College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 19, 2021

College Football Playoff Projections: Week 8 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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    Iowa QB Spencer Petras
    Iowa QB Spencer PetrasCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    So much for Week 7 being an uneventful-looking slate of games.

    Bowl projections got a serious makeover after seven ranked teams suffered losses while four others escaped by the skin of their teeth. Considering there were only 18 ranked teams playing this past week, that's quite the percentage chunk of carnage.

    What else is new, though?

    Last season, projecting the College Football Playoff got boring after a while. I had Alabama-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and Clemson-Ohio State in the Rose Bowl for eight consecutive weekly installments of this piece.

    But this year, it feels like we're reshuffling the Top Four every week. That's no different this time around with Iowa plummeting from the projected College Football Playoff all the way out of the projected New Year's Six following a bad, ugly home loss to Purdue.

    The CFP Top 25 rankings won't make their 2021 debut until Nov. 2, but Iowa dropped from No. 2 to No. 11 in the AP poll. But the real carnage was in the back third of the poll, where Auburn, Baylor, Pitt, UTSA and Purdue all joined the Top 25four of them for the first time this seasonreplacing Arkansas, Arizona State, BYU, Florida and Texas.

    Where are all those teams now seated at the bowl table with seven weeks left to play?

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

Group of Five Bowls

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    Air Force QB Haaziq Daniels
    Air Force QB Haaziq DanielsIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Bahamas (Dec. 17): Buffalo (3-4) vs. Charlotte (4-2)

    Cure (Dec. 17): Coastal Carolina (6-0) vs. East Carolina (3-3)

    Boca Raton (Dec. 18): Florida Atlantic (3-3) vs. Wyoming (4-2)

    Independence (Dec. 18): BYU (5-2) vs. UTSA (7-0)

    LendingTree (Dec. 18): Northern Illinois (5-2) vs. South Alabama (4-2)

    New Mexico (Dec. 18): Fresno State (5-2) vs. Marshall (4-3)

    New Orleans (Dec. 18): Louisiana (5-1) vs. UAB (5-2)

    Myrtle Beach (Dec. 20): Central Michigan (4-3) vs. Appalachian State (4-2)

    Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 21): Nevada (5-1) vs. Toledo (3-4)

    Frisco (Dec. 21): Boise State (3-4) vs. Western Kentucky (2-4)

    Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Army (4-2) vs. UTEP (6-1)

    Hawai'i (Dec. 24): Tulsa (3-4) vs. Utah State (4-2)

    Camellia (Dec. 25): Troy (4-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (4-3)

    Arizona (Dec. 31): Air Force (6-1) vs. Ball State (4-3)

    At this point in the season, this tier doesn't change much from week to week. Maybe there will be one or two significant results that force us to promote to or relegate from the upcoming Group of Five vs. Power Five tier. But since there's no specific hierarchy for the Group of Five bowls aside from the Mountain West champ going to the LA Bowl, there just isn't much reason to shake things up.

    But let's briefly address what did change from one week ago.

    AACA trickle-down effect of both Nebraska and Rutgers dropping out of the bowl picture in the Big Ten was Liberty taking the Big Ten's spot in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Flames were previously projected for the Gasparilla Bowl, and they were replaced by Memphis in that one. And that brings us to the Cure Bowl, where East Carolina backfills for Memphis. Also, after Tulsa's come-from-behind 32-31 victory over South Florida, the 3-4 Golden Hurricane replace 3-3 Temple in the Hawai'i Bowl. They'll need to win the head-to-head game against the Owls (at home on Nov. 20) to stay in the bowl picture.

    C-USA—A further trickle-down effect of the Big Ten opening up two new spots to be filled is Western Kentucky joining the field. The Hilltoppers are only 2-4, but they have the nation's leading passer (Bailey Zappe) and are surely better than their record. With losses to Michigan State, UTSA, Army and Indiana already out of the way, they should start racking up wins against the likes of FIU, MTSU and Rice.

    MAC—Eastern Michigan lost at home to Ball State and is no longer the projected conference champion. Instead, Western Michigan—following a 64-31 drubbing of Kent State—is projected to represent this league in the Quick Lane Bowl. And after storming back from an early 21-0 deficit to beat Ohio, Buffalo enters the mix in the Bahamas Bowl.

    MWC—No changes here, though Air Force's road win over Boise State bears mentioning, if only because it dropped the Broncos to 3-4. They still need to play at San Diego State, at Fresno State and at Colorado State, plus a home game against Wyoming. They're off this week before what looks like a must-win game on Oct. 30 at CSU.

    Sun Belt—No changes here, either, but we're moving closer to a Coastal Carolina vs. Louisiana clash in the conference championship following ULL's 28-point victory over Appalachian State this past Tuesday night. If Coastal Carolina can also take care of App State on Wednesday, it's probably safe to at least pencil in that matchup on Dec. 4.

Group of Five vs. Power Five or Pool Bowls

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    Miami WR Charleston Rambo
    Miami WR Charleston RamboDoug Murray/Associated Press

    L.A. (Dec. 18): San Diego State (6-0) vs. USC (3-3)

    Gasparilla* (Dec. 23): Memphis (4-3) vs. Washington State (4-3)

    Military (Dec. 27): UCF (3-3) vs. Louisville (3-3)

    Quick Lane (Dec. 27): Liberty (5-2) vs. Western Michigan (5-2)

    Birmingham (Dec. 28): Mississippi State (3-3) vs. SMU (6-0)

    First Responder* (Dec. 28): Kansas State (3-3) vs. Miami-Florida (2-4)

    Fenway (Dec. 29): Houston (5-1) vs. Virginia Tech (3-3)

    *Pool bowls in which both Power Five and Group of Five conferences have potential affiliations.

    Both Houston and SMU were idle in Week 7, and San Diego State needed two overtimes to survive against San Jose State. Throw in UCF getting stomped 56-21 by Cincinnati and Liberty losing outright as a 32.5-point favorite over Louisiana-Monroe and this isn't a great week to focus on the Group of Five / Independent teams on this tier.

    Then again, the Power Five teams represented aren't smelling like roses.

    Mississippi State lost by 40 to Alabama, failing to score a single touchdown. Kansas State lost to Iowa State. Virginia Tech got worked by Pitt. Miami's case for a projected bowl fell even further into question with a loss to North Carolina. And though Washington State is on a three-game winning streak, it just lost its head coach for the rest of the season because of his refusal to comply with the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

    Let's briefly touch on Miami, though, which stands out like a sore thumb with that 2-4 record.

    The record isn't great, but the Hurricanes have at least come painstakingly close in their most recent games against Virginia and North Carolina. Each of the five FBS teams the Hurricanes have faced this season currently has at least four wins, but they will close out the regular season with four straight against teams not in that club (Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke) for a potential backdoor cover, if you will.

    First, however, they need to continue through the difficult stretch of the schedule with games against NC State and Pitt on deck. If the 'Canes are unable to knock off the Wolfpack this weekend, they'll definitely drop out of our bowl projections until further notice. But in a week packed to the brim with teams ranked in the Nos. 10-25 range who are either underdogs or slight favorites, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Miami is one of the unranked teams to pull off the upset.

    The 'Canes need to remember how to get stops and force turnovers, though. They did finally get their first pick-six of the year against UNC, but we're still talking about a defense with just five takeaways through six games. Highly unusual for a team that has thrived at forcing turnovers for several decades.

Power Five Bowls with Potential to Be Fun

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    UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet
    UCLA RB Zach CharbonnetMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 28): Maryland (4-2) vs. TCU (3-3)

    Holiday (Dec. 28): Virginia (5-2) vs. UCLA (5-2)

    Liberty (Dec. 28): Tennessee (4-3) vs. Texas Tech (5-2)

    Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Boston College (4-2) vs. Purdue (4-2)

    Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Arkansas (4-3) vs. NC State (5-1)

    Music City (Dec. 30): LSU (4-3) vs. Wisconsin (3-3)

    Sun (Dec. 31): North Carolina (4-3) vs. Oregon State (4-2)

    Texas (Jan. 4): Florida (4-3) vs. Texas (4-3)

    There are some weeks in which I'd be lying if I said I was excited about any of the possible pairings on this tier, and then there are weeks in which all eight of these matchups look entertaining for one reason or the other.

    This is one of the latter weeks.

    Of particular intrigue are the Texas, Music City, Liberty and Holiday Bowls.

    We're forever rooting for a Texas-Texas A&M meeting in the Texas Bowl, but Texas-Florida is a mighty fine Plan B. Both of these teams were awesome in the 2005-09 range, and they've both been chasing that high ever since. Squaring off in this fourth-tier bowl game with 7-5 or 8-4 records would be a nice mutual reminder of how it was yet another underwhelming year for programs with higher aspirations.

    Same goes for an LSU-Wisconsin pairing in the Music City Bowl. After debuting at Nos. 16 and 12, respectively, in the preseason AP Top 25, both the Tigers and Badgers have fallen well shy of expectations. Here's hoping Ed Orgeron is actually still the interim head coach of LSU for this game and that he digs deep into his bag of tricks for some fun plays.

    (Alternatively, we will accept Orgeron and LSU in the Duke's Mayo Bowl, provided they promise to douse/pummel the winning coach with a bucket of mayonnaise this year.)

    Virginia-UCLA in the Holiday Bowl is the antithesis of the projected battles in the Texas and Music City Bowls. Both the Cavaliers and the Bruins are flying higher than usual with matching 5-2 records. Out of nowhere, UVA has one of the most potent passing attacks in the nation led by Brennan Armstrong, while UCLA has dominated on the ground with Zach Charbonnet and Britain Brown each averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Could be an electric matchup.

    And then Tennessee-Texas Tech in the Liberty Bowl could be a scoreboard buster, given the mutual potency on offense and mediocrity on defense. Hopefully no mustard bottles or golf balls find their way onto the field for this one, though.

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III
    Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker IIIDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Alamo (Dec. 29): Utah (4-2) vs. Baylor (6-1)

    Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Iowa State (4-2) vs. Pittsburgh (5-1)

    Las Vegas (Dec. 30): Arizona State (5-2) vs. Minnesota (4-2)

    Gator (Dec. 31): Clemson (4-2) vs. Auburn (5-2)

    Citrus (Jan. 1): Michigan State (7-0) vs. Kentucky (6-1)

    Outback (Jan. 1): Iowa (6-1) vs. Texas A&M (5-2)

    Guess we'd better start by addressing the 7-0 elephant in the tier.

    Michigan State is one of 11 remaining undefeated teams and one of just four teams (along with Georgia, Oklahoma and UTSA) that has already won seven games this season.

    Can four teams from one division seriously reach the New Year's Six, though?

    With six head-to-head games remaining between Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, at least one of those teams is going to suffer at least two more losses, and it's possible one of those teams goes 0-3 in that little round-robin tournament. Forced to project one of the four to finish in fourth place, I'm going with the one that has yet to face an opponent that currently has a winning record.

    That doesn't mean I think the Spartans are talentless frauds. Far from it. But in addition to those games against the other three titans of the Big Ten East, the Spartans also have a road game remaining against giant-killer Purdue. Moreover, Michigan State's defense is lagging well behind those of Michigan and Penn State, while Ohio State has arguably the best offense in the country. We're simply playing the odds here.

    Sticking in the Big Ten, it will be interesting to see where Iowa lands in the initial College Football Playoff rankings in two weeks' time. The Hawkeyes plummeted all the way to No. 11 in the AP poll, but they still have a very respectable resume. If they win at Wisconsin in Week 9, I could easily see them debuting at No. 7ahead of the losers of the Michigan-Michigan State and Penn State-Ohio State games also taking place in Week 9, but behind those two winners, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Cincinnati.

    If that's the case and they finish 11-2 with the second loss coming in the Big Ten Championship Game, there's still a good shot Iowa plays in the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, if not the Rose Bowl.

    But do you trust that offense to score even once at Wisconsin? Or to put together another five-game winning streak? We gave the Hawkeyes the benefit of the doubt heading into Week 7, but now they need to re-prove they belong in the Top 10.

    The team from this tier who seems most likely to reach the New Year's Six is Kentucky, which has games remaining against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State and Louisville after a Week 8 bye. The Wildcats should be favored in all five games, but I would guess they lose to one of Mississippi State, Tennessee or Louisville to finish 10-2 and just outside the Top 12.

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
    Ole Miss QB Matt CorralWade Payne/Associated Press

    Peach (Dec. 30): Penn State (5-1) vs. Wake Forest (6-0)

    Fiesta (Jan. 1): Notre Dame (5-1) vs. Ole Miss (5-1)

    Rose (Jan. 1): Michigan (6-0) vs. Oregon (5-1)

    Sugar (Jan. 1): Alabama (6-1) vs. Oklahoma State (6-0)

    Not a whole lot of change on this tier from one week ago.

    Both the Peach Bowl and the Sugar Bowl have the same projected pairings. Penn State and Wake Forest were idle in Week 7 while Alabama stomped Mississippi State and Oklahoma State pulled off an impressive come-from-behind win at Texas. If the Cowboys can also win at Iowa State in Week 8, their odds of playing in the Big 12 Championship Game will improve from "better than 50/50" to "practically a lock."

    Oregon also remains our projected Pac-12 participant in the Rose Bowl, even though the Ducks didn't look good in their Friday night victory over Cal, needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come back to win 24-17 at home. But at least they won. That's more than can be said for Arizona State, which blew a 21-7 lead against Utah. The Sun Devils subsequently dropped out of the AP Top 25, leaving Oregon as the only ranked Pac-12 team.

    Speaking of AP poll drops, let's reiterate once more that Iowa fell all the way to No. 11 and is now the fifth-highest-ranked Big Ten team. Even though the Hawkeyes are still very likely to play in the Big Ten championship, it's also likely they lose that game, opening the door for the second-best team out of the Big Ten East to play in the Rose Bowl. For now, we're projecting that team to be Michigan.

    Big changes in the Fiesta Bowl, though, with Notre Dame and Ole Miss both moving up a tier.

    Ole Miss eked out a second consecutive victory to improve to 5-1, and the Rebels would be in fantastic shape for one of these four bowls if they can go 5-1 over the second half of the season, too. To that end, they have a big road game against Auburn coming up in Week 9, but they best not overlook that Week 8 home game against LSU, which just stunned Florida with a 49-point explosion.

    And while Notre Dame didn't even play, with Iowa and Kentucky both losing, the Fighting Irish slide into the projected final spot in the New Year's Six. They have a remaining schedule that is A) difficult enough to help them climb a few spots in the rankings and B) not difficult enough to project a loss. The road game against Virginia presently looks like the most difficult on their plate, and the Cavaliers received a grand total of one vote in this week's AP poll.

College Football Playoff

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    Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud
    Ohio State QB C.J. StroudJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Orange (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (7-0) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (6-0)

    Cotton (Dec. 31): No. 2 Oklahoma (7-0) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (5-1)

    National Championship Game (Jan. 10): No. 1 Georgia over No. 3 Ohio State

    First of all, I'd like to extend a tip of the cap to the commenters in last week's bowl projections who pointed out that a No. 1 seed Georgia would go to the Orange Bowl in Miami as opposed to the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. I grew so accustomed to just slotting Alabama in as the No. 1 seed over the past 1.5 seasons that I completely forgot to even consider the geographical preference of the new No. 1 seed. Mea culpa.

    With both that and Iowa out of the way, let's take a peek at the new CFP projections heading into the second half of the season.

    Georgia remains the clear-cut No. 1 seed after a 30-13 victory over Kentucky. The Bulldogs defense was sensational yet again, holding Kentuckywhich entered the day averaging 5.6 yards per carry, 214.2 rushing yards per game and 2.0 rushing touchdowns per gameto 27 carries for 51 yards. Kentucky did not have a single gain (run or pass) of more than 16 yards. Business as usual for UGA.

    Between Iowa's loss and Oklahoma's 21-point victory over TCU, the Sooners rise up to the No. 2 seed. It took them 5.5 games to make a switch at quarterback, but this team is clearly more dangerous with Caleb Williams on the field. The true freshman quarterback had five touchdowns against the Horned Frogs, and more of the same is likely on the horizon over the next two weeks against Kansas and Texas Tech.

    Ohio State probably should have already been the projected Big Ten champion prior to Iowa's loss to Purdue, but that Week 7 result makes it much easier to put the Buckeyes back in the CFP field. Whether they will actually win the Big Ten East is up in the air, but the Buckeyes look like the favorite to emerge from that cluster of contenders and would definitely be favored in the Big Ten Championship Game.

    And Cincinnati remains our projected No. 4 seed for a second consecutive week after a 35-point drubbing of UCF. The Bearcats are up to No. 2 in the AP poll, but it's hard to imagine the CFP selection committee would be willing to put this team ahead of an undefeated Big 12 champion or a one-loss Big Ten champion.

    The primary threats to Cincinnati's spot in the playoff are Alabama and the winner of the Week 9 showdown between Michigan and Michigan State.

    If Alabama wins out, it would finish ahead of the Bearcats. And if the Crimson Tide finish off that 12-1 season with a win over 12-0 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs would also remain ahead of Cincinnati. Whether you think it's fair or not, that's what would happen.

    On the Michigan-Michigan State front, if the winner of that game finishes 11-1 with a win over the Ohio State-Penn State loser and a loss to the winner of that game, it would (most likely) fall short of a spot in the Big Ten title game, but would still have a mighty impressive resume. It's not exactly a foregone conclusion that that team would rank ahead of Cincinnati, but the respective "style points" from those two teams the rest of the way could result in a difficult debate.

Bowl Games by Conference

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    Oklahoma State RB Jaylen Warren
    Oklahoma State RB Jaylen WarrenSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Here is the 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 (7 teams): Cincinnati (Orange), East Carolina (Cure Beach), Houston (Fenway), Memphis (Gasparilla), SMU (Birmingham), Tulsa (Hawai'i), UCF (Military)

    Atlantic Coast (10 teams): Boston College (Pinstripe), Clemson (Gator), Louisville (Military), Miami (First Responder), North Carolina (Sun), North Carolina State (Duke's Mayo), Pittsburgh (Cheez-It), Virginia (Holiday), Virginia Tech (Fenway), Wake Forest (Peach)

    Big 12 (8 teams): Baylor (Alamo), Iowa State (Cheez-It), Kansas State (First Responder), Oklahoma (Cotton), Oklahoma State (Sugar), TCU (Guaranteed Rate), Texas (Texas), Texas Tech (Liberty)

    Big Ten (9 teams): Iowa (Outback), Maryland (Guaranteed Rate), Michigan (Rose), Michigan State (Citrus), Minnesota (Las Vegas), Ohio State (Cotton), Penn State (Peach), Purdue (Pinstripe), Wisconsin (Music City)

    Conference USA (7 teams): Charlotte (Bahamas), Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton), Marshall (New Mexico), UAB (New Orleans), UTEP (Armed Forces), UTSA (Independence), Western Kentucky (Frisco)

    Independents (4 teams): Army (Armed Forces), BYU (Independence), Liberty (Quick Lane), Notre Dame (Fiesta)

    Mid-American (7 teams): Ball State (Arizona), Buffalo (Bahamas), Central Michigan (Myrtle Beach), Eastern Michigan (Camellia), Northern Illinois (Lending Tree), Toledo (Famous Idaho Potato), Western Michigan (Quick Lane)

    Mountain West (7 teams): Air Force (Arizona), Boise State (Frisco), Fresno State (New Mexico), Nevada (Famous Idaho Potato), San Diego State (LA), Utah State (Hawai'i), Wyoming (Boca Raton)

    Pac-12 (7 teams): Arizona State (Las Vegas), Oregon (Rose), Oregon State (Sun), UCLA (Holiday), USC (LA), Utah (Alamo), Washington State (Gasparilla)

    Southeastern (11 teams): Alabama (Sugar), Arkansas (Duke's Mayo), Auburn (Gator), Florida (Texas), Georgia (Orange), Kentucky (Citrus), LSU (Music City), Mississippi State (Birmingham), Ole Miss (Fiesta), Tennessee (Liberty), Texas A&M (Outback)

    Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (Myrtle Beach), Coastal Carolina (Cure), Louisiana (New Orleans), South Alabama (Lending Tree), Troy (Camellia)

                  

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

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