College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 21, 2020

College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Alabama tightened its grip on a spot in the College Football Playoff with a big win over Georgia, but was that result enough to knock the Bulldogs out of the projected top four? 

    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. 3 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, North Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee and Louisiana-Lafayette plummeted following Week 7 losses. The Tar Heels are still ranked, but they dropped from No. 5 into a tie with Wisconsin for No. 14. Auburn (previously No. 15), Tennessee (18) and Louisiana-Lafayette (21) each dropped out, making room for Marshall, NC State and Coastal Carolina.

    And for the second consecutive week, Texas A&M was one of the biggest risers. The Aggies jumped from No. 21 to No. 11 after upsetting Florida two weeks ago, and now they're up to No. 7 following a comfortable road win over Mississippi State.

    Here's a fun fact about the AP poll, though: Eight of the 62 voters (13 percent) are still refusing to rank teams that haven't started playing yet. That means Ohio State will likely jump from No. 5 to No. 3 after its first game this weekend, and there's a good chance Penn State will vault from No. 8 to No. 6. Just a little something to keep an eye on.

    One last note before we dive in: While there is no wins requirement for bowl eligibility this year, I'm instituting a personal rule that teams with at least two games played and a winning percentage below .300 will not be included. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Virginia were each projected for a bowl one week ago, but in dropping from 1-2 (.333) to 1-3 (.250), they also dropped out of consideration.

    Bowls are broken into six tiers in ascending order of magnitude.        

Group of Five Bowls

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    Coastal Carolina RB CJ Marable
    Coastal Carolina RB CJ MarablePaul Kieu/Associated Press

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

    Armed Forces: Houston (1-1) vs. Louisiana Tech (3-2)

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

    Camellia: Louisiana-Lafayette (3-1) vs. Miami-Ohio (0-0)

    Cure: Ball State (0-0) vs. Troy (3-1)

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

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

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

    Myrtle Beach: Georgia Southern (3-1) vs. Tulsa (1-1)

    New Mexico: Nevada (0-0) vs. UAB (4-1) 

    New Orleans: Coastal Carolina (4-0) vs. Marshall (4-0)

    Not much change to this tier since last weekwhich shouldn't come as a surprise, since 12 of these 22 teams didn't play in Week 7.

    One change is Georgia Southern's jump into the Myrtle Beach Bowl thanks to Liberty moving up the ladder to take the SEC's spot in the Birmingham Bowl. The Eagles improved to 3-1 with a 41-0 drubbing of Massachusetts. It was their first game this season decided by a margin of more than five points, but expect a return to that nail-biting norm this week when they face undefeated Coastal Carolina.

    Speaking of whom, that was the only other change in this projection: Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette swapped spots in the New Orleans and Camellia Bowls after the Chanticleers went on the road and defeated the Ragin' Cajuns. The Sun Belt typically sends its champion to the New Orleans Bowl, and at least for the time being, it looks like Coastal Carolina will be that team.   

Power Five vs. Group of Five Bowls

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    UCF QB Dillon Gabriel
    UCF QB Dillon GabrielPhelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Birmingham: Liberty* (5-0) vs. SMU (5-0)

    Fenway: Georgia Tech (2-3) vs. Memphis (2-1)

    First Responder: Baylor (1-1) vs. Tulane (2-3)

    Gasparilla: Wake Forest (2-2) vs. UCF (2-2)

    Independence: Army (5-1) vs. Stanford (0-0)

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

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

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

    *Liberty takes an SEC spot

    Eventually, we're going to find out how legitimate Liberty is.

    Thus far, the Flames have faced 1-4 Western Kentucky, 0-2 Florida International, 0-2 North Alabama, 0-5 Louisiana-Monroe and 1-4 Syracuse. That's a combined record of 2-17, and it's whyeven with a 5-0 record Liberty is still nowhere close to cracking the AP Top 25.

    But upcoming road games against No. 19 Virginia Tech (Nov. 7), No. 23 NC State (Nov. 21) and No. 25 Coastal Carolina (Dec. 5) will put Liberty to the test.

    If they were to run the table against that remaining schedule, a New Year's Six bowl isn't out of the question. But let's cross that bridge if we happen to get to it. Chances are the Flames will get smoked by Virginia Tech in two weeks.

    A few other quick hits on this tier:

    Despite losing by a bajillion to Clemson on Saturday, Georgia Tech remains projected for a bowl for now. We'll see if the Yellow Jackets can navigate a tough schedule, though. They still need to play against Notre Dame, at Miami and at NC State. They pretty much have to win at Boston College this weekend to have a good case.

    —Wake Forest wasn't in last week's projection with merely a win over Campbell on its resume, but the Demon Deacons ran away from Virginia in the fourth quarter for a 40-23 victory. That offense is pretty good. Like Georgia Tech, though, they have a rough slate. They face No. 19 Virginia Tech this weekend, No. 14 North Carolina in mid-November, No. 11 Miami in late November and No. 3 Notre Dame in mid-December.

    —Staying in the ACC, how about Florida State's upset of North Carolina? The 'Noles were a disaster on offense until they inserted Jordan Travis at quarterback against Jacksonville State. They still have a lot of work to do on defense before they can be considered a top-six team in the ACC again, but this is the first time in several years that "sustained signs of life on offense" and "Florida State" have gone hand-in-hand. 

    —And in UCF's 50-49 loss to Memphis, Dillon Gabriel became the first quarterback to throw for at least 600 yards in a loss since some dude named Patrick Mahomes in 2016. Gabriel is now leading the nation in passing yards per game (439.0) by a wide margin. How much longer until we start talking about this left-hander from Hawaii the same way we did Tua Tagovailoa?    

Power Five Bowls That Could Be Fun

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    North Carolina WR Beau Corrales
    North Carolina WR Beau CorralesMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

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

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

    Duke's Mayo: Minnesota (0-0) vs. NC State (4-1)

    Holiday: Boston College (3-2) vs. Washington (0-0)

    Liberty: South Carolina (2-2) vs. West Virginia (3-1)

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

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

    Sun: Arizona State (0-0) vs. North Carolina (3-1)

    Texas: LSU (1-2) vs. Texas (2-2)

    It didn't take much for North Carolina to plummet from the New Year's Six down to the Sun Bowlwhich it played in back in 2016 as an unranked 8-4 team. It could get worse if the Tar Heels were to lose to NC State this week. They should win that one, though, and could get right back into the New Year's Six mix. After all, they only dropped to No. 14 in the AP poll.

    But it would be nice if they could play a complete game for once. Seven times last season, they did at least 50 percent of their scoring in a single quarter, and they have already done that in three of four this year. They have flashes where they look like one of the four best teams in the country, but they also occasionally lay an egg for a half, like they did early on against Florida State on Saturday.

    The other Carolina is also a noteworthy new member of this tier. South Carolina was outgained 481 to 297 by Auburn, but the Gamecocks picked off Bo Nix three times and capitalized on the ensuing short fields with three touchdowns in their 30-22 upset victory.

    That result came one week after a 41-7 road win over Vanderbilt. If they also beat LSU this weekend (which is feasible), it will be their first three-game winning streak since 2017.      

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks
    Arkansas QB Feleipe FranksButch Dill/Associated Press

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

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

    Gator: Auburn (2-2) vs. Miami (4-1)

    Las Vegas: Arkansas (2-2) vs. Utah (0-0)

    Outback: Kentucky (2-2) vs. Wisconsin (0-0)

    I'm not an Arkansas fan. As far as memory serves, I have never once stepped foot in the state. I also couldn't possibly tell you the difference between a razorback, a boar and a warthog, if there is any.

    But, y'all, Arkansas deserves to be ranked.

    In their season opener, the Razorbacks held a 10-5 lead over Georgia midway through the third quarter before things got out of hand. One week after Mississippi State obliterated LSU's secondary, the Hogs held the Bulldogs to 14 points. They got screwed out of what should have been a road win over Auburn. And they forced seven turnovers in a win over Ole Miss this past Saturday.

    With all due respect to newly ranked Marshall, NC State and Coastal Carolina, Arkansas would be favored on a neutral field against any of those teams. This is probably the fifth-best team in the SEC.

    The Razorbacks are idle this weekend before a road game against Texas A&M on Halloween. If they win that one, it might be time to start pre-writing the "Sam Pittman Named National Coach of the Year" articles.

    Elsewhere in the SEC, Kentucky's defense had another remarkable performance in a 34-7 victory over Tennessee.

    In the two weeks since that 42-41 overtime shootout loss against Ole Miss, the Wildcats have more forced turnovers (10) than points allowed (nine). The Wildcats will draw Missouri this week, which scored 45 points in its most recent game against LSU.

    Kentucky will provide quite the litmus test for determining whether that was an offensive breakthrough for Mizzou or just the latest terrible defensive effort by the defending national champions.     

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
    Notre Dame TE Tommy TrembleCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Cotton (Dec. 30): Florida (2-1) 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 (4-0) vs. Texas A&M (3-1)

    It was a rough week for anyone who might have bet against Clemson entering the College Football Playoff with an undefeated record.

    We've already addressed North Carolina's stunning loss to Florida State. Miamiwhich Clemson crushed in Week 6didn't look great against Pitt. And Notre Dame, the lone non-Clemson undefeated ACC squad, barely survived laying an egg at home against Louisville. (Meanwhile, Clemson absolutely decimated Georgia Tech 73-7.)

    There were concerns about Notre Dame's offense long before the season began. The Fighting Irish got to bring back starting quarterback Ian Book and the entire starting offensive line, which was ample reason to buy stock in their running game. But they lost leading receivers Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet and Chris Finke and it seems they neglected to replace them.

    No one on the roster is averaging more than 2.5 receptions or 30.3 receiving yards per game, which has made it difficult for them to move the ball against opponents with a competent defensive front seven.

    That sounds like bad news with a road game against Pittsburgh this Saturday, as the Panthers have held their opponents to a nation-best 1.85 yards per carry. Maybe Notre Dame will be able to defend its way to a victory, but the No. 3 team in the AP poll has yet to prove it deserves that ranking.

    The 12-7 win over Louisville didn't change anything for the Fighting Irish, though. They're still projected for the Orange Bowl. In fact, the only change to this group from one week ago is Florida replacing North Carolina in the Cotton Bowl.   

College Football Playoff

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    Georgia RB Zamir White
    Georgia RB Zamir WhiteJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Jan. 1

    Rose: No. 2 Alabama (4-0) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (0-0)
    Sugar: No. 1 Clemson (5-0) vs. No. 4 Georgia (3-1)

    Jan. 11

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

    No changes here despite Georgia's 41-24 loss to Alabama on Saturday night.

    For the most part, Georgia played better than that final margin. There were a lot of "Georgia isn't going to win the projected rematch in the SEC championship unless they fix X, Y and Z" articles churned out shortly after the game ended, but the Bulldogs were in great shape until that Jaylen Waddle 90-yard touchdown turned UGA's 24-20 lead into a 27-24 deficit.

    That's when they dug their own grave by abandoning the run and relying on Stetson Bennett to force passes that weren't there.

    That said, it's a little concerning that Georgia allowed both a 400-yard passer and a 150-yard rusher in the game. Mac Jones' 417 yards were the most Georgia has allowed to a single quarterback since the hefty lefty Jared Lorenzen torched them for 528 yards in 2000. And Najee Harris (152 rushing yards) joined LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the only players to rush for at least 100 yards against Georgia's defense since the beginning of the 2018 season.

    Even against an offensive juggernaut, we've come to expect so much more from Georgia's defense.

    The Dawgs should win their remaining six games, though, as the battle with Florida on Nov. 7 is the only one remaining against a currently ranked opponent.

    Even if you wanted to drop the Bulldogs, who would take their place as the projected No. 4? Emphasis on "projected," since that's what we're doing here. Unless you think Notre Dame can beat Clemson or you think Oklahoma State is going to run the table, there's not a better candidate right now.

    If anything, it was more tempting to bump Alabama to No. 1 than it was to drop Georgia from No. 4. However, I couldn't justify dropping Clemson right after it won a game by 66 points.   

Bowl Games by Conference

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    BYU QB Zach Wilson
    BYU QB Zach WilsonEric Christian Smith/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 (Holiday Bowl), Clemson (Sugar Bowl), Florida State (Military Bowl), Georgia Tech (Fenway Bowl), Miami (Gator Bowl), NC State (Duke's Mayo Bowl), North Carolina (Sun Bowl), Notre Dame (Orange Bowl), Pittsburgh (Pinstripe Bowl), Virginia Tech (Cheez-It Bowl), Wake Forest (Gasparilla 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 (3 teams): Army (Independence Bowl), BYU (Peach Bowl), Liberty (Birmingham 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 (11 teams): Alabama (Rose Bowl), Arkansas (Las Vegas Bowl), Auburn (Gator Bowl), Florida (Cotton Bowl), Georgia (Sugar Bowl), Kentucky (Outback Bowl), LSU (Texas Bowl), Missouri (Music City Bowl), South Carolina (Liberty Bowl), Tennessee (Citrus Bowl), Texas A&M (Orange Bowl)

    Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (LendingTree Bowl), Coastal Carolina (New Orleans Bowl), Georgia Southern (Myrtle Beach Bowl), Louisiana (Camellia Bowl), Troy (Cure Bowl)


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