College Football Playoff Projections: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Forecast
Seven days removed from an updated rankings in which there were no changes in the Top Seven, there were all sorts of shakeups atop the College Football Playoff Top 25 following Week 12 losses by No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 10 Wake Forest, each of whom plummeted at least five spots.
Certainly no changes in the top spot as Georgia has been the clear-cut No. 1 team in the nation for nearly two months now. But after eviscerating Michigan State by a score of 56-7, Ohio State not surprisingly leapfrogged Alabama to take over the No. 2 spot.
Most noteworthy of all, Cincinnati is up to No. 4. Even though we've spent much of the past eight weeks discussing the possibility of the Bearcats crashing the playoff, seeing them actually pop up at No. 4 was the first time it has felt like a tangible reality.
The Bearcats still need to take care of their own business against East Carolina and Houston and they might still need a little bit of help in the form of an Alabama loss to Georgia in the SEC championship or a two-loss Big 12 champion, but this might be happening y'all.
Outside the Top Four, the biggest surprise (to me, at any rate) was Utah only climbing from No. 23 to No. 19 after destroying Oregon—a loss that caused the Ducks to freefall from No. 3 to No. 11. At the end of the day, it's irrelevant. If the Utes win the Pac-12 title, they'll go to the Rose Bowl; if they don't win it, they'll probably go to the Alamo Bowl. But they easily could have climbed all the way into the Top 15 after that one.
The only in/out change was Clemson moving in at No. 23 following its win over Wake Forest, replacing No. 25 Mississippi State, even though the Bulldogs won their game against Tennessee State by 45 points. And that's a shame for the Egg Bowl, which could have been No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 25 Mississippi State. It's still going to be a grand ol' time on Thanksgiving.
That's enough rankings banter. Let's take a look at the latest bowl projections, broken into six tiers and presented in ascending order of magnitude.
Group of Five Bowls
Bahamas (Dec. 17): Old Dominion (5-6) vs. Kent State (6-5)
Cure (Dec. 17): Georgia State (6-5) vs. East Carolina (7-4)
Boca Raton (Dec. 18): Florida Atlantic (5-6) vs. Miami (Ohio) (6-5)
Independence (Dec. 18): UAB (7-4) vs. Wyoming^ (6-5)
LendingTree (Dec. 18): Eastern Michigan (7-4) vs. Appalachian State (9-2)
New Mexico (Dec. 18): Fresno State (8-3) vs. Marshall (7-4)
New Orleans (Dec. 18): Coastal Carolina (9-2) vs. Western Kentucky (7-4)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 20): Ball State (5-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (10-1)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 21): Nevada (7-4) vs. Toledo (6-5)
Frisco (Dec. 21): Boise State (7-4) vs. Tulsa (5-6)
Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Army (7-3) vs. UTEP (7-4)
Hawai'i (Dec. 24): Memphis (5-6) vs. Utah State (8-3)
Camellia (Dec. 25): Troy (5-6) vs. Western Michigan (6-5)
Arizona (Dec. 31): Air Force (8-3) vs. Central Michigan (7-4)
^Wyoming takes BYU's spot in the Independence Bowl
Here's a conference-by-conference breakdown of noteworthy Week 12 developments and Week 13 projections in the Group of Five.
AAC: Memphis blew yet another opportunity for bowl eligibility with a loss to Houston, but the Tigers should still get that elusive sixth win this weekend at home against Tulane. And out of nowhere, Tulsa has won four of its last six and could get to a bowl by defeating SMU in University Park. Though the Golden Hurricane are a significant underdog in that one, SMU has lost three of it last four and just might let another one slip away. At any rate, the Mustangs did not look good at all against Cincinnati.
C-USA: UTSA improved to 11-0 and locked up its spot in the C-USA championship on a last-second touchdown against UAB. Western Kentucky also won its sixth consecutive game by double digits, but the Hilltoppers will play at Marshall this weekend to determine who faces the Roadrunners for the C-USA title. A bit further down the standings, it'll be 5-6 Charlotte at 5-6 Old Dominion and 5-6 Middle Tennessee at 5-6 Florida Atlantic in a pair of battles for a spot in a bowl.
MAC: Ball State hosts Buffalo on Tuesday night. The Cardinals the only team in the MAC sitting at 5-6, so we'll know by Wednesday morning whether the conference will have seven or eight bowl-eligible teams. But we'll need to wait until Saturday to find out who faces Northern Illinois in the MAC title game, as that's when Miami (Ohio) takes on Kent State for the East Division crown.
MWC: Wyoming unexpectedly destroyed Utah State to become bowl-eligible, and San Jose State will get one last chance to join that club when it hosts Fresno State on Thanksgiving. As far as the many possible scenarios for who plays in the MWC championship goes, Mountain West Wire covered that in depth here. But to sum up the most likely scenario: If San Diego State wins its home game against Boise State and Utah State wins its road game against New Mexico, USU at SDSU would be the title game.
Sun Belt: It's now official that Louisiana will host Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship, and it's also official that Georgia State is bowl-eligible after winning five of its last six games. Will 5-6 Troy (at Georgia State) and/or 5-6 South Alabama (vs. Coastal Carolina) be able to get that big sixth W? We're projecting the Trojans to get it done, but that is far from a sure thing.
Group of Five vs. Power Five or Pool Bowls
LA (Dec. 18): San Diego State (10-1) vs. Washington State (6-5)
Gasparilla* (Dec. 23): Virginia Tech (5-6) vs. Florida (5-6)
Military (Dec. 27): UCF (7-4) vs. Boston College (6-5)
Quick Lane (Dec. 27): Rutgers (5-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-3)
Birmingham (Dec. 28): South Carolina (6-5) vs. SMU (8-3)
First Responder* (Dec. 28): UTSA (11-0) vs. Liberty (7-4)
Fenway (Dec. 29): Houston (10-1) vs. Louisville (6-5)
*Pool bowls in which both Power Five and Group of Five conferences have potential affiliations.
Let's begin by addressing the trio of 5-6 teams on this tier.
In the Quick Lane Bowl, Rutgers is 5-6 and projected to get in. But the good news is if the Scarlet Knights falter in Week 13, that loss would come against Maryland, which would improve to 6-6 and instead claim that spot.
Same story in the Gasparilla Bowl, where either Florida or Florida State will finish the year at 6-6. Even though the Gators fired Dan Mullen on Sunday, we're projecting them to get that W. But considering Florida State has won five of seven since starting 0-4, perhaps FSU should be favored in that game.
The third 5-6 team here is Virginia Tech, which is more of a placeholder for the one TBD 5-6 Power Five team that pulls off an upset more than it is a vote of confidence in the Hokies, who are playing at Virginia.
Per ESPN's Football Power Index, VT has a 36.1 percent chance of victory; Syracuse (vs. Pittsburgh) is at 19.1 percent; LSU (vs. Texas A&M) is at 38.8 percent; TCU (at Iowa State) is at 12.5 percent; and 4-6 USC and 4-6 California are still out there as candidates who will face each other during championship week to make up a previously postponed game. Even though none of those teams has a 40 percent chance of getting to six wins, it's likely that at least one of them will get the job done.
Elsewhere, three cheers to Louisville on Thursday, Washington State on Friday and South Carolina on Saturday for each improving to 6-5.
Neither Louisville (at Duke) nor Washington State (vs. Arizona) was a surprising win, though Malik Cunningham racking up more than 300 passing yards, more than 200 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns against Duke was quite the development.
But South Carolina erasing an early 14-0 deficit and winning as a sizable underdog at home against Auburn was one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. The Gamecocks have been banged up all year long, and Head coach Shane Beamer deserves quite a bit of praise for winning six games with this roster.
Power Five Bowls with Potential to Be Fun
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 28): Minnesota (7-4) vs. West Virginia (5-6)
Holiday (Dec. 28): Virginia (6-5) vs. UCLA (7-4)
Liberty (Dec. 28): Missouri (6-5) vs. Texas Tech (6-5)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Miami (6-5) vs. Purdue (7-4)
Duke's Mayo (Dec. 30): Auburn (6-5) vs. NC State (8-3)
Music City (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (7-4) vs. Penn State (7-4)
Sun (Dec. 31): North Carolina (6-5) vs. Oregon State (7-4)
Texas (Jan. 4): Iowa State (6-5) vs. Tennessee (6-5)
As the only team on this tier with eight wins, NC State sticks out like a sore thumb. But as things stand, it would either be the Wolfpack or Clemson in one of the ACC's four spots in this tier, and it's probably a safe assumption that either the Cheez-It Bowl or the Gator Bowl would prefer the Tigers for name-brand purposes.
But there's still a chance that NC State could land in a New Year's Six bowl.
If the Wolfpack win at home against North Carolina this Friday and if Wake Forest loses at Boston College this Saturday, those two teams and Clemson would finish in a three-way tie for first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division with 6-2 league records.
And if that happens, the Wolfpack will win the tiebreaker because of the combination of Wake Forest having the worst record against divisional opponents and NC State holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Clemson, so they would face Pittsburgh for the right to play in either the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.
It's also still possible for 7-4 Minnesota to win the Big Ten, although the Golden Gophers' odds are substantially longer.
If they beat Wisconsin, if Nebraska beats Iowa and if Purdue beats Indiana, there would be a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West with matching 6-3 records. In that four-way tiebreaker, Minnesota and Wisconsin would eliminate Iowa and Purdue because the Golden Gophers and the Badgers each went 2-1 against the other three teams. And then Minnesota would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with Wisconsin.
And, of course, that's just to face the Ohio State-Michigan winner in the Big Ten championship, in which Minnesota would probably be a multiple-touchdown underdog. Nevertheless, there is still technically a path for the Golden Gophers to reach the Rose Bowl.
And it's possible they could meet Oregon State in said Rose Bowl.
If Washington State loses to Washington on Friday and if Oregon State wins at Oregon on Saturday, the Beavers would win the Pac-12 North and would face Utah in the conference championship, having already beaten the Utes earlier this season.
Oregon State hasn't played in a Rose Bowl since 1965, and Minnesota hasn't gotten there since 1962. If you're just out here rooting for total chaos for the next two weeks, there's your dream.
Top Non-New Year's Six Bowls
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma (10-1) vs. Oregon (9-2)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Kansas State (7-4) vs. Wake Forest (9-2)
Las Vegas (Dec. 30): Arizona State (7-4) vs. Iowa (9-2)
Gator (Dec. 31): Clemson (8-3) vs. Arkansas (7-4)
Citrus (Jan. 1): Wisconsin (8-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-3)
Outback (Jan. 1): Michigan State (9-2) vs. Kentucky (8-3)
If we get a College Football Playoff consisting of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and the Big 12 champion, we'll end up comparing that to the preseason expectations and wondering why this season felt so doggone chaotic.
This is the tier we can look at as a reminder of how up and down and back and forth this fall was.
At various points in the season, it felt like the vast majority of teams on this tier were destined for at least a New Year's Six bowl, if not a spot in the College Football Playoff. Arizona State and Kansas State aren't quite part of that club, but Clemson, Iowa, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M each spent at least one week ranked in the Top Five of the AP poll, while Arkansas, Kentucky, Wake Forest and Wisconsin each made it at least into the Top 12.
Yet, here they are, projected for good bowls but not the marquee ones, each left to wonder what could have been.
The three most noteworthy in that regard are the three who most recently fell from their perches: Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Oklahoma and Oregon at least still have clear paths to the New Year's Six. Win the Big 12/Pac-12 and they're assured no worse than a spot in the Sugar Bowl (Oklahoma) or Rose Bowl (Oregon). If the Sooners can pull that off, they may still sneak into the CFP. Although with the way Oklahoma State has been playing as of late, Oklahoma beating that team in back-to-back weeks seems next to impossible.
Michigan State, on the other hand, is possibly gone for good as far as the New Year's Six conversation is concerned after its humbling 56-7 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Maybe the Spartans will benefit from a couple of major upsets. Or maybe the Buckeyes will beat Michigan just as badly this week, and the Wolverines will subsequently slide all the way down behind Michigan State again.
But MSU is going to need quite a bit of help to get back into the running for the Rose, Fiesta or Peach Bowls.
Non-CFP New Year's Six Bowls
Peach (Dec. 30): Pittsburgh (9-2) vs. Ole Miss (9-2)
Fiesta (Jan. 1): Notre Dame (10-1) vs. BYU (9-2)
Rose (Jan. 1): Michigan (10-1) vs. Utah (8-3)
Sugar (Jan. 1): Alabama (10-1) vs. Baylor (9-2)
In most weeks, this tier hasn't changed much. But after the losses by Michigan State, Oregon and Wake Forest, there was a rather significant shake-up to the New Year's Six projections.
The simplest swap is Pittsburgh replacing Wake Forest in the Peach Bowl as the projected ACC champion. It's still possible that the Demon Deacons will win this weekend against Boston College and next weekend against Pitt to move back onto this tier. For the time being, though, let's go with the team on a three-game winning streak that has already clinched its spot in the conference championship.
(Either way, here's hoping we get Ole Miss against the ACC champion, because Ole Miss-Pitt and Ole Miss-Wake Forest are both liable to produce over 100 points.)
The second change is Baylor moving up to the Sugar Bowl as a result of Oklahoma State replacing Oregon in the CFP picture.
There's a good chance that Baylor could be one of the "wild card" New Year's Six teams even if it doesn't end up with the Big 12's spot in the Sugar Bowl. But as far as the remaining games of consequence in that league are concerned, we're projecting Oklahoma State over Oklahoma and Baylor over Texas Tech this weekend, followed by Oklahoma State beating Baylor in the Big 12 championship.
If it plays out that way, it's likely that Oklahoma State will finish in the Top Four and that Baylor will finish ahead of Oklahoma for the Sugar Bowl.
The third new team is BYU, which looks a whole lot prettier these days almost by default.
The Cougars' November schedule has consisted of a win over Idaho State, an idle week and a win over Georgia Southern. There's nothing worth writing home about on that slate, but they've gotten to just sit back and watch teams fall by the wayside while some of their early wins (Utah and Utah State, in particular) have aged like fine wine.
If they're able to win at USC this Saturday, there's a good chance they get the final NY6 spot. Because whether it's Oregon or Utah and whether it's Pitt or Wake Forest, both the ACC and Pac-12 will almost certainly max out at one team each. Even with Independent Notre Dame also comfortably ahead of BYU, it seems more likely that the Cougars will claim a spot rather than either the Big Ten or the Big 12 getting three teams in.
College Football Playoff
Orange (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (11-0) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (11-0)
Cotton (Dec. 31): No. 2 Ohio State (10-1) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State (10-1)
National Championship (Jan. 10): No. 1 Georgia over No. 2 Ohio State
At this point, we're essentially down to six candidates for these four spots: Georgia, Alabama, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, the Ohio State-Michigan winner and the Big 12 champion. If things go absolutely haywire in the next two weeks, maybe there's still a scenario in which Oregon can re-enter the conversation, but that seems unlikely.
And as long as Georgia doesn't lose to Georgia Tech this weekend, the Bulldogs are a lock for the College Football Playoff regardless of what happens in the SEC championship. There's just no way the committee would drop the Bulldogs behind Cincinnati or Notre Dame for a neutral-site loss to its beloved Alabama.
The real question at this point is: How far will the committee actually drop the Crimson Tide if it beats Auburn and then loses to Georgia?
The thought of a two-loss non-champion earning a spot in the Top Four has felt ludicrous since the CFP's inception, but with the ACC and Pac-12 out of the picture and with Cincinnati and Notre Dame each boasting just one win over a current CFP Top 20 team, it doesn't seem so far-fetched.
To be clear, I'm not an Alabama fan/apologist. If the Tide don't win the SEC championship, I don't think they belong in the Top Five, let alone the Top Four. Not with a loss to Texas A&M and close calls against Florida and LSU on a resume in which the second-best win was the road game against Mississippi State.
In trying to project what the committee will do, though.
But I am sure that if a two-loss non-champ Alabama edges out a one-loss Big 12 champion and/or an undefeated Cincinnati, the rage/blowback will be unlike anything we've seen in recent years—especially if it is later coupled with the CFP management committee failing to agree on whether the playoff format should expand to include more teams starting in 2024.
That's assuming Alabama loses, though. If it beats Auburn and Georgia, then the question shifts to: Cincinnati or a one-loss Oklahoma/Oklahoma State for the final spot in the playoff field?
If it's Oklahoma, I think Cincinnati will get the edge. The committee hasn't exactly sent mixed signals about its opinion of OU. The Sooners played a pathetic nonconference schedule and eked out way too many wins against not-great opponents. A road win over Oklahoma State followed by a Big 12 championship isn't going to just undo their struggles from the past three months.
If it's Oklahoma State finishing 12-1, though, the advantage probably goes to the Cowboys. They would have two wins over Oklahoma, home wins over Baylor and Kansas State and road wins over Boise State and Texas in addition to a Power Five championship.
Yes, they have a loss to Iowa State, but that was a tight game on the road against a solid opponent. Cincinnati's win at Notre Dame is more impressive than any of Oklahoma State's wins, but the Cowboys' collection of quality victories should make the difference.
And not that the committee would explicitly discuss this, but the optics of leaving out a one-loss P5 champion in favor of a G5 champion and a one-loss non-champion would not be good.
Bowl Games by Conference
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 scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee bowls.
American Athletic (7 teams): Cincinnati (Orange), East Carolina (Cure), Houston (Fenway), Memphis (Hawai'i), SMU (Birmingham), Tulsa (Frisco), UCF (Military)
Atlantic Coast (10 teams): Boston College (Military), Clemson (Gator), Louisville (Fenway), Miami (Pinstripe), North Carolina (Sun), NC State (Duke's Mayo), Pittsburgh (Peach), Virginia (Holiday), Virginia Tech (Gasparilla), Wake Forest (Cheez-It)
Big 12 (7 teams): Baylor (Sugar), Iowa State (Texas), Kansas State (Cheez-It), Oklahoma (Alamo), Oklahoma State (Cotton), Texas Tech (Liberty), West Virginia (Guaranteed Rate)
Big Ten (9 teams): Iowa (Las Vegas), Michigan (Rose), Michigan State (Outback), Minnesota (Guaranteed Rate), Ohio State (Cotton), Penn State (Music City), Purdue (Pinstripe), Rutgers (Quick Lane), Wisconsin (Citrus)
Conference USA (7 teams): Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton), Marshall (New Mexico), Old Dominion (Bahamas), UAB (Independence), UTEP (Armed Forces), UTSA (First Responder), Western Kentucky (New Orleans)
Independents (4 teams): Army (Armed Forces), BYU (Fiesta), Liberty (First Responder), Notre Dame (Fiesta)
Mid-American (8 teams): Ball State (Myrtle Beach), Central Michigan (Arizona), Eastern Michigan (LendingTree), Kent State (Bahamas), Miami (Ohio) (Boca Raton), Northern Illinois (Quick Lane), 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 (Independence)
Pac-12 (6 teams): Arizona State (Las Vegas), Oregon (Alamo), Oregon State (Sun), UCLA (Holiday), Utah (Rose), Washington State (LA)
Southeastern (12 teams): Alabama (Sugar), Arkansas (Gator), Auburn (Duke's Mayo), Florida (Gasparilla), Georgia (Orange), Kentucky (Outback), Mississippi State (Music City), Missouri (Liberty), Ole Miss (Peach), South Carolina (Birmingham), Tennessee (Texas), Texas A&M (Citrus)
Sun Belt (5 teams): Appalachian State (LendingTree), Coastal Carolina (New Orleans), Georgia State (Cure), Louisiana (Myrtle Beach), Troy (Camellia)
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.