College Football Playoff Standings 2019: Final Rankings & Bowl Game Projections
Championship Saturday started with the Big 12 title game going to overtime and ended with the No. 1 team trailing by 14 at halftime of the Big Ten championship, but it ended up being a day devoid of upsets or chaos.
With the exception of Miami-Ohio's win over Central Michigan in the MAC championship, all the favorites held serve. And if you think the MAC championship had any bearing on the College Football Playoff or even the Top 25 polls, you must have been watching a different season than the rest of us.
But while Saturday was Chalk City, there was a major development in Friday's only game, as CFP No. 13 Oregon toppled No. 5 Utah in the Pac-12 championship. Not only did that game eliminate Utah from the College Football Playoff hunt, but it also may have knocked Utah out of the New Year's Six altogether.
Aside from that removal of any doubt regarding who deserves the final playoff spot, the most noteworthy development of the weekend was CFP No. 2 LSU's 37-10 thrashing of No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship. Coupled with Ohio State's need to rally from an early scare against Wisconsin, that statement win may have been enough for LSU to retake the No. 1 spot in the selection committee's rankings.
For what it's worth, all six of Bleacher Report's college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—ranked the Tigers ahead of the Buckeyes this week. We'll have to wait until Sunday to see if the selection committee agrees.
Here is our end-of-season Top 25, followed by my projections for the full slate of bowl games:
2. Ohio State
14. Penn State
15. Notre Dame
18. Boise State
20. Appalachian State
Others receiving votes: Air Force, Cincinnati, North Dakota State
Group of Five Bowls
Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo (7-5) vs. Charlotte (7-5)
Frisco Bowl: Tulane (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (7-5)
New Mexico Bowl: Florida International (6-6) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
Cure Bowl: Georgia State (7-5) vs. UCF (9-3)
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky* (8-4) vs. Ohio (6-6)
Camellia Bowl: Miami (Ohio) (8-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (12-1)
Gasparilla Bowl: UAB (9-4) vs. Temple (8-4)
Hawaii Bowl: BYU (7-5) vs. Hawaii (9-4)
Arizona Bowl: Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana (10-3)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State (7-5) vs. Kent State (6-6)
LendingTree Bowl: Toledo (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
*Western Kentucky takes a spot the American Athletic Conference is unable to fill.
With all due respect to the New Orleans Bowl and whichever team represents Conference USA in that game, Appalachian State deserves better than this.
The Mountaineers won road games against both North Carolina and South Carolina. Nine of their other 10 wins came by at least 10 points, and even the 45-38 victory over Louisiana in the Sun Belt championship was never in doubt. Yet, because of one slow start in a 24-21 loss to Georgia Southern's triple-option offense, here they are in a game that no average fan will care about.
The Group of Five needs better representation during bowl season. The AAC gets a couple of games that are supposed to be against bottom-of-the-barrel ACC and SEC teams. The Mountain West gets the Las Vegas Bowl against a middling Pac-12 foe. Conference USA is supposed to draw a Big 12 opponent in the First Responder Bowl, but there aren't enough Big 12 teams this year to fill that spot. And neither the MAC nor the Sun Belt is guaranteed a spot against a Power Five foe.
In addition to the Cotton Bowl, why can't we have another "at-large" bowl or two in which the best Group of Five team(s) get a chance to take on an eight-win or nine-win team from a Power Five league? I would watch the heck out of Appalachian State against a team like Virginia Tech or Oklahoma State, and would have loved to see a Utah State or a UAB battle a Stanford or an Oregon last year.
Speaking of Sun Belt entities that deserve more respect/attention, keep an eye out for wherever Arkansas State lands. The Red Wolves have a triumvirate of wide receivers—Omar Bayless, Kirk Merritt and Jonathan Adams Jr.—who have combined for 31 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards. Bayless has roughly 50 percent of those totals by himself and might be playing in the NFL next year.
Lower-Tier Power Five Bowls
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Boise State (12-1) vs. California (7-5)
Independence Bowl (Dec. 26): North Carolina (6-6) vs. Florida Atlantic* (10-3)
Military Bowl (Dec. 27): Florida State (6-6) vs. Navy (9-2)
First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30): Louisiana Tech (9-3) vs. Western Michigan^ (7-5)
Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2): Cincinnati (10-3) vs. Boston College (6-6)
Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 4): Liberty‡ (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
*Florida Atlantic takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
^Western Michigan takes a spot the Big 12 is unable to fill.
‡Liberty takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
The actual matchups on this tier leave something to be desired, but it will at least be intriguing to find out who is coaching for several of these teams.
Boston College has already fired Steve Addazio after a seventh consecutive season with seven wins or fewer.
Florida State fired Willie Taggart over a month ago and could decide on its new head coach by late December.
While Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell hasn't been linked to any specific job yet, you know his phone will be ringing off the hook after his team won 21 games in the past two seasons.
And would it surprise anyone if Boise State's Bryan Harsin ends up on a non-blue turf next season? Since taking over for Chris Petersen in 2014, Harsin has averaged 10.5 wins per year. This season, in particular, was quite the coaching job, as the Broncos lost a four-year starter at quarterback (Brett Rypien), a 1,400-yard rusher (Alexander Mattison) and both of their leading receivers from 2018 (Sean Modster, A.J. Richardson) and somehow got better.
It's feasible that half these teams will be playing for coaches who weren't even responsible for getting them to this point.
Power Five Bowls with Potential
Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan* (8-5) vs. Louisville (7-5)
Pinstripe Bowl: Illinois (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)
Texas Bowl: Texas (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force^ (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6)
Music City Bowl: Miami (6-6) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
Redbox Bowl: Michigan State (6-6) vs. Washington (7-5)
Belk Bowl: Tennessee (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (7-5) vs. SMU± (10-2)
Gator Bowl: Indiana (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
*Central Michigan takes a spot the Big Ten is unable to fill.
^Air Force takes a spot the Big 12 is unable to fill.
±SMU takes a spot the SEC is unable to fill.
This tier inspires hope for 2020 in this year's disappointing teams.
Both Air Force (Cheez-It Bowl) and SMU (Liberty Bowl) improved from five wins in 2018 to 10 wins this year. It's mighty impressive to make the leap from "not good enough for a bowl game" straight to "good enough to take spots that were supposed to be reserved for Power Five teams."
Central Michigan (Quick Lane Bowl) was one of the worst squads in the nation last year, going 1-11 with an offense that was just awful. Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain came in and immediately led the Chippewas to eight wins and a spot in the MAC Championship game.
Their projected opponent made a similar transformation, as Louisville brought in former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield and won seven games one year after going 2-10 with a negative-292 scoring margin.
Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee also went from the 2018 couch to a 2019 bowl game.
As far as the projected matchups are concerned, the Cheez-It Bowl remains the No. 1 non-playoff pairing I hope is accurate. The Air Force triple-option offense against the Washington State air-raid offense would be highly entertaining, particularly considering how poorly Washington State has defended the run.
But the Texas Bowl is a strong runner-up to the Cheez-It Bowl, as there is no love lost between in-state rivals Texas and Texas A&M, even though they haven't played each other since 2011. That bad blood plus the mutual frustration with finishing 7-5 after opening the season ranked Nos. 10 and No. 12, respectively, in the AP poll could result in an exceptionally chippy battle.
If we get both of those games on Dec. 27—followed by the CFP semifinals on Dec. 28—that would be a sensational Friday-Saturday combo of football.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27): Michigan (9-3) vs. USC (8-4)
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4)
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 31): Utah (11-2) vs. Oklahoma State (8-4)
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Minnesota (10-2) vs. Alabama (10-2)
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Iowa (9-3) vs. Auburn (9-3)
After all that arguing over whether Utah deserved a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Utes were crushed 37-15 in the Pac-12 Championship Game and probably won't even qualify for a New Year's Six bowl.
Maybe "crushed" is a bit harsh, because they had the ball at the Oregon 40 with roughly 10 minutes remaining in a 23-15 game. Despite falling behind 20-0 in the first half—and despite the unappealing final margin—the Utes made the game interesting at a few points.
However, for a team whose resume was rooted almost entirely in the eye test, it was a bad final look. And now we wait to see how far the No. 5 Utes fall in the final rankings.
Over the past few seasons, the selection committee hasn't much penalized teams for losses in conference championships. Just last year, No. 17 Utah lost to No. 11 Washington and remained at No. 17 in the final Top 25. Northwestern lost by 21 to Ohio State and merely dropped from No. 21 to No. 22. And in the previous season, Miami was obliterated 38-3 by Clemson and only slipped three spots to No. 10.
But we expect Utah to be the exception to that rule, dropping all the way behind current No. 10 Penn State and out of NY6 range into the Alamo Bowl.
Considering the Big 12 championship went to overtime, it's unlikely No. 7 Baylor would also drop out of the Top 10 despite its loss to Oklahoma. Even if the Bears do tumble, though, they're still going to represent the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl.
No. 8 Wisconsin might fall out of contention, though, which—coupled with Utah's fall—could open the door for Auburn to jump up and face Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. More on that shortly.
There's not much of a debate to be had about which four teams will reach the playoff, but there's a lot of uncertainty regarding the final two spots in the New Year's Six.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Wisconsin (10-3) vs. Memphis (12-1)
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Oregon (11-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Georgia (11-2) vs. Baylor (11-2)
Most of this tier can be written in permanent ink, regardless of how much movement there is in the final rankings.
As the highest-ranked non-CFP teams from the SEC and the Big 12, Georgia and Baylor are headed to the Sugar Bowl. The only way that would change is if No. 4 Georgia drops behind No. 9 Florida for getting spanked by LSU. But considering that's not a bad loss and Georgia defeated Florida earlier this season, it's a safe assumption the Bulldogs will remain in front of the Gators.
Oregon is locked into the Rose Bowl following its Pac-12 championship upset of Utah.
No. 17 Memphis will almost certainly be the Group of Five's representative in the Cotton Bowl after two consecutive wins over Cincinnati; however, it's feasible that No. 19 Boise State could jump in front of the Tigers. Don't count on it, though.
We also know that some ACC team (most likely Virginia) will play in the Orange Bowl and that some Big Ten team (probably Penn State) will go to the Rose Bowl. Moreover, after last week's jump from No. 11 to No. 9, Florida is just about guaranteed to land somewhere in this tier.
It's really just a question of whether No. 5 Utah, No. 8 Wisconsin or No. 11 Auburn will snag that final spot in the Cotton Bowl.
If the Badgers had been annihilated by Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, it probably would have knocked them out of contention. But they put forth a quality effort against the projected No. 1 seed and should remain in the New Year's Six mix. They might even stay in front of Penn State and go to the Rose Bowl.
College Football Playoff
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0)
National Championship Game: No. 1 Ohio State over No. 2 LSU
There have been fierce debates at the end of each of the past two seasons over which team belongs at No. 4, but losses by Utah and Georgia made this perhaps the most cut-and-dried quartet of the College Football Playoff era.
The selection committee still has a crucial decision to make, though: Ohio State or LSU in the top spot. With Clemson and Oklahoma all but guaranteed to land at Nos. 3 and No. 4, respectively, getting the No. 1 seed and not needing to play the Tigers in the semifinals will be a huge advantage.
LSU made its case in the SEC championship, stomping Georgia 37-10. Joe Burrow locked up the Heisman Trophy with yet another four-touchdown performance against what was supposed to be one of the nation's best defenses.
It was the fifth time this season that LSU beat an opponent that was ranked in the Top 10 at the time the game was played. (Texas eventually disappeared from the rankings entirely, and both Auburn and Alabama have since slipped to just outside the Top 10.) It was also the Tigers' fourth consecutive victory by at least three touchdowns.
But as impressive as Saturday's win was—and as deserving as LSU may be—could the committee seriously decide Ohio State is any less worthy of the No. 1 seed, particularly after vaulting the Buckeyes ahead of the Tigers two weeks ago?
Ohio State also has a bunch of quality wins, twice defeating No. 8 Wisconsin, winning a home game against No. 10 Penn State and blowing out No. 14 Michigan on the road. Also worth mentioning: All three of Ohio State's nonconference opponents—Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic and Miami-Ohio—ended up playing in their respective conference championship games.
No matter what the schedule threw at them, the Buckeyes dominated it. Ohio State won all but one of its regular-season games by at least 24 points. The lone exception was the 28-17 Penn State game in which a pair of third-quarter fumbles helped keep the Nittany Lions within shouting distance.
The trump card is the defense. LSU had a few colossal duds in that department while the Buckeyes entered championship weekend leading the nation in total yards allowed per game. As the more well-rounded team, Ohio State is more deserving of the No. 1 seed.
That said, if the committee decides to flip-flop the top two teams again and we end up getting a national semifinal with LSU and Oklahoma racing to 70 points, that would be acceptable to everyone aside from Ohio State fans.
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 (10 teams): Boston College (Birmingham Bowl), 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 (Liberty Bowl), Temple (Gasparilla Bowl), Tulane (Frisco Bowl), UCF (Cure Bowl)
Big 12 (6 teams): Baylor (Sugar Bowl), Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Kansas State (Camping World Bowl), Oklahoma (Peach Bowl), Oklahoma State (Alamo Bowl), Texas (Texas Bowl)
Big Ten (9 teams): Illinois (Pinstripe Bowl), Indiana (Gator Bowl), Iowa (Outback Bowl), Michigan (Holiday Bowl), Michigan State (Redbox Bowl), Minnesota (Citrus Bowl), Ohio State (Peach Bowl), Penn State (Rose Bowl), Wisconsin (Cotton Bowl)
Conference USA (8 teams): Charlotte (Bahamas Bowl), Florida Atlantic (Independence Bowl), Florida International (New Mexico Bowl), Louisiana Tech (First Responder Bowl), Marshall (New Orleans Bowl), Southern Miss (Frisco Bowl), UAB (Gasparilla Bowl), Western Kentucky (Boca Raton Bowl)
Independents (3 teams): BYU (Hawaii Bowl), Liberty (Armed Forces Bowl), Notre Dame (Camping World Bowl)
Mid-American (7 teams): Buffalo (Bahamas Bowl), Central Michigan (Quick Lane Bowl), Kent State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Miami (Ohio) (Camellia Bowl), Ohio (Boca Raton Bowl), Toledo (LendingTree Bowl), Western Michigan (First Responder Bowl)
Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Cheez-It Bowl), Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl), Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl), Nevada (Arizona 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 (Holiday Bowl), Utah (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Redbox Bowl), Washington State (Cheez-It Bowl)
SEC (9 teams): Alabama (Citrus Bowl), Auburn (Outback Bowl), Florida (Orange Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Music City Bowl), LSU (Fiesta Bowl), Mississippi State (Gator Bowl), Tennessee (Belk Bowl), Texas A&M (Texas 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.