College Football Playoff Projections: Week 11 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 10, 2021

College Football Playoff Projections: Week 11 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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    Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder
    Cincinnati's Desmond RidderJeff Dean/Associated Press

    Tucked in between a pair of college basketball games, we got a new batch of College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, and the new Top Four is Georgia, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State, in that order.

    The only significant surprise was in the Nos. 5-7 range.

    One week ago, the selection committee repeatedly drove home the importance of head-to-head outcomes with five instances of one team ranking directly ahead of a team it had previously beaten. But after Michigan State's loss to Purdue, it dropped from No. 3 to No. 7, just one spot behind a Michigan team it defeated one week ago.

    Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack were visibly stunned by that decision, but I get it. Michigan State was the home team for that matchup and it had to rally from a 30-14 deficit to eke out that victory. It's not like the Spartans emphatically proved they are a better team than the Wolverines.

    The head-to-head result still matters, of course, but it simply doesn't carry as much water as, say, Oregon's road win over Ohio State in which the Ducks never trailed.

    Slightly lost in that Michigan-Michigan State debate is that Cincinnati slides up one spot to No. 5 in spite of its lackluster showing against Tulsa this week. It was always likely that the Bearcats would finish the year ahead of both Michigan teams, each of whom still has to face Ohio State. But it's a little surprising to see them get that nod at this point in time.

    A lot of people spent the past week complaining that Cincinnati's initial ranking at No. 6 would keep it from ever truly having a chance at the Top Four, but the Bearcats are pretty clearly just one major upset away from crashing the CFP party.

    Speaking of the Group of Five, three cheers to the committee for correcting last week's error and putting undefeated UTSA in the Top 25 at No. 23. The Roadrunners have almost no hope of climbing up high enough to play in a New Year's Six bowl, but it's nice to at least see them recognized.

    Let's move on from the latest Top 25 and shift our focus to bowl projections, which are broken into six tiers and presented in ascending order of magnitude.

Group of Five Bowls

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    UTSA's Sincere McCormick
    UTSA's Sincere McCormickMatthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Bahamas (Dec. 17): UAB (6-3) vs. Kent State (5-4)

    Cure (Dec. 17): Coastal Carolina (8-1) vs. East Carolina (5-4)

    Boca Raton (Dec. 18): Florida Atlantic (5-4) vs. Miami-Ohio (4-5)

    Independence (Dec. 18): BYU (8-2) vs. UTSA (9-0)

    LendingTree (Dec. 18): Northern Illinois (6-3) vs. Appalachian State (7-2)

    New Mexico (Dec. 18): Fresno State (7-3) vs. Marshall (6-3)

    New Orleans (Dec. 18): Louisiana (8-1) vs. Western Kentucky (5-4)

    Myrtle Beach (Dec. 20): Central Michigan (5-4) vs. Wyoming (5-4)

    Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 21): Nevada (7-2) vs. Toledo (4-5)

    Frisco (Dec. 21): Boise State (5-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (4-5)

    Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Army (5-3) vs. UTEP (6-3)

    Hawai'i (Dec. 24): Memphis (5-4) vs. Utah State (7-2)

    Camellia (Dec. 25): Troy (5-4) vs. Western Michigan (5-4)

    Arizona (Dec. 31): Air Force (6-3) vs. Ball State (5-4)

    Here's a conference-by-conference breakdown of noteworthy Week 10 developments in the Group of Five.

    AAC: East Carolina stomped Temple 45-3 and Memphis clipped SMU 28-25, bringing both the Pirates and the Tigers to 5-4. They'll square off on Saturday with the winner securing its spot in a bowl. But Memphis still hosts Tulane and ECU still has a game at Navy, so there's a good chance the loser will also get in. Houston is one win away from clinching its spot in the AAC championship game, which would almost certainly be against Cincinnati unless the Bearcats completely fall apart.

    C-USA: UTSA remains one of the nation's four still-standing unbeatens following a 44-23 win at UTEP. The Roadrunners still have to face UAB on Nov. 20, though, which could not only end their perfect season but also knock them out of the C-USA championship game if the Blazers were to go 3-0 down the stretch. Elsewhere, Western Kentucky won its fourth straight game and is bound to make one of these bowls a fun, must-watch affair.

    MAC: Many points were scored on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the two most significant results were Central Michigan upsetting Western Michigan and Miami-Ohio falling to Ohio. CMU is now one win away from bowl eligibility and moves into the projected bowl picture for the first time in a while. Miami-Ohio, on the other hand, fell to 4-5 and has a big showdown with Buffalo this week in which the loser might be toast.

    MWC: Fresno State's reign as MWC favorite sure was short, ended emphatically by a 40-14 home loss to Boise State. It now looks like the Week 11 battle between Nevada and San Diego State will determine who wins the West division, likely to face Utah State, which has won four straight and sits alone atop the Mountain division. Wyoming snapped a four-game losing skid with a 31-17 win over Colorado State and is once again in good shape for a bowl.

    Sun Belt: The "only three Sun Belt teams get to six wins" nightmare is still in play, following Troy's win over South Alabama and losses by both Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe. For it to happen, both Troy (vs. Louisiana, vs. App State, at Georgia State) and South Alabama (at App State, at Tennessee, vs. Coastal Carolina) need to lose each of their remaining games, which is feasible. Georgia State also needs to lose each of its next two games against Coastal Carolina and Arkansas State. And Louisiana-Monroe needs to lose at least two more times, which is very likely with road games remaining against LSU and Louisiana. 

Group of Five vs. Power Five or Pool Bowls

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    South Carolina's Kevin Harris
    South Carolina's Kevin HarrisJohn Amis/Associated Press

    LA (Dec. 18): San Diego State (8-1) vs. Washington State (5-4)

    Gasparilla* (Dec. 23): South Carolina (5-4) vs. Washington (4-5)

    Military (Dec. 27): UCF (6-3) vs. Boston College (5-4)

    Quick Lane (Dec. 27): Liberty (7-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-3)

    Birmingham (Dec. 28): LSU (4-5) vs. SMU (7-2)

    First Responder* (Dec. 28): Texas Tech (5-4) vs. USC (4-5)

    Fenway (Dec. 29): Houston (8-1) vs. Louisville (4-5)

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

    Trying to sort out Nos. 8-11 in the ACC has been a bleak game of Whack-a-Mole.

    Boston College, Louisville and Virginia Tech have each lost four of their last five, and two of the three wins came in head-to-head fashion. (Louisville over Boston College; Boston College over Virginia Tech.) Also, Syracuse's only wins in its past five were against BC and VT, and it faces Louisville this coming week.

    Of the bunch, Boston Collegefollowing Friday night's 17-3 suffocation of Virginia Techis the most likely to get to six wins. The Eagles are now 5-4 and get Georgia Tech (road) and Florida State (home) in the next two weeks.

    If Louisville wins that home game against Syracuse, the 5-4 Orange are going to have a rough time finding that sixth win, as they close out the season against NC State and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Louisville would likely get its sixth win the following week at Duke.

    And for Virginia Tech, this week's home game against Duke should get them to 5-5, but going at Miami and at Virginia after that figures to result in seven losses and a coaching change.

    We've also got LSU, USC and Washington all on this tier with 4-5 records, none of whom are anything close to a guarantee to get to six wins.

    Who could have guessed three months ago that the East Coast USC might get to six wins before any of those squads? After a shocking beatdown of Florida, the Gamecocks will face Missouri in Week 11 for a chance to lock up a spot in a bowl.

Power Five Bowls with Potential to Be Fun

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    Purdue's David Bell
    Purdue's David BellMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 28): Maryland (5-4) vs. West Virginia (4-5)

    Holiday (Dec. 28): Virginia (6-3) vs. UCLA (5-4)

    Liberty (Dec. 28): Florida (4-5) vs. Texas (4-5)

    Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Miami-Florida (5-4) vs. Minnesota (6-3)

    Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Arkansas (6-3) vs. NC State (7-2)

    Music City (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (5-4) vs. Purdue (6-3)

    Sun (Dec. 31): North Carolina (5-4) vs. Oregon State (5-4)

    Texas (Jan. 4): Kansas State (6-3) vs. Tennessee (5-4)

    Several of these games would be undeniably entertaining.

    Mississippi State vs. Purdue in the Music City Bowl would be a game with well over 100 combined pass attempts. Virginia-UCLA in the Holiday Bowl and North Carolina-Oregon State in the Sun Bowl would also not be lacking for offense. And Arkansas-NC State for all the mayonnaise is frankly too good of a matchup to be buried down on this fourth tier.

    But a Liberty Bowl battle between Florida and Texas would be entertaining for all the wrong reasons—a 50-car pileup that you just cannot stop watching.

    Texas has not won a game since October 2, and Florida's only win in the past six weeks was a home game against Vanderbilt. Both of these 4-5 teams should still get to 6-6. Florida has games remaining against Samford, Missouri and Florida State; Texas will finish out the season with Kansas, West Virginia and Kansas State. However, it's hard to believe how far the Gators and Longhorns have fallen since ranking 20th and 21st, respectively, on Oct. 3.

    As bad as things have gone for Texas, there's just no way the Longhorns are going to make a coaching change. Not only is it Steve Sarkisian's first year at the helm, but his buyout is north of $20 million. But Florida's fanbase has soured so rapidly on Dan Mullen in recent weeks that it would be a surprise if he even coaches a bowl game this year.

Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls

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    Wisconsin's Graham Mertz
    Wisconsin's Graham MertzNoah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Alamo (Dec. 29): Utah (6-3) vs. Baylor (7-2)

    Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Iowa State (6-3) vs. Pittsburgh (7-2)

    Las Vegas (Dec. 30): Arizona State (6-3) vs. Penn State (6-3)

    Gator (Dec. 31): Clemson (6-3) vs. Auburn (6-3)

    Citrus (Jan. 1): Wisconsin (6-3) vs. Texas A&M (7-2)

    Outback (Jan. 1): Iowa (7-2) vs. Kentucky (6-3)

    To wash out the bad taste of a potential Florida-Texas bowl game, how about a Texas A&M-Wisconsin showdown between teams who have been seemingly unstoppable as of late?

    The first five weeks of the season were a disaster for both teams. A&M went 3-2 with no noteworthy wins and pathetic performance on offense. Wisconsin went 1-3 and was so awful on offense that the Aggies looked like the 2000 St. Louis Rams by comparison. But they have both gone undefeated since then, each figuring things out on offense, thriving on defense and knocking off a pair of ranked opponents along the way.

    In Week 10, the Aggies picked up a massive SEC West win over Auburn by a score of 20-3. Neither team scored an offensive touchdown, but A&M did score on a strip-sack of Bo Nix and put together several long field-goal drives against a solid defense. They kept the Tigers from getting a single gain of more than 15 yards.

    Meanwhile, the Badgers annihilated Rutgers 52-3. Not as noteworthy an opponent as Texas A&M faced, but still remarkable that they scored nine times in the span of eight possessions with help from a pick-six. If that offense shows up even a little bit earlier in the year, you're looking at a much different Big Ten picture right now.

    Wisconsin does still control its own destiny in the Big Ten West, though, which has a four-team 4-2 logjam up top thanks to Minnesota's Week 10 loss to Illinois. The Badgers already defeated Purdue and Iowa and they certainly should win the upcoming home games against Northwestern and Nebraska. If they can push that winning streak to eight games with a road win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving weekend, Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State could be running into quite the challenge in the Big Ten championship game.

Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls

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    Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
    Ole Miss QB Matt CorralRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Peach (Dec. 30): Michigan State (8-1) vs. Wake Forest (8-1)

    Fiesta (Jan. 1): Notre Dame (8-1) vs. Ole Miss (7-2)

    Rose (Jan. 1): Michigan (8-1) vs. Oregon (8-1)

    Sugar (Jan. 1): Alabama (8-1) vs. Oklahoma State (8-1)

    Last week, the only change in this tier was swapping Michigan and Michigan State in the Peach and Rose Bowls.

    Well, this week that's also the only change, with the picture reverting to what it was two weeks ago as a result of MSU's loss to Purdue.

    The Spartans lost 40-29, and it could have been so much worse, considering the Boilermakers settled for not one, not two, not three, but four field goals of less than 30 yards in the second half. If they finish off those drives with seven points instead of repeatedly stalling out inside the MSU 15, you're talking about a 56-29 rout at the hands of Purduesimilar to the 49-20 loss that kept Ohio State out of the playoff picture three years ago.

    But Purdue is better than it was in 2018 and Michigan State managed to keep this game a little more respectable than the Buckeyes did way back when, so Sparty will still likely finish in the Top Four if it's able to bounce back and win its next four games against Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and the Big Ten West champ.

    Having now seen how bad things can get when this secondary has to face a legitimate passing attack, though, winning at Ohio State feels darn near impossible. But I suppose it's possible.

    The only other team in this tier to suffer a loss in Week 10 was Wake Forest, which blew a 45-27 lead to fall 58-55 at the hands of North Carolina. But we still need to have an ACC team in either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl, and the Demon Deacons get the nod for now. Huge game coming up in Week 11, though, with Wake Forest hosting NC State. The winner of that one will be the considerable favorite to win the Atlantic Division, although Clemson is still hanging around at 5-2 with a game remaining against Wake Forest.

    The other team of note is Ole Miss, mostly because it's the only team here that isn't 8-1.

    We discussed the race for that final NY6 spot last week, concluding it was (at least at that moment) down to Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Auburn, Kentucky and Baylor. The latter three teams in that group lost in Week 10, which means it's presently a two-horse race between the Rebels and the Aggieswith BYU still very much lurking as a candidate if both SEC West teams slip up.

    Well, one of the two is going to lose this week when A&M travels to Oxford for what should be the game of the week. We're projecting Ole Miss to win at home, which is why the Rebels are projected for the Fiesta Bowl despite ranking behind the Aggies. But we also previously discussed how good the Aggies have looked lately, so it won't be a surprise at all if they get the road win.

    If that does happen, it's worth noting that A&M could still win the SEC West if Alabama loses the Iron Bowl. If the Aggies do that and beat Georgia in the SEC championship game, say hello to the first-ever two-loss playoff team.

College Football Playoff

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    Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba
    Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-NjigbaSteven Branscombe/Getty Images

    Orange (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (9-0) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (9-0)

    Cotton (Dec. 31): No. 2 Ohio State (8-1) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (9-0)

    National Championship Game (Jan. 10): No. 1 Georgia over No. 2 Ohio State

    As a reminder, these are our projections of what the final rankings will look like. Oklahoma and Cincinnati aren't currently in the Top Four, but given the number of head-to-head games still to come between teams at the top of the rankings, there's still time.

    And without even playing a game, Oklahoma's path to the College Football Playoff looks a little bit easier.

    The Soonerswho debuted at No. 8 in the CFP rankingswere always going to finish in the Top Four if they ran the table. But after losses by No. 3 Michigan State and No. 9 Wake Forest and after mediocre performances by No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Cincinnati, Oklahoma looks better by default.

    The Wake Forest loss was the big one, because even in what has been a bad year for the ACC as a whole, there would have been a spirited debate as to whether 13-0 Oklahoma or 13-0 Wake Forest deserved to be ranked higher. But with the Demon Deacons now out of the way, the only thing* Oklahoma really needs to worry about is the possibility of a two-bid Big Ten and/or two-bid SEC.

    *It's a foregone conclusion that undefeated Oklahoma would leapfrog undefeated Cincinnati. The selection committee will do anything to deny the Group of Five a chance at a title.

    If both Georgia and Ohio State win out, though, Oklahoma would almost certainly rank ahead of anything else either league has to offer. If Alabama finishes 11-2 and puts up a good fight in the SEC championship, there would be an argument for the Crimson Tide based on the current rankings. But if a two-loss non-champ from the SEC finishes ahead of an undefeated Big 12 champion, there might actually be a revolt.

    As far as new No. 3 Oregon is concerned, the Ducks would at least finish ahead of Cincinnati and might slot ahead of Oklahoma if they win out. I do believe that in spite of the head-to-head result in September, if both teams win out, Ohio State would move ahead of Oregon, given the strength of Ohio State's remaining schedule compared to that of Oregon.

    However, I don't see Oregon winning out. The Ducks have had too many close calls, despite only playing four of their nine games against projected bowl teams. They still have tough home games against Washington State and Oregon State, a road game against Utah in which they'll most likely be the underdog and then either Utah or Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship. Somewhere in that stretch, I think they'll drop one. But if they can get past Washington State and Utah, they'll squeeze Cincinnati out of the projected playoff picture as we approach the finish line.

Bowl Games by Conference

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    North Carolina's Sam Howell
    North Carolina's Sam HowellGerry Broome/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 (6 teams): Cincinnati (Orange), East Carolina (Cure), Houston (Fenway), Memphis (Hawai'i), SMU (Birmingham), UCF (Military)

    Atlantic Coast (9 teams): Boston College (Military), Clemson (Gator), Louisville (Fenway), Miami (Pinstripe), North Carolina (Sun), North Carolina State (Duke's Mayo), Pittsburgh (Cheez-It), Virginia (Holiday), Wake Forest (Peach)

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

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

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

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

    Mid-American (8 teams): Ball State (Arizona), Central Michigan (Myrtle Beach), Eastern Michigan (Quick Lane), Kent State (Bahamas), Miami-Ohio (Boca Raton), Northern Illinois (LendingTree), Toledo (Famous Idaho Potato), Western Michigan (Camellia)

    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 (Myrtle Beach)

    Pac-12 (8 teams): Arizona State (Las Vegas), Oregon (Rose), Oregon State (Sun), UCLA (Holiday), USC (First Responder), Utah (Alamo), Washington (Gasparilla), Washington State (LA)

    Southeastern (12 teams): Alabama (Sugar), Arkansas (Duke's Mayo), Auburn (Gator), Florida (Liberty), Georgia (Orange), Kentucky (Outback), LSU (Birmingham), Mississippi State (Music City), Ole Miss (Fiesta), Tennessee (Texas), Texas A&M (Citrus)

    Sun Belt (4 teams): Appalachian State (LendingTree), Coastal Carolina (Cure), Louisiana (New Orleans), Troy (Camellia)


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