College Football Playoff Projections: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
Week 12 was devoid of colossal upsets, so there weren't any drastic changes in the College Football Playoff selection committee's latest rankings. The top seven remains the same with LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia positioned to partake in the playoff if it started today.
But only three of those four are in our projected playoff picture.
There are still two weeks left in the regular season in addition to the pivotal conference championship week. Just because nothing much changed from Week 12 to Week 13 doesn't mean there won't be major changes between now and Selection Sunday.
And for what it's worth, there were some noteworthy developments toward the back of the CFP Top 25.
For starters, Iowa State and USC jumped in at No. 22 and No. 23, respectively, with four losses each.
The Cyclones showing up wasn't a huge surprise, considering they almost won at Oklahoma two weeks ago and beat Texas this past Saturday. USC was a rather large surprise, though, considering the Trojans received all of one vote in the AP poll. Evidently, their 41-17 late-night blowout of California caught the selection committee's attention.
Elsewhere, the race for the Cotton Bowl took an interesting turn with Cincinnati—following a close call at South Florida—dropping two spots to No. 19, temporarily putting No. 18 Memphis in the driver's seat. It doesn't really matter since they'll play each other in Week 14, but it is interesting that No. 20 Boise State is really breathing down the necks of those AAC teams. (Don't forget about Appalachian State at No. 24 or SMU at No. 25, either.)
Perhaps most surprising about the new rankings is the absence of Texas A&M. Granted, the Aggies don't have any great wins. Hell, they're 0-3 against teams that are .500 or better. But those three losses were respectable performances against Clemson, Alabama and Auburn.
Plus, if you're of the opinion that the selection committee sometimes makes changes just to bolster ratings, this was quite the opportunity to do so. Even if the Aggies were just barely in at No. 25, that makes their upcoming games at Georgia and at LSU a little more marketable to a national audience.
On that note, let's shift the focus to bowl projections, because we've got the forecast for all 40 matchups.
Eight more teams picked up their sixth win of the season in Week 12, increasing the running tally to 64 bowl-eligible teams with two weeks remaining—plus one outlier we'll discuss shortly. There are 78 spots that need to be filled, though, so there is still quite a bit of work to be done.
There are 14* teams sitting at 5-5 needing just one more win to finish the job, but four of them are likely to go 0-2 down the home stretch.
Boston College (at Notre Dame, at Pitt), Oregon State (at Washington State, at Oregon), Troy (at Louisiana, vs. Appalachian State) and Florida International (vs. Miami-FL, at Marshall) do not have a remaining game in which ESPN's FPI projections give them a better than 33 percent chance of victory. California (at Stanford, at UCLA) is also a big question mark with two coin-flip road games remaining after losses in five of its last six games.
Fortunately, a few teams with 4-6 records should sneak in with back-to-back victories. Michigan State has been a hot mess since starting 4-1, but the Spartans close out the season with probable wins over Rutgers and Maryland. The other MSU, Mississippi State, has a gimme this weekend (Abilene Christian) before a home game against Ole Miss that it ought to win. Ohio plays road games against Bowling Green and Akron, but those are two of the worst FBS teams.
There's also North Carolina and NC State. The in-state rivals are both 4-6, should both win in Week 13—UNC hosts Mercer, State faces 2-8 Georgia Tech—and then they would finish the season with a loser-falls-short, head-to-head battle.
Army is the outlier mentioned earlier. The Black Knights improved to 5-6 this past weekend and will have the upcoming week off before playing at Hawaii. But if they lose that game, they still have the rivalry game against Navy on Dec. 14 to possibly pick up their sixth win. It would be wild if we're at 77 bowl-eligible teams heading into that game, waiting to find out whether Army or the 5-7 team with the highest APR score gets the final spot.
If there is a shortage of six-win teams and APR scores do come into play—it's looking like a 50/50 proposition at this point—here is a ranking of the teams that could finish the season at 5-7:
1. Duke (4-6, 992 APR)
2. Boston College (5-5, 989 APR)
3. Stanford (4-6, 986 APR)
4. Middle Tennessee (3-7, 982 APR)
5. Ohio (4-6, 981 APR)
6. Arizona State (5-5, 980 APR)
*One of the 14 teams at 5-5 is Missouri, which still may or may not be facing a bowl ban. At this point, it's as if the NCAA is just waiting to see if the Tigers get to six wins before making a ruling.
Group of Five Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Miami-Ohio (6-4) vs. Western Kentucky (6-4)
Frisco Bowl: Army (5-6)* vs. Southern Miss (7-3)
New Mexico Bowl: Charlotte (5-5) vs. Wyoming (6-4)
Cure Bowl: Georgia State (6-4) vs. UCF (7-3)
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane (6-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-4)
Camellia Bowl: Buffalo (5-5) vs. Georgia Southern (6-4)
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall (7-3) vs. Appalachian State (9-1)
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB (7-3) vs. Temple (7-3)
Hawaii Bowl: BYU (6-4) vs. Hawaii (7-4)
Arizona Bowl: San Diego State (8-2) vs. Louisiana (8-2)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State (6-4) vs. Central Michigan (7-4)
Mobile Alabama Bowl: Toledo (6-4) vs. Arkansas State (6-4)
*Army takes a spot the AAC is unable to fill.
No significant developments to report in the American, Mountain West or Sun Belt this week. Between those three leagues, the only underdog to win outright was Temple at home against Tulane in a battle between 6-3 squads, which doesn't change anything as far as bowl projections are concerned.
Conference USA also produced just one upset—Rice getting its first win of the season at the expense of Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were already unlikely to become bowl-eligible, though, as this result dropped them to 3-7. So, again, no changes on the bowl projections front.
But the MAC was chaos, per usual.
Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois each won road games as slight underdogs, and Kent State scored 24 unanswered points in the final eight minutes to upset Buffalo and remain in the hunt for six wins while keeping the Bulls from reaching that plateau.
The league currently has just four bowl-eligible teams, but 5-5 Buffalo (vs. Toledo, vs. Bowling Green), 5-5 Eastern Michigan (at Northern Illinois, vs. Kent State) and 4-6 Ohio (at Bowling Green, at Akron) are strong candidates to get there eventually.
While we're here, let's also point out there's still a decent chance Appalachian State represents the Group of Five in the Cotton Bowl.
Navy dropped out of the conversation by getting drilled at Notre Dame. Same goes for Louisiana Tech following a 31-10 loss to Marshall, knocking Conference USA out of the running entirely. (The MAC has been out of the running for a long time.) That leaves App State, Boise State and the AAC champion, be it Cincinnati, Memphis or SMU.
Boise State has a tough road game against Utah State this week, plays another road game against Colorado State to finish the regular season and then would need to beat San Diego State's excellent defense in the MWC championship. The Broncos might win out, but it's far from guaranteed. And in the AAC, it's not much of a stretch to think Memphis could beat South Florida and Cincinnati (at home) before losing to the Bearcats in the conference championship game.
If that happens, Boise State loses a game and Appalachian State takes care of its business down the stretch, voila, the Mountaineers would get a chance to beat a third Power Five team this season.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State (9-1) vs. California (5-5)
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): North Carolina (4-6) vs. SMU* (9-1)
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State (6-5) vs. Navy (7-2)
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Louisiana Tech (8-2) vs. Nevada^ (6-4)
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Cincinnati (9-1) vs. Eastern Michigan** (5-5)
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Liberty^^ (6-4) vs. Air Force (8-2)
*SMU takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
^Nevada takes a spot the Big 12 is unable to fill.
**Eastern Michigan takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
^^Liberty takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
We should probably change the name of this tier, considering there are only three Power Five teams on the list, two of which aren't even bowl-eligible yet.
There's no feasible scenario in which the SEC produces enough teams to fill either the Independence Bowl or the Birmingham Bowl. We're even projecting 5-5 Kentucky, 5-5 Tennessee, 5-5 and potentially-not-eligible-anyway Missouri and 4-6 Mississippi State to get in. That still isn't enough, since the SEC is just about guaranteed to send at least three teams to New Year's Six bowls.
The Big Ten might get enough teams to fill the Armed Forces Bowl, but only if it ends up with fewer than three New Year's Six bowls AND 4-6 Purdue and/or 4-6 Nebraska does the improbable by winning out.
Similar story for the Big 12, which will realistically only be able to fill the First Responder Bowl if Baylor or Oklahoma drops out of the New Year's Six picture. It might be more likely that the Big 12 fails to fill both this bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl, which would be the case if the Bears and Sooners are both NY6 bound while 5-5 TCU (at OK, vs. WVU), 4-6 West Virginia (vs. OKST, at TCU) and 4-6 Texas Tech (vs. KSU, at Texas) all fall short of six wins.
And it's not like the ACC and Pac-12 have a surplus of bowl-bound teams to fill those spots.
Heck, it's still possible only five Pac-12 teams reach six wins, meaning it wouldn't be able to put a team in the Las Vegas Bowl, either. Oregon, Utah, USC and Washington are already there, and Oregon State and Washington State have a 5-5 showdown next week to push the tally to five. But if the top four teams win their remaining games, Arizona State loses to Arizona, Stanford loses to Notre Dame and California loses remaining road games against Stanford and UCLA, the Pac-12 ends up with six teams at 5-7 and Colorado at 4-8.
Even if the Pac-12 gets to six teams, though, if Oregon and Utah both end up in the NY6, it won't have enough teams for the Las Vegas or Cheez-It Bowls.
Translation: Get ready for more Group of Five bowls than are in the Group of Five section. Or if we do end up with games like 12-1 Boise State vs. 6-6 California and 11-1 SMU vs. 6-6 North Carolina, prepare for a healthy dose of Group of Five teams being favored over their Power Five foes.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois (6-4) vs. Louisville (6-4)
Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State (4-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-3)
Texas Bowl: Kentucky (5-5) vs. Kansas State (6-4)
Cheez-It Bowl: TCU (5-5) vs. Washington State (5-5)
Redbox Bowl: Florida Atlantic^ (7-3) vs. USC (7-4)
Music City Bowl: Miami (6-4) vs. Missouri* (5-5)
Belk Bowl: Tennessee (5-5) vs. Virginia Tech (7-3)
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (5-5) vs. Wake Forest (7-3)
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (6-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-3)
Gator Bowl: Indiana (7-3) vs. Mississippi State (4-6)
*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.
^Florida Atlantic takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
Last week's Florida Atlantic-USC pairing in the Redbox Bowl was an inadvertent slice of comedy, but we're intentionally keeping that matchup in place for at least one more week.
Maybe USC ultimately lands one tier higher in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl. Perhaps the Big Ten produces enough teams to fill the Redbox Bowl or vacates the Quick Lane Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl instead of the Redbox Bowl. Or, most likely, it might be one of the AAC's 9-1 teams getting promoted to this spot instead of 7-3 Florida Atlantic. But, hey, it could happen. Let our dreams of a Lane Kiffin Bowl linger for one more week.
Elsewhere, just about the only in-out swap from last week's projection was Washington State moving back onto the right side of the bubble with a 49-22 win over Stanford. (The Cougars move in while 4-6 Duke drops out following its no-show against Syracuse.) Wazzu hosts Oregon State on Saturday in what looks like a do-or-die game for both .500 teams, as they will each end the regular season with road games against their superior in-state rivals.
The only other noteworthy developments in this tier belong to the Big 12, where four out of the five games this week were decided by four points or fewer. Iowa State knocked off then-No. 19 Texas, moving both teams to 6-4. Kansas State also dropped to 6-4 with a home loss to West Virginia. And TCU went on the road and clipped Texas Tech in the battle of 4-5 teams.
Unless Texas can win this week's road game against Baylor, the Longhorns will likely drop from the Camping World Bowl back down to this tier, to be replaced by the winner of the season finale between Iowa State and Kansas State. But trying to figure out the hierarchy of Nos. 4-7 in this league is just about impossible right now.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Iowa (7-3) vs. Washington (6-4)
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Texas (6-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-2)
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Oklahoma State (7-3) vs. Utah (9-1)
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Florida (9-2) vs. Michigan (8-2)
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Auburn (7-3) vs. Wisconsin (8-2)
Aside from Iowa (home win over Minnesota) replacing Indiana (road loss to Penn State) in the Holiday Bowl, these are the same teams from one week ago. Nothing new to report, except for the rapidly increasing frustration that so many of these squads are going to miss the New Year's Six while some four-loss team from the ACC goes to the Orange Bowl.
Florida is 9-2 with a quality win over Auburn and hard-fought losses to LSU and Georgia. Notre Dame has five wins over bowl-eligible teams and a pair of road losses to Georgia and Michigan. The Wolverines also beat Iowa and merely lost road games against Penn State (competitive) and Wisconsin (not so much). And while Utah doesn't have any particularly noteworthy victories, 9-1 in a Power Five conference is nothing to scoff at.
But instead of one of those teams getting into a more prestigious bowl, it's probably going to be Virginia, which is 0-3 against bowl-eligible teams since mid-September. Or perhaps Wake Forest gets in with ugly losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech and nothing more impressive than by-the-skin-of-its-teeth home victories over Utah State and Florida State.
Either way, it's going to be annoying.
While it would be bizarre to have a playoff without Alabama or Clemson, it would almost be a relief if the Tigers lost one of their two remaining games to drop out of the Top Four and down to the Orange Bowl, paving the way for one of these deserving teams to move up to the New Year's Six.
What I'll never be able to understand is why Notre Dame counts as an ACC team for the Camping World Bowl or just about any ACC-contracted bowl, but it isn't allowed to be considered an ACC team for the Orange Bowl. The Fighting Irish could, however, earn the other spot in the Orange Bowl to face the ACC's representative, but that doesn't help.
Barring a Clemson loss, there are going to be a lot of complaints.
It's also worth noting that if Oklahoma gets into the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 is required to put its next-best representative in the Sugar Bowl. At the moment, having Baylor projected there doesn't seem so bad. But if the Bears lose to Texas this week and lose to Oklahoma again in the Big 12 championship—leaving them with three losses and one of the worst nonconference schedules ever assembled—that will be a different story.
Best of luck trying to explain to fans of 10-2 Notre Dame and 10-2 Florida why 9-4 Virginia and 10-3 Baylor—it's possible neither one appears in the final CFP Top 25—are getting New Year's Six bowls instead of them on account of nothing more than where we are at in the three-year cycle of which two bowls get the playoff semifinals. For all the annual ranting about the need to expand the playoff, this is arguably an even more ridiculous flaw with the current system.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Georgia (9-1) vs. Memphis (9-1)
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Penn State (9-1) vs. Virginia (7-3)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama (9-1) vs. Baylor (9-1)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon (9-1) vs. Minnesota (9-1)
No changes from last week, and the only move that was even tempting to make was Wisconsin replacing Minnesota in the Rose Bowl. Both teams should easily win in Week 13—Wisconsin hosts Purdue, Minnesota plays at Northwestern—setting up a head-to-head season finale to determine the Big Ten West champion. Even though the Golden Gophers are the home team, the Badgers will probably be a slight favorite.
But we're far from convinced that Wisconsin is going to win that game. They have won two in a row to right the ship, but these aren't the same Badgers who suffocated opponents with defense for the first six weeks of the season. They have now allowed at least 21 points in four straight games, including a season-worst 493 yards allowed this past week at Nebraska. Minnesota can definitely beat that team.
Before we worry about that Week 14 battle, though, there's a much more intriguing Week 13 showdown in the Big Ten.
Penn State dropped off the radar a little bit following the loss to Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions could still throw a huge wrench into everyone's projections by upsetting Ohio State and winning the Big Ten East. (Assuming they don't lose the subsequent home game against Rutgers.) While a win in the Horseshoe is far from likely for any road team, stranger things have happened already this season.
Even with the projected loss to the Buckeyes, though, Penn State has probably done enough to play in the Orange Bowl. Maybe Florida jumps ahead of the Nittany Lions if this game gets out of hand, but they deserve to finish ahead of the Pac-12 and Big 12 runners-up.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU (10-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (9-1)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (11-0)
National Championship: No. 2 Ohio State over No. 1 LSU
More than a few readers were livid last week when we had CFP No. 10 Oklahoma projected to reach the playoff, but hopefully you're starting to see the light now.
While No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah beat sub-.500 teams and No. 8 Minnesota lost to Iowa, the Sooners went on the road and—after digging themselves a massive 28-3 hole—knocked off previously unbeaten Baylor to gain a lot of ground on the pack ahead of them.
If the Sooners continue to win, it will mean a decent home win over TCU, a quality road victory over Oklahoma State and another W at Baylor's expense in the Big 12 title game. Meanwhile, Oregon and Utah don't face another opponent with a winning record until (presumably) drawing each other in the Pac-12 championship, and Alabama isn't going to have the opportunity to play for the SEC title.
Oklahoma should eventually bypass all three of those teams.
Factor in presumed losses by Penn State (at Ohio State) and Georgia (SEC championship vs. LSU), and you have the recipe for a third consecutive playoff featuring Oklahoma.
Now, if you want to argue that Oklahoma might not actually get to 12-1, we hear you loud and clear. Over their last three games, the Sooners have a scoring margin of negative-four. The odds of that awful defense winning at Oklahoma State as well as in a neutral-site rematch with Baylor aren't great.
However, it is the most likely scenario at this point. And if you put a check in the "Win Out?" boxes for Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon (and Alabama for good measure) on the FiveThirtyEight playoff model, the Sooners edge out the Ducks 56 percent to 40 percent.
That model doesn't factor in style points or the eye test or whatever you want to call the human element of arguing about the best teams, but let's just talk quality of wins for a moment.
Assuming we end up with a 12-1 Oklahoma, 12-1 Oregon and 11-1 Alabama, here is a ranking of each team's five best victories.
Oklahoma: at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Baylor (Big 12 championship), Texas (in Dallas), Iowa State
Oregon: Utah (Pac-12 championship), at Washington, at USC...at (5-5) Arizona State?...at (4-6) Stanford??
Alabama: at Auburn, at Texas A&M, at (4-6) Mississippi State, at (4-7) South Carolina, vs. (5-5) Tennessee...but no conference championship
Granted, there's no "five best wins" criteria in the selection committee's handbook, and you can just as easily point to the quality of each team's loss as a strong argument against Oklahoma—Kansas State certainly hasn't been doing Oklahoma any favors with its losses the past two weeks—but I still believe it would be enough to push Oklahoma into the final spot.
The anti-SEC crowd isn't going to want to hear this part, but the simplest solution to this debate is for Georgia to get to 12-1 by dropping LSU to 12-1 in the SEC championship. Both of those teams would certainly finish ahead of the Big 12 and Pac-12 champions. Short of that, though, Dec. 7 into Dec. 8 figures to be a long night of arguing.
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 (Independence Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
ACC (9 teams): Clemson (Fiesta 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 (Alamo Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Camping World Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Illinois (Quick Lane Bowl), Indiana (Gator Bowl), Iowa (Holiday 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 (4 teams): Army (Frisco Bowl), BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (Armed Forces Bowl), Notre Dame (Camping World Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Buffalo (Camellia Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Birmingham Bowl), Miami-Ohio (Bahamas 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 (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 (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 (New Orleans Bowl), Arkansas State (Mobile Alabama 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.