College Football Playoff Projections: Week 14 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
The new College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and there was a surprising—albeit justified—changing of the guard. After defeating then-No. 8 Penn State, Ohio State jumped ahead of LSU for the top spot in this week's Top 25. Clemson, Georgia and Alabama held steady at Nos. 3-5.
Regarding the Buckeyes, if it wasn't this week, it was likely going to happen next week. While LSU hosts unranked Texas A&M on Saturday, Ohio State travels to the Big House to take on No. 13 Michigan. The Buckeyes and Tigers have similar enough resumes at the moment, but a win there will tip the scales in Ohio State's favor.
However, LSU may well steal the top spot back by defeating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Stay tuned.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't much matter, but the race for No. 1 is a huge deal with Clemson ready to face whoever finishes at No. 2.
The only other significant changes were Oregon plummeting eight spots to No. 14 after losing to Arizona State and Baylor jumping five spots after a home win over Texas. The former was to be expected. The latter was a bit of a stunner, though.
As ESPN's roundtable of experts discussed during the rankings release, this felt like a recalibration; as if the committee was saying it screwed up by ever having Baylor ranked in the teens.
The Bears were No. 13 prior to almost beating Oklahoma, and it seems like the committee wanted to move them up despite the loss because their performance in that game validated their season. However, the committee didn't want to deal with the backlash of promoting a losing team, so it put a pin in that decision until Baylor got a win over struggling Texas.
It didn't hurt that Florida was idle, Wisconsin struggled early against a bad opponent and Penn State and Oregon lost, but Michigan fans have to be annoyed with the development. The Wolverines went on the road and slaughtered a good Indiana team and just stood still while the Bears rocketed past them after a less impressive victory.
Now, for the bowl projections.
There are 73 teams that already have six wins, plus 13 more entering Week 14 with 5-6 records—not including Missouri, which finally had an appeal of its bowl ban denied Tuesday. As a result, we no longer need to consider the Tigers.
We still need to get to 78 bowl-eligible teams, though, and there's a good chance we'll land on that number.
According to ESPN's FPI projections, three of those 13 teams have at least 85 percent chances of winning this week: Ohio at Akron (92.0), Michigan State vs. Maryland (89.6) and TCU vs. West Virginia (85.3). There are two other teams with good chances of winning: North Carolina at NC State (72.5 percent) and Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss (64.0).
The other eight—Army at Hawaii, Boston College at Pittsburgh, Kent State at Eastern Michigan, Nebraska vs. Iowa, Troy vs. Appalachian State, Louisiana-Monroe at Louisiana, Oregon State at Oregon, Colorado at Utah—have less than 36 percent chances of victory, some of them substantially less.
But if you add the percentages, you get 606.7, which means a projected 6.1 out of 14 possible victories. Obviously, partial credit isn't awarded. It's going to be a whole number. But it does suggest that 79 bowl-eligible teams is the most likely outcome.
One other caveat we still need to consider is Army vs. Navy on Dec. 14. Should the Black Knights beat the Midshipmen (or Hawaii on Saturday), they would be bowl-eligible. However, considering they don't have an affiliation with any particular game, Army would likely be one of the excess teams left out of the bowl picture. If we finish next week with 77 bowl-eligible teams, we'll have to wait to see if Army or the squad with the best academic progress rate among 5-7 teams is the last one in.
While we're on the subject of APR scores, here are the top scores of teams with 5-6 or 4-7 records, just in case:
1. Duke (4-7, 992 APR)
2. Boston College (5-6, 989)
3. Stanford (4-7, 986)
4. Middle Tennessee (4-7, 982)
5. Ohio (5-6, 981)
Group of Five Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Miami (Ohio) (7-4) vs. Western Kentucky (7-4)
Frisco Bowl: Ohio (5-6)* vs. Southern Miss (7-4)
New Mexico Bowl: Florida International (6-5) vs. Wyoming (7-4)
Cure Bowl: Georgia State (7-4) vs. UCF (8-3)
Boca Raton Bowl: Tulane (6-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-4)
Camellia Bowl: Buffalo (6-5) vs. Georgia Southern (6-5)
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall (7-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-1)
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB (8-3) vs. Temple (7-4)
Hawaii Bowl: BYU (7-4) vs. Hawaii (8-4)
Arizona Bowl: Charlotte^ (6-5) vs. Louisiana (9-2)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State (6-5) vs. Central Michigan (7-4)
LendingTree Bowl: Toledo (6-5) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
*Ohio takes a spot the American Athletic Conference is unable to fill.
^Charlotte takes a spot the Mountain West Conference is unable to fill.
Quite the heaping helping of 7-4 and 6-5 teams, which shockingly includes Florida International after its upset of Miami. But what's more intriguing with the Group of Five is the extremes of the pecking order.
At the top remains a four-horse race for the Cotton Bowl. Boise State and Appalachian State improved to 10-1 with convincing wins for a second consecutive week. Each will finish the regular season Friday with a road game against a sub-.500 team before battling for its conference championship—Boise State against Hawaii for the Mountain West crown and Appalachian State against a better-than-anyone-seems-to-realize Louisiana for Sun Belt glory.
Also on Friday, Memphis hosts Cincinnati in a showdown between the AAC's remaining one-loss squads. The Bearcats have won three of their last four games by three points or fewer and have not looked dominant since September, but the Tigers' lackluster defense leaves open the possibility for anything.
If Memphis wins, it would host Cincinnati again the following week for the AAC title. If Cincinnati wins and Navy defeats Houston on Saturday, the Bearcats would instead host the Midshipmen for the chance to secure a spot in the Cotton Bowl.
If there ends up being a 12-1 AAC champion, it will most likely go to the Cotton Bowl. Boise State and Appalachian State are far from dead, though.
At the other end of the spectrum, if we end up with a surplus of bowl-eligible teams, the Group of Five would have teams left out of the mix. We are currently projecting exactly 78 bowl-eligible teams, though, so no need to worry about that today. However, it would most likely be Conference USA or the Mid-American Conference that has a 6-6 team left out.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State (10-1) vs. California (6-5)
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): North Carolina (5-6) vs. SMU* (9-2)
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State (6-5) vs. Navy (8-2)
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Louisiana Tech (8-3) vs. Nevada^ (7-4)
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Cincinnati (10-1) vs. Eastern Michigan† (6-5)
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Liberty‡ (6-5) vs. Air Force (9-2)
*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.
Not a single change to this tier from one week ago.
California and Eastern Michigan clinched eligibility with wins over Stanford and Northern Illinois, and North Carolina moved one step closer to joining that club by (predictably) blowing out Mercer.
There was one noteworthy development: North Carolina State's surprising loss to previously 2-8 Georgia Tech. Had the Wolfpack won, it would have set up a winner-becomes-bowl-eligible 5-6 vs. 5-6 battle with the Tar Heels.
Considering NC State has lost five in a row and has also lost by double digits in all five of its games against teams with at least five wins, we're not expecting the Wolfpack to protect their home turf in that rivalry game. It wouldn't be all that shocking if it happened, though, given how many of UNC's games have been decided at the last second.
While we're discussing the Wolfpack, let's also point out that the Nevada Wolf Pack improved to 7-4 despite a scoring margin of minus-126. They lost 77-6 at Oregon, 54-3 to Hawaii, 36-10 at Utah State and 31-3 at Wyoming, while most of their wins were of the "just barely" variety. That includes Saturday's 35-28 victory at Fresno State, which was decided on Toa Taua's touchdown run with 12 seconds remaining.
The Wolf Pack should win their season finale at home against UNLV, but let's hope they don't win it by more than 26 points, because I intend to spend part of this week looking up the last time (if ever) a team won eight or more games while allowing at least 100 points more than it scored.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Michigan State (5-6) vs. Louisville (7-4)
Pinstripe Bowl: Illinois (6-5) vs. Pittsburgh (7-4)
Texas Bowl: Kentucky (6-5) vs. Kansas State (7-4)
Cheez-It Bowl: TCU (5-6) vs. Washington State (6-5)
Music City Bowl: Miami (6-5) vs. San Diego State* (8-3)
Redbox Bowl: Iowa (8-3) vs. Washington (6-5)
Belk Bowl: Tennessee (6-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-3)
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (6-5) vs. Wake Forest (8-3)
Liberty Bowl: Florida Atlantic^ (8-3) vs. Texas (6-5)
Gator Bowl: Indiana (7-4) vs. Mississippi State (5-6)
*San Diego State takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
^Florida Atlantic takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
By far the most important result from this weekend was Arizona State's upset of Oregon, which secured the Sun Devils' bowl-eligibility and knocked the Ducks out of the running for the College Football Playoff.
ASU likely would have gotten its sixth victory against 4-7 Arizona, but why put off until Week 14 what you can finish in Week 13, right?
True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that had not allowed any opponent to accumulate 450 yards. The future was already bright for Daniels, but that was one heck of a confidence builder.
The Pac-12 also put up one of the most ridiculous box scores of the season when Washington State scored a touchdown at the last second to knock off Oregon State 54-53 in a battle of 5-5 teams.
Wazzu's Anthony Gordon threw for 606 yards and six touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 4,920 and 45, respectively. Gardner Minshew II finished last season with "only" 4,779 and 38, and Gordon still has two games left.
He is averaging 447 yards and four touchdowns per game. Texas Tech's B.J. Symons threw for 5,833 yards in 2003, and Hawaii's Colt Brennan had 58 passing touchdowns in 2006. Gordon is well on his way to top-three finishes in both categories.
Let's briefly balance that obsession with offense by pointing out what Virginia Tech has been up to lately. The Hokies shut out Pittsburgh seven days after blanking Georgia Tech. The week before that, they went on a 23-0 run over the final 22 minutes against Wake Forest, meaning they have outscored their opponents 96-0 over the last 142 minutes. They also were 30 seconds from a road win over Notre Dame right before this defensive mean streak began.
We're projecting the Hokies to lose at Virginia this Friday, which would give the Cavaliers the ACC Coastal Division and the right to get slaughtered by Clemson in the conference championship game. But talk about a team peaking at the right time. Virginia Tech has owned this month.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Michigan (9-2) vs. USC (8-4)
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Iowa State (7-4)
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Oregon (9-2) vs. Oklahoma State (8-3)
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Wisconsin (9-2) vs. Auburn (8-3)
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Penn State (9-2) vs. Texas A&M (7-4)
Considering the Big Ten is one of the leagues that plays nine conference games while the ACC and SEC tiptoe around eight-game slates, it's impressive that it already has five teams with at least nine wins.
However, it's likely that only two of those teams will play in New Year's Six bowls.
Michigan hosts Ohio State this week, which should result in a third loss for the Wolverines. They certainly wouldn't go to the Rose Bowl at that point, and it's hard to imagine they could sneak into the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl, either, given how many Power Five teams there are with two or fewer losses.
The other big game this week is Wisconsin traveling to Minnesota to determine who wins the Big Ten West and faces Ohio State in the conference championship game.
If the Golden Gophers win, the Badgers will face the same three-loss fate as Michigan. If Wisconsin wins, it would become the projected Rose Bowl team and knock Minnesota out of the CFP Top 10. Maybe Minnesota would finish in front of Florida in that scenario, but probably not. Each team has only one particularly impressive win, but the strength of Florida's schedule would likely be the difference.
And then there's Penn State, which almost certainly will improve to 10-2 with a home win over Rutgers. If Ohio State and Minnesota win, things will boil down to Florida and Penn State for the final New Year's Six spot.
Each team will have six wins over projected bowl teams, and each suffered a pair of losses away from home against the two likely division winners in their conferences. It's a tough call, but slight edge to the Gators in that debate. Though, if the selection committee decides Florida loses an effective tiebreaker for playing two games against non-FBS opponents (Tennessee-Martin and Towson), we can respect the rationale.
Last note on this tier: How great would that projected Holiday Bowl be? Both Michigan and USC had higher hopes for this season, but it's hard to argue with two of the biggest programs in the sport squaring off.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Georgia (10-1) vs. Memphis (10-1)
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Florida (9-2) vs. Virginia (8-3)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Utah (10-1) vs. Minnesota (10-1)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama (10-1) vs. Baylor (10-1)
We started publishing bowl projections after Week 6, and while every other spot underwent at least one change during that nearly two-month span, the one thing that remained the same throughout was Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
That is no longer the case following the Ducks' loss to Arizona State. They could still bounce back to beat Utah in the Pac-12 championship and lock up that spot in the Rose Bowl, but we have to project the Utes as the winners of that one after watching both of those teams play Saturday.
Strength of schedule is going to make it difficult for Utah to finish in the Top Four without a little help, but the Utes clearly possess the defensive acumen to hang with any opponent. That Tyler Huntley-Zack Moss combo is no joke, either.
The great dichotomy of bowl projections is that even though I don't think Utah has a resume deserving of the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, I'd probably pick the Utes to win a national semifinal if they made it.
Arizona isn't great by any means, but the Utes made the Wildcats look like a collection of rag dolls. Same goes for UCLA as well as California and Arizona State. Utah's last six opponents have averaged just 212 yards and eight points per game. And you can forget about running the ball against the front seven. Nine of Utah's last 10 opponents have been held to 67 rushing yards or fewer.
Elsewhere, Baylor feels like a near-lock for a New Year's Six bowl following its 24-10 win over Texas. As long as the Bears don't mess around and lose at Kansas, the worst-case scenario is they finish 11-2 with a pair of losses to Oklahoma. Even if the Sooners fail to finish in the Top Four and instead take the Big 12's spot in the Sugar Bowl, Baylor should at least still get into the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl.
Baylor's X-factor is Utah, though. If Oklahoma falls short of the Top Four because Utah gets, that means Oregon will rise a tier to take the Pac-12's spot in the Rose Bowl. And the Bears might be the team that gets the boot to make room for the Ducks.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State (11-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (10-1)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 LSU (11-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (11-0)
National Championship Game: No. 1 Ohio State over No. 2 LSU
I've had Oklahoma projected for the Peach Bowl since the moment Alabama lost to LSU, but the Sooners are not inspiring much confidence.
The theory at the time was that they would win at Baylor (they did), beat TCU (yep), finish the season with wins away from home against Oklahoma State and Baylor (to be determined) and do most of it in convincing fashion (yeah, about that...).
The good news for Oklahoma is that Oregon and Penn State lost, paving the way for the Sooners to move up two spots to No. 7. If they do get to 12-1, there's still a strong argument to be made that Oklahoma deserves to leapfrog Utah because of its strength of schedule and bypass Alabama because of its conference championship. At that point, it'd be a question of whether LSU beats Georgia to knock the Dawgs behind the Sooners, too.
However, OU's last three wins were by one against Iowa State, by three (in comeback fashion) at Baylor and by four against TCU. Factor in a 48-41 loss at Kansas State, and the score in Oklahoma's four most recent games is 145-144.
Meanwhile, Utah is destroying every team in its path, and Alabama's Mac Jones—albeit against bad opponents thus far—has looked impressive enough that we might not need to put that "No Tua Tagovailoa" asterisk on Alabama's resume.
The Sooners could flip the script by winning both Bedlam and the Big 12 championship by double digits. That's the thing about the eye test: The most recent games tend to matter most. But if the Sooners scrape their way to two more wins, the selection committee is probably going to look for any reason to not put them in the playoff.
Bowl Games by Conference
Here is the breakdown of bowl projections, listed alphabetically by conference. New Year's Six games are italicized and underlined.
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)
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)
Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (Sugar Bowl), Iowa State (Camping World Bowl), Kansas State (Texas Bowl), Oklahoma (Peach Bowl), Oklahoma State (Alamo Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Liberty Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Illinois (Pinstripe Bowl), Indiana (Gator Bowl), Iowa (Redbox Bowl), Michigan (Holiday Bowl), Michigan State (Quick Lane Bowl), Minnesota (Rose Bowl), Ohio State (Peach Bowl), Penn State (Outback Bowl), Wisconsin (Citrus Bowl)
Conference USA (8 teams): Charlotte (Arizona Bowl), Florida Atlantic (Liberty Bowl), Florida International (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 (Armed Forces Bowl), Notre Dame (Camping World Bowl)
Mid-American (7 teams): Buffalo (Camellia Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Eastern Michigan (Birmingham Bowl), Miami (Ohio) (Bahamas Bowl), Ohio (Frisco Bowl), Toledo (LendingTree 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 (Music City Bowl), Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl)
Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Sun Bowl), California (Las Vegas Bowl), Oregon (Alamo Bowl), USC (Holiday Bowl), Utah (Rose Bowl), Washington (Redbox Bowl), Washington State (Cheez-It Bowl)
SEC (9 teams): Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Orange Bowl), Georgia (Cotton Bowl), Kentucky (Texas Bowl), LSU (Fiesta Bowl), Mississippi State (Gator Bowl), Tennessee (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Outback Bowl)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (New Orleans Bowl), Arkansas State (LendingTree Bowl), Georgia Southern (Camellia Bowl), Georgia State (Cure Bowl), Louisiana (Arizona Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.