College Football Playoff Projections: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
There's just one more week until the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2020 season (Nov. 24), and Week 11 didn't do much to help create separation for the selection committee.
Only 13 AP Top 25 teams played, and 12 of those teams won. The only loss came when then-No. 19 SMU fell 28-24 to unranked Tulsa. The Mustangs are now unranked, while the Golden Hurricane moved into the poll at No. 25.
That's about all that changed this week. Miami slipped three spots to No. 12 after a one-point win over Virginia Tech. Wisconsin climbed three spots to No. 10 after destroying Michigan. And 4-0 Northwestern rose four spots to No. 19 after its road win over Purdue. No one else moved up or down more than one spot.
Likewise, not much changed on the bowl projections front.
We did have a few movers and shakers in the Big Ten and a minor swap in the SEC, and I simply had to find a spot for Colorado after its 2-0 start. Overall, though, 66 of the 74 projected spots in bowl games are occupied by the same team as one week ago.
One more note before we dive in: While there is no wins requirement for bowl eligibility this year, I've instituted a personal rule that teams with at least two games played and a winning percentage below .300 will not be included. That's mostly why there was movement within the Big Ten, as both Michigan and Minnesota dropped to 1-3 and thus dropped out of our bowl picture.
Bowls are broken into six tiers in ascending order of magnitude.
Group of Five Bowls
Frisco (Dec. 19): UTSA (5-4) vs. Fresno State (3-1)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 21): Georgia Southern (6-2) vs. Kent State (2-0)
Boca Raton (Dec. 22): Florida Atlantic (4-1) vs. Tulane (5-4)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Central Michigan (2-0) vs. San Jose State (4-0)
New Orleans (Dec. 23): Coastal Carolina (7-0) vs. Marshall (7-0)
New Mexico (Dec. 24): Boise State (3-1) vs. UAB (4-3)
Camellia (Dec. 25): Louisiana (7-1) vs. Western Michigan (2-0)
Cure (Dec. 26): Buffalo (2-0) vs. Troy (4-3)
LendingTree (Dec. 26): Appalachian State (6-1) vs. Ohio (1-1)
Arizona (Dec. 31): San Diego State (3-1) vs. Toledo (1-1)
Armed Forces (Dec. 31): Louisiana Tech (4-3) vs. Navy (3-4)
Not only was Week 11 an uneventful one in the AP Top 25, but it was a solid "keep the status quo" sort of slate for the Group of Five. The 22 teams that were projected for this tier one week ago went a combined 15-2 (with five teams' games postponed/canceled). The only losses were in the MAC, where Miami-Ohio got drilled by Buffalo, and Toledo lost a close one to Western Michigan.
As a result, Western Michigan replaces Miami-Ohio in the Camellia Bowl, but everything else remains the same.
The most noteworthy game of the bunch was Tulane's 38-12 victory over Army.
The Black Knights entered that contest 6-1; their lone loss coming on the road against an excellent Cincinnati. But their schedule has mostly been a joke. Three of the wins came against FCS opponents, and two of the other three were against two of the worst FBS teams in Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee.
In other words, despite the impressive winning percentage, we had no idea if Army was any good—and, by extension, whether Cincinnati's win over Army was worth much. Though it was a nice victory for the Green Wave, getting blown out by Tulane wasn't a step forward for Army.
Power Five vs. Group of Five Bowls
Montgomery (Dec. 23): Tulsa (4-1) vs. Virginia (3-4)
First Responder (Dec. 26): Houston (3-3) vs. TCU (3-4)
Gasparilla (Dec. 26): Liberty* (8-0) vs. UCF (5-2)
Independence (Dec. 26): Army (6-2) vs. Washington (1-0)
Military (Dec. 28): SMU (7-2) vs. Pittsburgh (4-4)
Los Angeles (Dec. 30): Nevada (4-0) vs. Colorado (2-0)
Birmingham (Jan. 1): Tennessee (2-4) vs. Memphis (4-2)
*Liberty takes an ACC/SEC spot in the Gasparilla Bowl
Tulsa trailed SMU 21-0 early in the second quarter before storming back for a 28-24 victory. The Golden Hurricane were the only team to knock off a ranked opponent in Week 11, and they moved one step closer to playing in the AAC championship game because of it.
Their lone loss was to Oklahoma State, which means they are undefeated in league play. As is Cincinnati. Everyone else has at least two losses. They do still have to face Cincinnati (at home on Dec. 4), but this team is more than good enough to force a rematch by winning the other games left on the schedule: vs. Tulane on Thursday, at Houston next Saturday.
(Tulsa also had a game against Navy postponed, but they can't play that game Dec. 12. That's Army-Navy day. If they insist on getting that one in, a possible workaround would be Tulsa at Navy on Nov. 28—which Navy has open—and then moving the Houston game to Dec. 12, which both teams have open. Either way, Tulsa should be able to beat Navy if that game comes together.)
The other big development among this seven-bowl tier was Colorado improving to 2-0 with a 35-32 win at Stanford, thus replacing California—which got stomped by UCLA on Sunday afternoon—in the Los Angeles Bowl.
Before the season began, USC's Thanksgiving weekend home game against Colorado looked like it would be the easiest matchup of the year for the Trojans. But the Buffaloes have unexpectedly blossomed into an offensive tour de force. They didn't score 35 points in any of their final 11 games last season, but this 35-point performance against Stanford was preceded by a 48-42 win over UCLA. This team might be a problem. (And it's not like USC looked great in its first two wins.)
Power Five Bowls That Could Be Fun
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 26): Iowa (2-2) vs. Texas (5-2)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Kansas State (4-3) vs. Wake Forest (4-3)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Boston College (5-4) vs. Nebraska (1-2)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): NC State (5-3) vs. Maryland (2-1)
Music City (Dec. 30): Kentucky (3-4) vs. Purdue (2-1)
Liberty (Dec. 31): Iowa State (5-2) vs. Missouri (2-3)
Sun (Dec. 31): Washington State (1-1) vs. Virginia Tech (4-4)
Texas (Dec. 31): Ole Miss (3-4) vs. West Virginia (5-3)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Nebraska to the projected bowl picture. The Cornhuskers darn near messed around and blew a 24-3 second-quarter lead against Penn State, but despite amassing fewer than 300 total yards, they held on for their first win of the season.
It had a rough start, but Nebraska should be favored in its remaining home games against Illinois and Minnesota. It might also win the road game against Purdue. Perhaps it even wins the TBD conference championship weekend game to finish 5-3. That could be a nice turnaround for a fanbase that was probably Googling "Scott Frost buyout" earlier this month. (It's more than $25 million, by the way, so get used to him.)
The real reason Nebraska made the cut this week, though, is the limited supply of options in the Big Ten.
Only eight of the 14 teams have a winning percentage of at least .300. And while that's an arbitrary threshold for inclusion, it's hard to imagine a team like Michigan or Penn State—regardless of brand power—getting a bowl invite with a 2-6 or 2-7 record.
Elsewhere, Washington State replaces Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, even though the Cougars lost to Oregon last week. The game got away from them in the second half, but they held a 19-7 lead in the second quarter and looked like the better team early. Meanwhile, Arizona State's game was canceled, and its Week 12 contest has already been canceled. Thus, at the midpoint of the Pac-12 season, the Sun Devils will have an 0-1 record. Maybe they end up in a bowl game, but it seems fair to omit them for now.
And Ole Miss—after beating South Carolina's defense so mercilessly that the Gamecocks fired their head coach, Will Muschamp, in the middle of a pandemic—climbs up from the "Power Five vs. Group of Five" tier to replace Tennessee in the Texas Bowl. A likely Rebels loss to Texas A&M this weekend has been postponed, but they could win their other remaining games against Mississippi State and LSU to finish 5-5 (assuming the Texas A&M game is made up). Even a 4-6 finish would be their best SEC winning percentage since 2015.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma (5-2) vs. USC (2-0)
Citrus (Jan. 1): Auburn (4-2) vs. Northwestern (4-0)
Gator (Jan. 2): LSU (2-3) vs. North Carolina (6-2)
Outback (Jan. 2): Georgia (4-2) vs. Indiana (4-0)
Las Vegas (Date TBD): Arkansas (3-4) vs. Utah (0-0)
Five of the 10 teams on this tier—Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and Utah—did not play in Week 11. Arkansas was the only one to suffer a loss, and it's not like anyone was expecting the Razorbacks to win at Florida. Thus, even though USC, Northwestern and North Carolina won three of the most entertaining games of the week, almost nothing changed here from one week ago.
There was one change, and it's probably going to ruffle some feathers: I dropped Indiana down from New Year's Six and moved Wisconsin up in its place.
Rest assured, that decision has way more to do with the Badgers looking great than the Hoosiers looking anything less than great. I thought playing at Michigan State—one week after ending a 24-game losing streak to Michigan and one week before the huge showdown at Ohio State—was going to be a trap for Indiana, but it looked damn impressive in a 24-0 shutout of the Spartans. That Hoosiers defense is averaging 3.0 takeaways per game, and I can't wait to see how that plays out against the Buckeyes.
But it's important to remember that this is an end-of-season projection rather than an interpretation of what the bowl picture would look like if the season ended today, and Indiana still has projected losses in its remaining road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
In Week 10, Indiana beat Michigan, Georgia lost to Florida, and Wisconsin had to cancel a game for the second consecutive week because of a COVID outbreak. Uncertain what the Badgers would look like when they returned to the field, I moved Indiana up to the New Year's Six tier instead of Wisconsin. But after the Badgers annihilated Michigan in Week 11, it seems likely they will win that home game against Indiana on Dec. 5 to secure the Big Ten's second-best bowl allotment.
I hope I'm wrong, though, because Indiana as a title contender in football has been one of the few enjoyable subplots of this preposterous calendar year.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton (Dec. 30): Wisconsin (2-0) vs. Cincinnati (7-0)
Peach (Jan. 1): Florida (5-1) vs. BYU (8-0)
Fiesta (Jan. 2): Oregon (2-0) vs. Oklahoma State (5-1)
Orange (Jan. 2): Miami (7-1) vs. Texas A&M (5-1)
Aside from the aforementioned Indiana-Wisconsin swap, there's nothing new to report here.
BYU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M did not play. Cincinnati, Florida and Wisconsin each won by at least four touchdowns. Oregon battled back from an early 12-point deficit against Washington State to win by 14 and maintain its grip on the Pac-12's spot in a New Year's Six bowl.
Miami sure did make things interesting for a third consecutive game, though.
After a five-point win over Virginia and a three-point victory over NC State, the Hurricanes tested the limits of the "survive and advance" lifestyle by trailing for most of their game against Virginia Tech before scoring the final two touchdowns in a 25-24 win.
Miami then dropped three spots in the AP poll from No. 9 to No. 12. Were it not for the ACC's affiliation with the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes, not the Hoosiers, would have been the ones replaced by Wisconsin.
Because of the win, though, there's still a remote chance Miami plays for the ACC championship.
For that to happen, the 'Canes need to win out and either need Clemson to lose again or Notre Dame to lose twice. (If Notre Dame loses once and they all finish 9-1, Notre Dame would get the No. 1 seed on head-to-head winning percentage among the tied teams, and then Clemson would get the No. 2 seed by virtue of its win over Miami.) Those scenarios aren't likely, but they exist. And if Miami were to sneak into that game and win it, that just might be enough for a spot in the playoff.
College Football Playoff
Rose: No. 2 Ohio State (3-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (7-1)
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama (6-0) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (8-0)
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Clemson
In most weeks, this is, naturally, the most hotly contested section of the bowl projections.
Not a whole lot to debate this week, though.
Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson all had the week off, and Notre Dame built on its marquee win over Clemson with a 45-31 victory at Boston College.
As discussed in each of the past two weeks, we still have Clemson ahead of Notre Dame because we are projecting an ACC championship in which the Tigers avenge their loss to the Fighting Irish. If that happens while Alabama and Ohio State both run the table, this should be your College Football Playoff picture.
There's still plenty of time for things to change.
Notre Dame has challenging road games against both North Carolina and Wake Forest. Clemson could lose at Virginia Tech in early December. Alabama has the Iron Bowl on Nov. 28. (Though the Crimson Tide would almost certainly make the playoff if they lose to Auburn and still beat Florida in the SEC championship.) And while it seems unlikely that Ohio State will lose before the CFP, who could have guessed the Buckeyes would get smashed by Purdue two years ago. Any given Saturday, right?
If any of those things happens, that's where this gets interesting again.
Is Cincinnati or BYU a legitimate candidate for the top four? Would a 7-0 record be enough for either the Pac-12 champion or Wisconsin? Could Texas A&M get in without even playing in the SEC championship? There are a bunch of quality candidates if a spot opens up.
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 bowls.
American (8 teams): Cincinnati (Cotton Bowl), Houston (First Responder Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), Navy (Armed Forces Bowl), SMU (Military Bowl), Tulane (Boca Raton Bowl), Tulsa (Montgomery Bowl), UCF (Gasparilla Bowl)
ACC (10 teams): Boston College (Pinstripe Bowl), Clemson (Rose Bowl), Miami (Orange Bowl), NC State (Duke's Mayo Bowl), North Carolina (Gator Bowl), Notre Dame (Sugar Bowl), Pittsburgh (Military Bowl), Virginia (Montgomery Bowl), Virginia Tech (Sun Bowl), Wake Forest (Cheez-It Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Iowa State (Liberty Bowl), Kansas State (Cheez-It Bowl), Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl), Oklahoma State (Fiesta Bowl), TCU (First Responder Bowl), Texas (Guaranteed Rate Bowl), West Virginia (Texas Bowl)
Big Ten (8 teams): Indiana (Outback Bowl), Iowa (Guaranteed Rate Bowl), Maryland (Duke's Mayo Bowl), Nebraska (Pinstripe Bowl), Northwestern (Citrus Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Purdue (Music City Bowl), Wisconsin (Cotton 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 (Gasparilla Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Buffalo (Cure Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Kent State (Myrtle Beach Bowl), Ohio (LendingTree Bowl), Toledo (Arizona Bowl), Western Michigan (Camellia Bowl)
Mountain West (5 teams): Boise State (New Mexico Bowl), Fresno State (Frisco Bowl), Nevada (Los Angeles Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), San Jose State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Pac-12 (6 teams): Colorado (Los Angeles Bowl), Oregon (Fiesta Bowl), USC (Alamo Bowl), Utah (Las Vegas Bowl), Washington (Independence Bowl), Washington State (Sun Bowl)
SEC (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Arkansas (Las Vegas Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Peach Bowl), Georgia (Outback Bowl), Kentucky (Music City Bowl), LSU (Gator Bowl), Missouri (Liberty Bowl), Ole Miss (Texas Bowl), Tennessee (Birmingham 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.