time for things to change. But let's just say it doesn't bode well that Alabama has an 0-1 record against teams that were in the CFP selection committee's initial Top 25 rankings.
That's enough Roll Tide talk for now. Time to move on to some boat-rowing.
LSU-Alabama was the game of the week/month/year, but Minnesota's stunning win over Penn State was the biggest story of Week 11. The still-undefeated Golden Gophers could be the fly in this playoff ointment if they keep on rowing.
The road game against Iowa this week won't be easy, but have you watched the Hawkeyes try to run their offense against competent defenses? It's ugly. They've been held to 16.6 points over their last five games (2-3 record), while Minnesota has amassed at least 440 yards and 31 points in six straight. The Gophers might not be favored, but they could win that game and the season finale at home against Wisconsin.
And if we get 12-0 Minnesota vs. 12-0 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, we can probably stop talking about one-loss teams that don't even win their division.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU (9-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (8-1)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State (9-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (10-0)
National Championship: No. 2 Ohio State over No. 1 LSU
A quick note before we delve into the debate about the No. 4 seed: How great would it be to get a national championship that pits Joe Burrow against the program that decided year after year he wasn't good enough to be its starting quarterback? Early in the season, we were hoping for a similar sort of vengeance game between Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Alabama, but Ohio State vs. LSU might be even better.
About that No. 4 seed, though...
It's anybody's guess. Using FiveThirtyEight's projections again, if we assume LSU, Ohio State and Clemson all win out, that leaves Oklahoma with a 31 percent chance of getting in, Oregon at 27 percent, Utah at 16 percent, Baylor at 15 percent and Alabama at 7 percent.
But in spite of the recent loss to Kansas State and the 42-41 scare against Iowa State this past weekend, Oklahoma should win out, and recency bias in regard to the next four weeks would ultimately put them in ahead of Alabama and the Pac-12 champion if that's what we're left debating on Selection Sunday.
Right now, Alabama has the better resume. The Crimson Tide won each of their first eight games by at least a 19-point margin, including convincing road wins over Texas A&M and better-than-its-record South Carolina (4-6). Oklahoma's only wins worth a damn were nail-biters against Texas and Iowa State, neither of which was a road game.
The Sooners play at undefeated Baylor this week, though. They also finish the regular season with some Bedlam at Oklahoma State. And while Alabama is sleepwalking through a home game against Western Carolina in Week 13, Oklahoma will at least face a TCU team with bowl aspirations.
And, of course, there's the not-so-small factor that Oklahoma should get another quality win against either Baylor or Texas in the Big 12 title game while Alabama sits at home.
At least Alabama has the Iron Bowl to try to prove something during that stretch. Oregon and Utah—neither of which has a win over an opponent that received at least four votes in this week's AP poll—will wrap up their regular seasons against the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and UCLA. Not one of those teams has even gotten to six wins yet, so there's not much of a statement to be made there.
Even if the Ducks and Utes both take care of business to set up an 11-1 vs. 11-1 conference championship, the winner will have that game to brag about and not much else.
Thus, we're rolling with Oklahoma at No. 4 until the next unforeseeable upset forces another shuffling of the deck.
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 (Cotton Bowl), Navy (Military Bowl), SMU (Frisco Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Clemson (Fiesta Bowl), Duke (Birmingham Bowl), Florida State (Military Bowl), Louisville (Quick Lane Bowl), Miami (Music City Bowl), North Carolina (Independence Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Orange Bowl), Virginia Tech (Belk Bowl), Wake Forest (Sun Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (Sugar Bowl), Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Kansas State (Texas Bowl), Oklahoma (Peach Bowl), Oklahoma State (Camping World Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Alamo Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Illinois (Quick Lane Bowl), Indiana (Holiday Bowl), Iowa (Gator Bowl), Michigan (Citrus Bowl), Michigan State (Pinstripe Bowl), Minnesota (Rose Bowl), Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl), Penn State (Orange Bowl), Wisconsin (Outback Bowl)
Conference USA (7 teams): Charlotte (New Mexico Bowl), Florida Atlantic (Redbox 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 (Cheez-It Bowl), Notre Dame (Camping World Bowl)
Mid-American (7 teams): Buffalo (Camellia Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Independence Bowl), Miami-Ohio (Bahamas 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), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (First Responder Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (6 teams): Arizona State (Sun Bowl), California (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Rose Bowl), USC (Redbox Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl)
SEC (10 teams): Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Auburn (Outback Bowl), Florida (Citrus Bowl), Georgia (Cotton Bowl), Kentucky (Texas Bowl), LSU (Peach Bowl), Mississippi State (Gator Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), Tennessee (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Liberty Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Mobile Alabama Bowl), Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl), Georgia State (Cure Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (Arizona Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.