College Football Playoff Projections: Week 14 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
Though five teams ranked in the initial College Football Playoff Top 25 suffered a loss in Week 13, it wasn't a "shake things to their core" type of week for the rankings or our bowl projections.
Three of those five teams—Auburn, North Carolina and Texas—were already long shots to play in a New Year's Six bowl and lost to higher-ranked opponents. Texas perhaps should have won its home game against Iowa State, but not one of those three outcomes was surprising.
Then-No. 15 Oregon's loss to Oregon State was a shocker, but the selection committee had already indirectly proclaimed that the Pac-12 champion wasn't a legitimate threat for the CFP anyway. All that game really did was bump up USC into Oregon's previous position as the projected Pac-12 representative in the New Year's Six.
But Michigan State's ending Northwestern's undefeated season was a rather large deal.
Just one week after the Wildcats' monumental victory over Wisconsin, we barely had any time to dream up various national championship scenarios for Northwestern before they all went up in smoke. Northwestern plummeted from No. 8 to No. 14 and will need utter chaos to sniff the Top Four again. It even needs some help just to play in the New Year's Six.
The Top Seven, though, remain unchanged, as all seven teams either won by multiple touchdowns or did not play. Unless Texas A&M loses at Auburn, that top tier seems unlikely to change next week too. But that's why they play the games.
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. The exception to that rule is 2-5 Tennessee, but the Volunteers have a game remaining against winless Vanderbilt that will presumably get them to at least a .300 winning percentage.
Bowls are broken into six tiers in ascending order of magnitude.
Group of 5 Bowls
Frisco (Dec. 19): UTSA (7-4) vs. Fresno State (3-1)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 21): Georgia Southern (6-4) vs. Kent State (3-1)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Central Michigan (3-1) vs. San Jose State (4-0)
Boca Raton (Dec. 22): Florida Atlantic (5-1) vs. Navy (3-5)
New Orleans (Dec. 23): Coastal Carolina (9-0) vs. Marshall (7-0)
New Mexico (Dec. 24): Nevada (5-1) vs. UAB (4-3)
Camellia (Dec. 25): Louisiana-Lafayette (8-1) vs. Western Michigan (4-0)
Cure (Dec. 26): Ohio (2-1) vs. Georgia State (5-4)
LendingTree (Dec. 26): Appalachian State (7-2) vs. Buffalo (4-0)
Arizona (Dec. 31): San Diego State (3-3) vs. Ball State (3-1)
Armed Forces (Dec. 31): Louisiana Tech (4-3) vs. Houston (3-3)
To reiterate a point made last week: Not much is changing on this tier these days.
There were two noteworthy swaps, though.
In the MAC, Ball State went on the road and upset Toledo last week, and the Cardinals replaced the Rockets in the Arizona Bowl. Per usual, it was a nail-biter. All four of Ball State's games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and the Cardinals darn near blew an 18-point lead in the final six minutes. Toledo had trimmed the 27-9 deficit to a 27-24 game and had the ball on the BSU 40 before a strip-sack ended the game.
The Cardinals are 3-1 with tough matchups remaining against 3-1 Central Michigan and 4-0 Western Michigan. They might win the MAC West, or they might finish .500 and miss out on a bowl game. Either way, expect it to be dramatic.
The other swap was Nevada dropping from the Los Angeles Bowl to the New Mexico Bowl following its late-night loss at Hawaii. The L.A. Bowl is reserved for the Mountain West champion, and it looks like the Wolf Pack won't even play in that game. They're behind 4-0 San Jose State and 4-0 (in conference) Boise State, and they still have toss-up games remaining against Fresno State and SJSU. In their place, Boise State moves back up as the league's projected champion.
And one note about a bowl that hasn't changed in a while: This is the fourth consecutive week that we've had a projected Myrtle Beach Bowl pairing of Georgia Southern vs. Kent State. And after the Golden Flashes allowed 515 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in their loss to Buffalo, it's fun to think about what Georgia Southern's triple-option offense could do in that game.
Even in a losing effort at Georgia State this week, the Eagles rushed for 296 yards and three touchdowns and are fifth in the nation at 267.7 rushing yards per game. But Kent State is averaging just under 50 points per game, so that could be a barnburner if it happens.
Power 5 vs. Group of 5 Bowls
Montgomery (Dec. 23): Tulsa (5-1) vs. Wake Forest (4-3)
Gasparilla (Dec. 26): Liberty* (9-1) vs. UCF (6-3)
First Responder (Dec. 26): Tulane (5-5) vs. Kansas State (4-5)
Independence (Dec. 26): Army (7-2) vs. Oregon State (2-2)
Military (Dec. 28): SMU (7-3) vs. Pittsburgh (5-5)
Los Angeles (Dec. 30): Boise State (4-1) vs. Colorado (3-0)
Birmingham (Jan. 1): Tennessee (2-5) vs. Memphis (6-2)
*Liberty takes an ACC/SEC spot in the Gasparilla Bowl
The team that stands out on this tier is Colorado.
The Buffaloes are still undefeated and are 28th in the nation in scoring at 34.3 points per game. Moreover, their remaining scheduled games are against 0-2 Utah and 0-3 Arizona, so a 5-0 record is easily possible.
I won't go too deep down the tiebreaker rabbit hole since the Pac-12 schedule seems to change on an hourly basis, but I'm fairly certain USC would represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship if both USC and Colorado go undefeated. But there's at least a chance Colorado wins out and represents this conference in the New Year's Six. What a story that would be for a program that has played in just one bowl game in the past dozen years.
And might Oregon State be headed for its first .500-or-better finish (and its first bowl game) since 2013?
Things are trending in that direction for the Beavers after they upset Oregon in the Civil War on Friday night. One week removed from averaging 10.9 yards per carry in a win over California, star running back Jermar Jefferson torched the Ducks for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He had an 82-yard score on his first touch of the game and never looked back.
They'll need to win one of their remaining road games against Utah and Stanford to finish above .500. But considering four winless teams remain in the Pac-12, Oregon State could be bowl-bound even with a 3-4 record.
Kansas State's second-half meltdown continued with a fourth consecutive loss, this one coming because of a last-second Baylor field goal. Even if they lose the finale against Texas, the Wildcats should be in the bowl picture—provided no Big 12 bowl games are canceled. But it sure does feel like a lifetime ago that this team won a road game against Oklahoma.
Lastly, SMU's loss to East Carolina—in which it trailed 45-7 at halftime before making things look a little more respectable at 52-38—was a surprising development, but with seven wins, the Mustangs are still rooted on this tier. Lose the remaining home game against Houston, though, and they might drop to the Armed Forces Bowl or Boca Raton Bowl.
Power 5 Bowls That Could Be Fun
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 26): Iowa (4-2) vs. West Virginia (5-3)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): TCU (4-4) vs. Boston College (6-4)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): NC State (7-3) vs. Maryland (2-2)
Music City (Dec. 30): Kentucky (3-6) vs. Purdue (2-3)
Liberty (Dec. 31): Arkansas (3-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-2)
Texas (Dec. 31): LSU (3-4) vs. Texas (5-3)
Just as quickly as Michigan arrived in the bowl picture, it left again following a home loss to previously winless Penn State.
If the Wolverines can take the home game against Maryland this weekend, that would probably get them back into the mix with a 3-4 record. At any rate, the Big Ten isn't loaded with great candidates, as evidenced by Purdue's appearance in this week's projections with a 2-3 record.
Iowa has emerged as one of the Big Ten's locks for a bowl, though. After an 0-2 start in close games against Purdue and Northwestern, the Hawkeyes have reeled off four straight wins. They should push that streak to five this week against Illinois before ending the regular season in a big showdown against Wisconsin. Win that one, and Iowa probably moves up to play in the more prestigious Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl—at the Badgers' expense.
Both the ACC and Pac-12 have lost four bowl games with which they were affiliated. The Pac-12 is down to just five without the Sun Bowl: Alamo, Independence, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and a TBD New Year's Six game. Whether the league even ends up with five teams that finish .500 or better is unclear, but it was 2-2 UCLA that dropped out of the projected bowl picture after that news came out.
Michigan State (2-3) fell out when the Pinstripe Bowl was axed, while the ACC lost both Virginia (4-4) and Virginia Tech (4-5).
We're down to just 35 bowls, and with COVID-19 numbers continuing to trend in the wrong direction, I would be astounded if we actually get 35 bowls. As long as they're scheduled, though, we'll continue to project them.
Top Non-New Year's 6 Bowls
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma (6-2) vs. Oregon (3-1)
Citrus (Jan. 1): Auburn (5-3) vs. Wisconsin (2-1)
Gator (Jan. 2): Ole Miss (4-4) vs. North Carolina (6-3)
Outback (Jan. 2): Missouri (4-3) vs. Northwestern (5-1)
Las Vegas (Date TBD): BYU (9-0) vs. Washington (3-0)
There's a lot going on in this tier, so let's just tackle it game by game.
In the Alamo Bowl, Oregon drops from the New Year's Six following its loss to Oregon State. If COVID-19 allows it, the Ducks will still control their destiny. Washington is alone in first place in the Pac-12 North, but the Huskies are slated to face the Ducks on Dec. 12 in a game that should determine who wins the division. For now, though, we have USC projected as the Pac-12 champion and thus its NY6 representative.
In the Citrus Bowl, getting smashed by Alabama in the Iron Bowl didn't hurt Auburn's bowl outlook. The Tigers are still clearly on an island as the fifth-best team in the SEC—behind Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and Georgia—but well ahead of everyone else. Maybe they wind up in the Gator Bowl or Outback Bowl, but they're pretty much locked onto this tier.
In the Outback Bowl, Northwestern at least temporarily drops a tier because of the bad loss to Michigan State. But, much like Oregon, the Wildcats do still control their destiny. As long as they don't lose to sub-.500 Illinois, they'll play in the Big Ten title game. And if Ohio State has one more game canceled, that championship might be against Indiana instead of the Buckeyes. We're projecting a loss to Ohio State in three weeks, but who knows if that game will happen?
And we've got two notes on the Las Vegas Bowl:
- BYU remained in our NY6 tier last time despite debuting at No. 14 in the CFP rankings last Tuesday, but only because I mistakenly had No. 9 Georgia on this tier. Because the Bulldogs moved up, the Cougars dropped out. They will need help at this point.
- After all of last week's BYU-Washington scheduling drama, it would be awesome if they met in a bowl game. This pairing was unintentional, but now we desperately want it.
Non-CFP New Year's 6 Bowls
Cotton (Dec. 30): Indiana (5-1) vs. Texas A&M (6-1)
Peach (Jan. 1): Georgia (6-2) vs. Cincinnati (8-0)
Fiesta (Jan. 2): USC (3-0) vs. Iowa State (7-2)
Orange (Jan. 2): Miami (7-1) vs. Florida (7-1)
Georgia joins the NY6 mix following its shockingly high debut in last week's CFP rankings (No. 9) and its subsequent blowout of South Carolina.
The Bulldogs only have one win against a team with a winning record (Auburn), and Alabama and Florida soundly defeated them. They were 15th on my Top 25 ballot this week, but it's the committee's rankings that matter. And unless the Bulldogs inexplicably lose to Vanderbilt or Missouri, they're just about guaranteed to finish the year in the Top 10 and in a New Year's Six bowl. Presumably, that bowl would be the Peach Bowl in nearby Atlanta.
With Georgia moving up, we've shifted Florida from the Peach Bowl to the Orange Bowl and Texas A&M from the Orange Bowl to the Cotton Bowl. All three of those SEC teams could drive to those bowl games, though Miami would have home-field advantage in the Orange Bowl.
Elsewhere, USC replaces Oregon as the projected Pac-12 champion and Iowa State remains the projected Big 12 champion following its road win over Texas. The Cyclones have played in more than their fair share of close calls this season, but they have survived most of them and sit alone in first place in the conference standings. They'll probably face Oklahoma for the Big 12 title and may well lose that rematch of a game they won in early October, but we'll keep them here until further notice.
And Indiana has a super-intriguing road game against Wisconsin this week to perhaps make a major push up the CFP rankings. If the Hoosiers win out, they'll most likely finish ahead of everyone from the Big 12 and Pac-12 and will probably bypass Georgia and Cincinnati. It's probably too little too late for the playoff, but let's see if they can at least enter the debate.
College Football Playoff
Rose: No. 2 Ohio State (4-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (8-1)
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama (8-0) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (9-0)
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Clemson
Ho hum. Yet another week with this exact CFP projection.
Alabama put the screws to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, winning 42-13. It was the Crimson Tide's fourth consecutive win by at least 29 points, and it would be slightly surprising if either Arkansas or LSU ends that streak in the next few weeks.
Clemson similarly dismantled Pitt 52-17. I spent all week speculating that the Tigers and Trevor Lawrence might have acquired a little rust after a while away from the field, but they quickly debunked that theory by scoring 31 points in the first quarter. They should easily win their remaining regular-season games against Virginia Tech and Florida State.
Notre Dame didn't exactly cruise to victory at North Carolina, though the Fighting Irish won by a wider margin than expected. After allowing the Tar Heels to score touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, Notre Dame's defense clamped down and only allowed three points the rest of the way in a 31-17 victory. Get ready for them to demolish Syracuse this week before another interesting road test against Wake Forest on Dec 12.
Last but absolutely not least relevant, Ohio State's game was canceled for the second time in three weeks, putting the Buckeyes in jeopardy of failing to qualify for the Big Ten championship, which would add one heck of a wrinkle to the playoff picture.
They are scheduled to face Michigan State and Michigan in these final two weeks of the regular season, which are games they should win if they're played. But it sure would be something if, in what might be his final regular-season game at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh finally "beat" Ohio State by knocking the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten championship by canceling the game.
It's worth pointing out that there's no minimum games requirement for the College Football Playoff, and Ohio State would still face a competent opponent (Iowa or Wisconsin, most likely) on Dec. 19 even if it doesn't qualify for the conference title. But if 7-1 Indiana faces 7-1 Northwestern in the Big Ten championship and the winner gets left out of the playoff in favor of an Ohio State team that finishes 6-0, let's just say I'd love to hear a candid interview with Tom Allen or Pat Fitzgerald right after the Top Four reveal.
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 (Peach Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl), Memphis (Birmingham Bowl), Navy (Boca Raton Bowl), SMU (Military Bowl), Tulane (First Responder Bowl), Tulsa (Montgomery Bowl), UCF (Gasparilla Bowl)
Atlantic Coast (8 teams): Boston College (Cheez-It Bowl), Clemson (Rose Bowl), Miami (Orange Bowl), NC State (Duke's Mayo Bowl), North Carolina (Gator Bowl), Notre Dame (Sugar Bowl), Pittsburgh (Military Bowl), Wake Forest (Montgomery Bowl)
Big 12 (7 teams): Iowa State (Fiesta Bowl), Kansas State (First Responder Bowl), Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl), Oklahoma State (Liberty Bowl), TCU (Cheez-It Bowl), Texas (Texas Bowl), West Virginia (Guaranteed Rate Bowl)
Big Ten (7 teams): Indiana (Cotton Bowl), Iowa (Guaranteed Rate Bowl), Maryland (Duke's Mayo Bowl), Northwestern (Outback 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 (Las Vegas Bowl), Liberty (Gasparilla Bowl)
Mid-American (6 teams): Ball State (Arizona Bowl), Buffalo (LendingTree Bowl), Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), Kent State (Myrtle Beach Bowl), Ohio (Cure Bowl), Western Michigan (Camellia Bowl)
Mountain West (5 teams): Boise State (Los Angeles Bowl), Fresno State (Frisco Bowl), Nevada (New Mexico Bowl), San Diego State (Arizona Bowl), San Jose State (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
Pac-12 (5 teams): Colorado (Los Angeles Bowl), Oregon (Alamo Bowl), Oregon State (Independence Bowl), USC (Fiesta Bowl), Washington (Las Vegas Bowl)
Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar Bowl), Arkansas (Liberty Bowl), Auburn (Citrus Bowl), Florida (Orange Bowl), Georgia (Peach Bowl), Kentucky (Music City Bowl), LSU (Texas Bowl), Missouri (Outback Bowl), Ole Miss (Gator Bowl), Tennessee (Birmingham Bowl), Texas A&M (Cotton 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.