College Football Playoff Projections: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
At long last, the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2020 season have arrived.
And if you're a Group of Five or independent team, you're not too happy.
BYU, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Louisiana and Tulsa were all ranked worse by the selection committee than they were in the most recent Associated Press poll. And while Cincinnati at No. 7 is the highest ranked Group of Five team in CFP history, it's the same ranking the Bearcats have in the AP poll—and they're still two spots behind Texas A&M.
Why does that particular two-team comparison matter? Either No. 1 Alabama or No. 6 Florida is going to lose at least one more game, as they will meet in the SEC championship if they don't lose in the next three weeks. Same goes for No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson in the ACC. But Texas A&M is the wild card that—unless Alabama loses twice—would not play for the SEC championship. The one-loss Aggies are more or less in the exact same spot Alabama was three years ago when it got in as the No. 4 seed despite not winning its division.
At least it doesn't appear Cincinnati has to worry about BYU or Oregon at Nos. 14 and 15. Oregon could gain a significant amount of ground by winning out, though it would not face a ranked team until possibly drawing No. 18 USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game. That's probably not going to be enough to jump into the Top Five.
And with BYU, forget about the Playoff, are the Cougars even going to reach a New Year's Six Bowl at this point?
We're still projecting the Cougars to finish high enough to reach the Peach Bowl, but they're going to need some help in the form of a loss by No. 12 Indiana (which may well happen Dec. 5 at Wisconsin).
Aside from BYU's and Oregon's rankings, perhaps the biggest surprise was 6-2 North Carolina's checking in at No. 19. That makes Friday's home game against No. 2 Notre Dame even more interesting. Win that, and it might leap into New Year's Six range.
Here are our full bowl projections heading into Week 13.
Group of Five Bowls
Frisco (Dec. 19): UTSA (6-4) vs. Fresno State (3-1)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 21): Georgia Southern (6-3) vs. Kent State (3-0)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Central Michigan (2-1) vs. San Jose State (4-0)
Boca Raton (Dec. 22): Florida Atlantic (5-1) vs. Tulane (5-5)
New Orleans (Dec. 23): Coastal Carolina (8-0) vs. Marshall (7-0)
New Mexico (Dec. 24): Boise State (4-1) vs. UAB (4-3)
Camellia (Dec. 25): Louisiana (7-1) vs. Western Michigan (3-0)
Cure (Dec. 26): Buffalo (3-0) vs. Georgia State (4-4)
LendingTree (Dec. 26): Appalachian State (6-2) vs. Ohio (1-1)
Arizona (Dec. 31): San Diego State (3-2) vs. Toledo (2-1)
Armed Forces (Dec. 31): Louisiana Tech (4-3) vs. Navy (3-4)
Very little is changing on the Group of Five front these days. In fact, the only move since last week was Georgia State's replacing Troy in the Cure Bowl. Both Sun Belt teams are 4-4 after Troy's loss and Georgia State's win in Week 12, but we're giving the edge to Georgia State because of its head-to-head victory.
There's ample opportunity for Troy to rally. The Trojans have a brutal game at Appalachian State this week and another against Coastal Carolina on Dec. 12, but they otherwise wrap up the regular season with 3-6 South Alabama and 0-8 Louisiana-Monroe. Georgia State's only remaining scheduled game is a tough one against 6-3 Georgia Southern. It may well be that Troy finishes 6-6 while Georgia State finishes 4-5. If the Panthers beat the Eagles on Saturday, though, they will be locked in to a bowl as far as I'm concerned.
It's also feasible that there will be room for both Georgia State and Troy if Coastal Carolina wiggles its way to a New Year's Six Bowl.
The Chanticleers' College Football Playoff ranking (No. 20) isn't all that promising for that path to six Sun Belt bowl teams, but they still have two chances to impress the selection committee with a road game against 8-1 Liberty on Dec. 5 and a presumed Sun Belt championship matchup with 7-1 Louisiana on the 19th. If they win those games while teams such as Miami and Indiana or Wisconsin fall by the wayside, maybe Coastal Carolina can pull it off.
Speaking of undefeated teams, Kent State at Buffalo should be a great game. Can't recall there ever being a time that a MACtion game clearly profiled as the most entertaining option during the noon window Saturday, but that game has "main screen" written all over it. At the very least, please do not opt to watch Penn State at Michigan instead of this showdown in the MAC East.
Power Five vs. Group of Five Bowls
Montgomery (Dec. 23): Tulsa (5-1) vs. Virginia Tech (4-5)
Gasparilla (Dec. 26): Liberty* (8-1) vs. UCF (5-3)
First Responder (Dec. 26): Houston (3-3) vs. TCU (3-4)
Independence (Dec. 26): Army (7-2) vs. Arizona State (0-1)
Military (Dec. 28): SMU (7-2) vs. Pittsburgh (5-4)
LA (Dec. 30): Nevada (5-0) vs. Colorado (2-0)
Birmingham (Jan. 1): Tennessee (2-5) vs. Memphis (5-2)
*Liberty takes an ACC/SEC spot in the Gasparilla Bowl
Let me begin this section by addressing Tennessee, which has lost five consecutive games by double digits for the first time in program history.
The Volunteers fall below our threshold for inclusion with a 28.6 winning percentage, but they should win their game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, which would mean a worst-case scenario of finishing 3-7—exactly where I set the bare minimum for bowl consideration.
Now, if the Vols lose to Vanderbilt, they'll be removed from next week's projections, and Jeremy Pruitt may well be removed from his job as head coach even though it would cost eight figures to buy him out of the rest of his contract.
It's incredible how quickly things can turn sour for a head coach. Not two months ago, Tennessee was on an eight-game winning streak and was crushing it on the recruiting trail. But now, the Vols might have the most acrimonious coach-fanbase relationship in the country.
Elsewhere in this tier, one of the most noteworthy developments in Week 12 was Liberty's 15-14 loss to North Carolina State, which ended the Flames' quest for an undefeated season. That result did not change our projection for Liberty, but it did effectively eliminate any hope it would climb up to a more prestigious bowl game. Even if the Flames beat Coastal Carolina on Dec. 5 and finish 10-1, they will likely be relegated to one of these seven games.
That said, sign me up for Malik Willis vs. Dillon Gabriel on the day after Christmas. This projected Gasparilla Bowl pairing would be all sorts of fun.
Power Five Bowls That Could Be Fun
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 26): Iowa (3-2) vs. Texas (5-2)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Boston College (5-4) vs. Michigan (2-3)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Kansas State (4-4) vs. Wake Forest (4-3)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): NC State (6-3) vs. Maryland (2-1)
Music City (Dec. 30): Kentucky (3-5) vs. Purdue (2-2)
Sun (Dec. 31): Washington State (1-1) vs. Virginia (4-4)
Liberty (Dec. 31): Arkansas (3-5) vs. Oklahoma State (5-2)
Texas (Dec. 31): Ole Miss (3-4) vs. West Virginia (5-3)
Put your hands together for Michigan, which is back in the projected bowl picture following a triple-overtime win over Rutgers. As rough as things have been for the Wolverines, they should improve to 3-3 at home against Penn State, at which point their worst-case scenario is a 3-6 record on Selection Sunday. While that's a pathetic 33.3 winning percentage, it would most likely be enough for a name-brand program to get a bowl invitation.
At least Michigan actually won in Week 12, though. That's more than most teams in this tier can claim.
Texas, Wake Forest, Boston College, Maryland, Washington State, Ole Miss and West Virginia were all idle, either by design or by cancelation/postponement. Oklahoma State lost by 28. Kansas State lost by 45. Kentucky lost by 60. Arkansas and Purdue each lost by a field goal. NC State won by one point but played in the ugliest game of the week. Virginia beat up on FCS Abilene Christian.
Frankly, for as much as we all poked fun at Michigan throughout what turned into a nail-biter, Iowa—which won by 20 at Penn State—may have been the only team in this bunch that had a more impressive week. And that isn't meant as an assertion that Rutgers is actually pretty good. It's merely a testament to how disappointing or nonexistent the weekend was for this collection of teams.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma (6-2) vs. USC (3-0)
Citrus (Jan. 1): Auburn (5-2) vs. Wisconsin (2-1)
Gator (Jan. 2): LSU (3-3) vs. North Carolina (6-2)
Outback (Jan. 2): Georgia (5-2) vs. Indiana (4-1)
Las Vegas (Date TBD): Missouri (3-3) vs. Washington (2-0)
After two weeks of turmoil over whether Indiana or Wisconsin was more deserving of a New Year's Six Bowl, they both fell short of that tier following Week 12 losses.
Indiana's loss was mighty impressive, though. The Hoosiers forced three turnovers, but in stark contrast to their first four games, they were unable to convert any of them into points. Michael Penix Jr. also threw a pick-six against Ohio State, so Indiana really bungled the turnover situation. And yet, the Hoosiers twice possessed the ball in the fourth quarter with just a seven-point deficit on the road against one of the four best teams in the country.
It's hard to make a "We belong in the College Football Playoff conversation" statement in a loss, but Indiana did just that. If the Hoosiers win out (vs. Maryland, at Wisconsin, vs. Purdue, projected game against Iowa or Wisconsin on Dec. 19) to get to 8-1 with just this loss on their resume, they're going to have quite the case.
For now, though, Indiana is still projected to lose that road game against the Badgers, which would likely leave the Hoosiers shy of the New Year's Six picture. And if they bounce back two weeks later to beat Wisconsin, that's how both of those teams would end up here.
Elsewhere, Oklahoma had quite the day in Bedlam, blowing out Oklahoma State for its fourth consecutive win by at least three scores. But we left the Sooners in this tier because the race for the Big 12 title game is all sorts of convoluted.
As the only one-loss team in the conference, Iowa State is projected to represent the Big 12 in the New Year's Six. But if the Cyclones lose at Texas on Friday, there would be four Big 12 teams (Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas) with two conference losses and zero head-to-head games remaining. A four-way tie at 7-2 is possible, and I believe that would result in an Oklahoma vs. Texas championship game since the Sooners and Longhorns would be 2-1 and the Cyclones and Cowboys would be 1-2 in that four-team scrum.
Regardless of what happens otherwise, if Oklahoma wins out (at West Virginia, vs. Baylor), it should be in the conference championship game. And with the way it has played lately, it's probably going to win. But let's see what happens in Morgantown before we push the Sooners up a tier.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Cotton (Dec. 30): Northwestern (5-0) vs. Cincinnati (8-0)
Peach (Jan. 1): Florida (6-1) vs. BYU (9-0)
Fiesta (Jan. 2): Oregon (3-0) vs. Iowa State (6-2)
Orange (Jan. 2): Miami (7-1) vs. Texas A&M (5-1)
I said a while back I was going to wait until three weeks into the Pac-12 season before considering Oregon or USC for the College Football Playoff. And now that we're three weeks in and they're both 3-0...I still don't see it happening.
Not yet, at any rate.
USC barely survived its first two games against Arizona State and Arizona, needing a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to win each of those contests. Likewise, Oregon darn near lost to UCLA—which was forced to play with a backup quarterback with Dorian Thompson-Robinson out—and had to overcome an early 12-point deficit against Washington State.
So, for both teams, that's lackluster performances in two out of three games with schedules that aren't impressing anyone.
If they both go 6-0 en route to a conference championship battle, maybe the winner will sneak in as the No. 4 seed, depending on how things shake out in the ACC. I could see 7-0 Oregon finishing ahead of one-loss Texas A&M, one-loss Northwestern, everyone from the Big 12 and, sadly, both undefeated BYU and undefeated Cincinnati, even though the Bearcats have been substantially better against a tougher and longer schedule.
But 7-0 Oregon isn't edging the SEC champion, the Big Ten champion, 11-1 Clemson or 11-1 Notre Dame, which is what we're projecting in the ACC. So the Ducks will remain in this projected tier unless external circumstances break their way.
College Football Playoff
Rose: No. 2 Ohio State (4-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (7-1)
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama (7-0) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (8-0)
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Clemson
We're now at four consecutive weeks with this projection, and the only thing that has changed during that time is a growing confidence that Clemson will beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl in light of the Buckeyes' abysmal secondary play against Indiana.
In fairness, the Clemson defense has had some significant lapses, too, which means the rematch of last year's 29-23 national semifinal could be more of a 45-42 barn burner this time around. But if you watched Michael Penix Jr. torch Ohio State for nearly 500 passing yards and thought, "Oh yeah, this team is equipped to beat Trevor Lawrence and/or Mac Jones in six weeks," it might be time to take off the Scarlet and Gray glasses.
That said, Ohio State is the only member of this quartet that is a stone-cold lock to win in Week 13. Road game or not, if the Buckeyes lose to Illinois, it would easily supplant the 2018 Purdue loss as the program's most embarrassing in at least a decade. They have won five consecutive games against the Illini by at least 25 points, and they should extend that streak.
Clemson seems like a safe bet at home against Pittsburgh, but the Tigers have not played since losing to Notre Dame on Nov. 7, and Trevor Lawrence hasn't played in over a month. Plus, playing at home against 5-4 Pittsburgh didn't work out so well four years ago.
Alabama also seems like a safe bet at home against Auburn, but anything can happen in the Iron Bowl.
And Notre Dame at North Carolina is a game I've had circled for months. Based on its schedule, I thought North Carolina would be undefeated. The Tar Heels failed to live up to the hype and are 6-2, but they have more than enough offense to beat anyone.
That should be a sensational game, and it wouldn't be the first time that the Friday after Thanksgiving threw a curveball into the CFP picture. No. 8 Washington State lost on Black Friday 2018. No. 2 Miami faltered the year before that. No. 7 Baylor went down in 2015.
It's entirely possible this year's Friday curveball is Oregon at Oregon State, but Notre Dame best bring its A-game.
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 Athletic (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)
Atlantic Coast (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 (Sun Bowl), Virginia Tech (Montgomery Bowl), Wake Forest (Cheez-It Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Iowa State (Fiesta Bowl), Kansas State (Cheez-It Bowl), Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty 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), Michigan (Pinstripe Bowl), Northwestern (Cotton Bowl), Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Purdue (Music City Bowl), Wisconsin (Citrus 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): Arizona State (Independence Bowl), Colorado (Los Angeles Bowl), Oregon (Fiesta Bowl), USC (Alamo Bowl), Washington (Las Vegas Bowl), Washington State (Sun Bowl)
Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Arkansas (Liberty Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Peach Bowl), Georgia (Outback Bowl), Kentucky (Music City Bowl), LSU (Gator Bowl), Missouri (Las Vegas 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), Georgia State (Cure Bowl), Louisiana (Camellia Bowl)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.