College Football Playoff Projections: Week 7 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 14, 2020

College Football Playoff Projections: Week 7 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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    Alabama RB Najee Harris
    Alabama RB Najee HarrisRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    The first College Football Playoff rankings release is still more than a month away (Nov. 24). Neither the Big Ten nor the Pac-12 has started playing games yet. (Nor has the Mid-American or Mountain West.) We don't even know the dates for most of the bowl games yet.

    But we have enough information to start projecting what bowl season may look like.

    It's important to keep in mind that these projections are for where things will stand at the end of the season, rather than what the field would look like if the season ended today. Notre Dame is No. 4 in the AP poll right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Fighting Irish are destined for their second trip to the playoff in three years.

    Elsewhere in the AP poll, Texas A&M was this week's biggest mover, jumping from No. 21 to No. 11 after upsetting then-No. 4 Florida. The Aggies were arguably the SEC's most disappointing team through the first two weeks, but they vaulted back into "New Year's Six Bowl" range in a hurry.

    While there were a handful of shakeups and upsets in Week 6, the upcoming weekend could be total chaos.

    Not only do we have the huge game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, but Clemson and Notre Dame are probably the only ranked teams guaranteed to win. It could be the type of Saturday where the Big Ten and Pac-12 come away smelling like roses just by sitting at home and avoiding the madness.

    Before that reshuffling of the deck takes place, let's dive into some bowl projections, broken into six tiers in ascending order of magnitude.

Group of Five Bowls

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    Louisiana QB Levi Lewis
    Louisiana QB Levi LewisJohn Amis/Associated Press

    Arizona: San Diego State (0-0) vs. Toledo (0-0)

    Armed Forces: Houston (1-0) vs. Louisiana Tech (3-1)

    Boca Raton: Florida Atlantic (1-0) vs. Temple (0-1)

    Camellia: Coastal Carolina (3-0) vs. Miami-Ohio (0-0)

    Cure: Ball State (0-0) vs. Troy (2-1)

    Famous Idaho Potato: Air Force (1-0) vs. Central Michigan (0-0)

    Frisco: UTSA (3-2) vs. Wyoming (0-0)

    LendingTree: Appalachian State (2-1) vs. Ohio (0-0)

    Myrtle Beach: Liberty (4-0) vs. Tulsa (1-1)

    New Mexico: Nevada (0-0) vs. UAB (3-1) 

    New Orleans: Louisiana (3-0) vs. Marshall (3-0)

    There are usually around 14 bowl games between Group of Five teams. However, with the Bahamas Bowl and Hawaii Bowl both canceled and with no wins requirement for bowl eligibility this yearmeaning sub-.500 Power Five teams can and will receive bowl invitationsit will likely be just these 11 games.

    It'll be messed up when multiple 3-7 SEC teams go to a bowl game while multiple Group of Five teams with .500 or better records get left out, but start mentally preparing yourself for that injustice now.

    In this early projection, there's no question that the best Group of Five game would be the New Orleans Bowl, pitting undefeated Louisiana and Marshall against each other. The Ragin' Cajuns are currently No. 21 in the AP poll, while the Thundering Herd are the honorary No. 26 with the most votes among unranked teams. That matchup would be more intriguing than about a dozen of the lesser Power Five bowls.

Power Five vs. Group of Five Bowls

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    Damonte Coxie
    Damonte CoxieJim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Birmingham: Kentucky (1-2) vs. SMU (4-0)

    Fenway: Boston College (3-1) vs. Memphis (1-1)

    First Responder: Baylor (1-1) vs. Tulane (2-2)

    Gasparilla: Missouri (1-2) vs. UCF (2-1)

    Independence: Army (4-1) vs. Stanford (0-0)

    Los Angeles: Boise State (0-0) vs. California (0-0)

    Military: Florida State (1-3) vs. Navy (2-2)

    Quick Lane: Buffalo (0-0) vs. Purdue (0-0)

    During a normal 12-game season, this is the tier where you would find the 10-2 vs. 6-6 types of matchups, which the Group of Five team often wins. Last year, Louisiana Tech shut out Miami (FL), Air Force prevailed over Washington State in a style mismatch for the ages, Navy squeaked by Kansas State and Cincinnati demolished Boston College.

    Per usual, the AAC is loaded with teams more than capable of knocking off a middling Power Five opponent.

    UCF's quest for a New Year's Six Bowl more or less came to an end when the Knights lost to Tulsa two weeks ago, but the Knights are potent enough on offense to score 40 against most teams. The same goes for Memphis, which will host UCF in the best unranked-vs.-unranked showdown this weekend. And after starting out 8-0 last season, SMU is out to another hot start fueled by former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele.

    But the most interesting projected matchup in this group is one between teams that haven't even taken the field yet in 2020.

    Buffalo's Jaret Patterson ranked fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game in 2019, while Purdue has an incredible one-two punch at wide receiver in Rondale Moore and David Bell. That could be a "first team to punt loses" type of affair.

Power Five Bowls That Could Be Fun

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    Texas QB Sam Ehlinger
    Texas QB Sam EhlingerMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Cactus: Iowa (0-0) vs. Kansas State (3-1)

    Cheez-It: Iowa State (3-1) vs. Virginia Tech (2-1)

    Duke's Mayo: Minnesota (0-0) vs. NC State (3-1)

    Holiday: Georgia Tech (2-2) vs. Washington (0-0)

    Liberty: Mississippi State (1-2) vs. West Virginia (2-1)

    Music City: Arkansas (1-2) vs. Nebraska (0-0)

    Pinstripe: Michigan State (0-0) vs. Pittsburgh (3-2)

    Sun: Arizona State (0-0) vs. Virginia (1-2)

    Texas: LSU (1-2) vs. Texas (2-2)

    Oh, how the mighty have already fallen.

    A few weeks ago, LSU vs. Texas would have been a projected New Year's Six pairing. The national champions were ranked No. 6 in the Week 2 AP poll, and Texas had moved up to No. 9 after a season-opening win against UTEP.

    But despite impressive play from their quarterbacks, both squads have already been saddled with two losses thanks to atrocious defense. Factoring in their remaining schedules, it wouldn't be that surprising if they both end up with sub-.500 records.

    On the flip side of that coin, Georgia Tech has been an early semi-success story.

    The Yellow Jackets are only 2-2 and were soundly defeated in both losses, but who could have guessed that this teamwhich allowed nearly twice as many points (389) as it scored (200) last seasonwould have wins over Florida State and Louisville?

    Georgia Tech is almost certainly headed for another never-that-close loss this weekend against Clemson, but keep an eye on this team. That freshman QB-RB combo of Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs is going to put this program back on the map within the next two years.

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    Tennessee RB Ty Chandler
    Tennessee RB Ty ChandlerJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Alamo: Oklahoma (2-2) vs. USC (0-0)

    Citrus: Michigan (0-0) vs. Tennessee (2-1)

    Gator: Auburn (2-1) vs. Miami (3-1)

    Las Vegas: Ole Miss (1-2) vs. Utah (0-0)

    Outback: Florida (2-1) vs. Wisconsin (0-0)

    Among the four SEC teams in this tier, I've been most impressed by Tennessee thus far.

    The Volunteers got demolished by Georgia in the second half this past Saturday, but they felt like a real contender for their first 10 quarters of the season. The Ty Chandler and Eric Gray rushing attack is solid, they didn't commit a single turnover until the third quarter of their third game, and their defense is one of the only ones in the SEC that isn't a complete disaster.

    The schedule will eventually keep the Volunteers from making a legitimate push for a New Year's Six bowl, as they still need to play Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida. But they're likely going to win at least one of those gamesthree of them are at hometo finish the year with a winning record.

    And on the subject of good teams who should bounce back from a rough Week 6 showing against a projected College Football Playoff team, Miami is much better than it looked against Clemson. The Hurricanes should win home games against Pitt and Virginia over the next two weeks to potentially climb back into the AP Top 10.

    Their problem is that three ACC teams are currently in the AP Top 5. The collection of No. 1 Clemson, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 North Carolina is likely going to keep Miami out of both the ACC championship and the New Year's Six tier of bowl games. The 'Canes do get the Tar Heels at home at the end of the regular season in what may well be a play-in game for the right to face Clemson for the conference title.

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    BYU QB Zach Wilson
    BYU QB Zach WilsonRick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Cotton (Dec. 30): North Carolina (3-0) vs. Oklahoma State (3-0)

    Peach (Jan. 1): Cincinnati (3-0) vs. BYU (4-0)

    Fiesta (Jan. 2): Oregon (0-0) vs. Penn State (0-0)

    Orange (Jan. 2): Notre Dame (3-0) vs. Texas A&M (2-1)

    Would the real Texas A&M please stand up?

    The Aggies struggled in their home opener against a Vanderbilt team which has since lost games to LSU and South Carolina by identical scores of 41-7. They played relatively well against Alabama, but they still got blown out by a four-touchdown margin. Then they upset Florida behind a remarkable offensive performance. However, their best receiver in that game, Caleb Chapman, suffered a season-ending injury, so it's tough to know what to expect out of this passing attack moving forward.

    Texas A&M's early resume looks great, though, with a quality win over a Top 10 opponent and an understandable road loss to still undefeated Alabama. The Aggies still have tough road games against Tennessee and Auburn, as well as a Thanksgiving weekend home game against LSU, which might learn to play a little bit of defense by then. But the offense that showed up to beat Florida on Saturday could pace this team to an 8-2 season and a New Year's Six game.

    Cincinnati is the early favorite for the Group of Five's automatic spot in the NY6, but the Bearcats are about to face stiff tests in back-to-back road games against Tulsa and SMU. One week after facing the Mustangs, they will host Memphis, and then they have a road game against UCF in late November. Cincinnati is already ranked No. 8 in the AP poll, so there's going to be an interesting CFP debate here if it can run the table.

    The same goes for undefeated BYU, though it's going to be much tougher for the Cougars to make a good CFP case with their weak schedule. They do eventually play at Boise State and will presumably try to reschedule a previously postponed road game against Army, but it's hard to imagine they could crack the top eight of the CFP rankings, let alone the top four. The top 12, though? That's doable, and it would get them a spot in one of these four games.

College Football Playoff

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    Georgia QB Stetson Bennett
    Georgia QB Stetson BennettJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Jan. 1

    Rose: No. 2 Alabama (3-0) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (0-0)
    Sugar: No. 1 Clemson (4-0) vs. No. 4 Georgia (3-0)

    Jan. 11

    National Championship: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Alabama

    Well, we had a fun few days of hypothesizing that this might be the year when the ACC's second tier catches up to Clemson. The Tigers demolished Miami on Saturday night, 42-17. The more telling margin, though, was Clemson amassing 34 first downs compared to only nine for the Hurricanes. Miami even returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown at the end of the first half, and it still felt like there was no chance at an upset.

    Perhaps the Nov. 7 road game against Notre Dame will be a little tougher for the Tigers, but if you're expecting that anemic Fighting Irish passing game to upset the No. 1 team in the country, you're going to be disappointed.

    Regardless of what happens this week in the colossal Georgia at Alabama game, both teams will likely remain projected to reach the College Football Playoff. That's how far they are ahead of the likes of Notre Dame, North Carolina and Oklahoma State.

    The loser will need to win every remaining game on its schedule, though, including the projected rematch of this game in the SEC championship. Otherwise, the door will be open for the Big 12 or even Pac-12 champ to snag the No. 4 seed.

    And we are now less than two weeks away from the start of Big Ten play, as well as less than three weeks away from Ohio State's gigantic road game against Penn State. The winner of that game will be a heavy favorite to reach the playoff.

Bowl Games by Conference

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    Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard
    Oklahoma State RB Chuba HubbardBrody Schmidt/Associated Press

    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 (9 teams): Cincinnati (Peach Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Fenway Bowl), Navy (Military Bowl), SMU (Birmingham Bowl), Temple (Boca Raton Bowl), Tulane (First Responder Bowl), Tulsa (Myrtle Beach Bowl), UCF (Gasparilla Bowl)

    ACC (11 teams): Boston College (Fenway Bowl), Clemson (Sugar Bowl), Florida State (Military Bowl), Georgia Tech (Holiday Bowl), Miami (Gator Bowl), NC State (Duke's Mayo Bowl), North Carolina (Cotton Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia (Sun Bowl), Virginia Tech (Cheez-It Bowl)

    Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (First Responder Bowl), Iowa State (Cheez-It Bowl), Kansas State (Cactus Bowl), Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl), Oklahoma State (Cotton Bowl), Texas (Texas Bowl), West Virginia (Liberty Bowl)

    Big Ten (9 teams): Iowa (Cactus Bowl), Michigan (Citrus Bowl), Michigan State (Pinstripe Bowl), Minnesota (Duke's Mayo Bowl), Nebraska (Music City Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Penn State (Fiesta Bowl), Purdue (Quick Lane Bowl), Wisconsin (Outback Bowl)

    Conference USA (5 teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton Bowl), Louisiana Tech (Armed Forces Bowl), Marshall (New Orleans Bowl), UAB (New Mexico Bowl), UTSA (Frisco Bowl)

    Independents (4 teams): Army (Independence Bowl), BYU (Peach Bowl), Liberty (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

    Mid-American (6 teams): Ball State (Cure Bowl), Buffalo (Quick Lane Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Miami-Ohio (Camellia Bowl), Ohio (LendingTree Bowl), Toledo (Arizona Bowl)

    Mountain West (5 teams): Air Force (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Boise State (Los Angeles Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), Wyoming (Frisco Bowl)

    Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Sun Bowl), California (Los Angeles Bowl), Oregon (Fiesta Bowl), Stanford (Independence Bowl), USC (Alamo Bowl), Utah (Las Vegas Bowl), Washington (Holiday Bowl)

    SEC (12 teams): Alabama (Rose Bowl), Arkansas (Music City Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Outback Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Birmingham Bowl), LSU (Texas Bowl), Mississippi State (Liberty Bowl), Missouri (Gasparilla Bowl), Ole Miss (Las Vegas Bowl), Tennessee (Citrus Bowl), Texas A&M (Orange Bowl)

    Sun Belt (4 teams): Appalachian State (LendingTree Bowl), Coastal Carolina (Camellia Bowl), Louisiana (New Orleans Bowl), Troy (Cure Bowl)


    Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.


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