With one week remaining, I’m projecting Ohio State to maintain its No. 1 spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings, while LSU will be No. 2 and Clemson No. 3 if both groups of Tigers win their respective conference titles.
The biggest unknown remains which team comes in at No. 4. I had never projected Alabama in that spot after the Tide lost to LSU, and the loss to Auburn officially eliminated Alabama from playoff contention. So say “so long” to the Tide, who miss the playoffs for the first time ever.
Based on the top three teams winning this weekend, the fourth spot comes down to either the Pac-12 champion Utah or Big 12 champion, which will be Oklahoma or Baylor.
Here’s the easy part: If Utah loses to Oregon, the Big 12 champion will get the No. 4 seed, whether it’s Oklahoma or Baylor. The resumes of the Sooners and Bears are nearly identical, with the exception that OU faced a tougher non-conference schedule, so the committee would absolutely put the one-loss Big 12 champion in at No. 4 over any two-loss teams if Utah loses.
But … if Utah wins?
Based on both Oklahoma State and Iowa State falling out of the top 25 rankings and Kansas State moving back into the top 25 (we’ll know for sure on Tuesday), this is how I see it:
With a conference championship win, each team’s records against top 25 opponents would be…
Utah: 1-1 (defeated Oregon, lost to USC)
Oklahoma: 2-1 (defeated Baylor twice, lost to K-State)
Baylor: 2-1 (defeated Oklahoma and K-State, lost to Oklahoma)
There’s not much difference there. The biggest difference is how dominating the Utes have been. In Pac-12 play, they defeated seven of their nine opponents by at least 18 points. By comparison, four of Baylor’s eight Big 12 wins were by six points or less and they had no conference wins by more than 18 until the season finale blowout of Kansas.
As far as Oklahoma, three of its final four wins were by four points or less.
The selection committee may (or may not) take scoring margin into consideration, but Utah has clearly been the more dominant team.
Another positive in Utah’s favor is the national defensive leaders: 1. Ohio State, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Utah, No. 4 Georgia. That will not go unnoticed by the committee, especially when Oklahoma comes in at No. 26 and Baylor at No. 39.
Oklahoma does own the nation’s No. 1 offense, with Utah at No. 25 and Baylor No. 33.
We’ll have to see how the conference championships play out, but I’m projecting Utah to become only the third Pac-12 school to earn a College Football Playoff berth.
Entering the final week of the regular season, there were 72 bowl-eligible teams to fill 78 spots with another 14 teams still able to become eligible. Of the 14, only seven did so, meaning there are 79 bowl-eligible teams for 78 spots.
That guarantees we will not have any 5-7 bowl teams this postseason. Happy Festivus to all!
So which team that became bowl-eligible will not go bowling? After eliminating teams with seven wins and teams tied to conference-affiliated bowls, it appears the most likely candidate to get left home will either be Eastern Michigan or Toledo.
Both teams were 6-6 overall and 3-5 in MAC play. Plus, the MAC has eight bowl eligible teams for only five MAC-affiliated bowls. Two of the eight will be able to land in another bowl, where another conference couldn’t fill its allotment. But one MAC team likely will stay home.
Now, onto this week’s bowl projections:
College Football Playoff
Championship – Jan. 13 (CFP semifinal winners)
Projection: LSU vs. Ohio State
Peach Bowl – Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal)
Projection: Ohio State (CFP No. 1) vs. Utah (CFP No. 4)
Fiesta Bowl – Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal)
Projection: LSU (CFP No. 2) vs. Clemson (CFP No. 3)
New Year’s 6 Bowls
Rose Bowl – Jan. 1 (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Penn State vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1 (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Oklahoma vs. Georgia
Orange Bowl – Jan. 1 (ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame)
Projection: Virginia vs. Florida
Cotton Bowl – Dec. 28 (at-large vs. Group of Five*)
Projection: Alabama vs. Memphis*
Citrus Bowl – (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Michigan vs. Auburn
Outback Bowl – (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Minnesota vs. Tennessee
Gator Bowl – (Big Ten/ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Holiday Bowl – (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Iowa vs. Arizona State
Liberty Bowl – (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Texas vs. Navy**
Redbox Bowl – (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Indiana vs. Cal
Sun Bowl – (ACC vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Wake Forest vs. Washington
Military Bowl – (ACC vs. American)
Projection: North Carolina vs. Temple
Arizona Bowl – (Mountain West vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: San Diego State vs. Georgia Southern
Belk Bowl – (ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Southern Miss*
Alamo Bowl – (Big 12 vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Baylor vs. USC
Camping World Bowl – (ACC vs. Big 12)
Projection: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
Music City Bowl – (ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Texas Bowl – (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
Pinstripe Bowl – (ACC vs. Big Ten)
Projection: Pitt vs. Illinois
Independence Bowl – (ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: Miami vs. Florida Atlantic**
Cheez-It Bowl – (Big 12 vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Oklahoma State vs. Air Force**
Quick Lane Bowl – (ACC vs. Big Ten)
Projection: Boston College vs. Michigan State
First Responder Bowl – (Big 12 vs. C-USA)
Projection: Kent State** vs. Marshall
Hawaii Bowl – (AAC vs. BYU)
Projection: Hawaii** vs. BYU
Mobile Bowl – (MAC vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Western Michigan vs. Louisiana
Armed Forces Bowl – (Big Ten vs. Mountain West)
Projection: Eastern Michigan** vs. Utah State
Birmingham Bowl – (American vs. SEC)
Projection: Cincinnati vs. Florida State**
Idaho Potato Bowl – (MAC vs. Mountain West)
Projection: Miami (OH) vs. Nevada
Bahamas Bowl – (C-USA vs. MAC)
Projection: Charlotte vs. Buffalo
Gasparilla Bowl – (American vs. C-USA)
Projection: UCF vs. UAB
Frisco Bowl – (American vs. Open)
Projection: Tulane vs. FIU**
Boca Raton Bowl – (American vs. MAC)
Projection: SMU vs. Central Michigan
New Orleans Bowl – (C-USA vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Louisiana Tech vs. Appalachian State
Camellia Bowl – (MAC vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Ohio vs. Arkansas State
Las Vegas Bowl – (Mountain West vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Boise State vs. Washington State
Cure Bowl – (American vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Liberty** vs. Georgia State
New Mexico Bowl – (C-USA vs. Mountain West)
Projection: Western Kentucky vs. Wyoming
Teams in bold already have officially accepted bid.
*-The highest rated champion from the Group of Five conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) will be selected to play in the Cotton Bowl.
**-Replaces team from league that can’t fill bowl.