Just when you thought the College Football Playoff race could only get hairier, No. 5 Louisville got thumped by Houston on national television. The Cardinals, now with two losses after that implosion, have removed themselves from the conversation and look destined for the Orange Bowl.
Alabama and Clemson took care of business and have the easiest paths to win their respective conferences. The Crimson Tide host Auburn and then play Florida in Atlanta, and still could make the Playoff with one loss. The Tigers draw South Carolina at home and then, assuming Virginia Tech beats UVA this weekend, the Hokies.
You can safely pencil both teams into the top four.
After that, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds could go to any combination of Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, Wisconsin or even Penn State.
We’ll delve into that and more in our full bowl projections below:
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Wisconsin||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Clemson||#3 Washington||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Ohio State||Louisville||Big Ten/SEC/ND vs ACC #1|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Tennessee||Oklahoma||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||Penn State||W. Michigan||At-large vs at-large|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Michigan||USC||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||LSU||Florida State||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||Auburn||Nebraska||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Florida||Miami||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Arkansas||Iowa||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||Texas A&M||TCU||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Georgia||Virginia Tech||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||South Carolina||Kansas State||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Kentucky||Houston||SEC #9 vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Vanderbilt||Wake Forest||SEC #10 vs ACC|
|Armed Forces (Dec. 23, Fort Worth)||Mississippi State||Navy||**Big 12 vs Navy|
|No bowls: Ole Miss, Missouri||**Replaced by fill-in|
What’s in a champion?
Washington can win the Pac-12 by beating Washington State on the road and then the league title game against either Colorado or USC. The Huskies have been one of the more consistent powers this season, and they have a more complete team than high-powered Wazzu. A one-loss champion isn’t getting left out of this year’s field, so UW earns a spot.
Ohio State-Michigan will dictate how the Big Ten shakes out. But here’s an interesting scenario: If the Wolverines beat Ohio State on the road, but then lose to Wisconsin in the conference title game, what happens?
The Badgers, at 11-2, would be Big Ten champions with wins over 11-2 Michigan, 10-2 Nebraska and LSU. In the event of this tiebreaker-type situation, Wisconsin would squeak in at No. 4 and play Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
Sugar Bowl mayhem
Entering Week 12, LSU looked like it had the edge to stay in-state for bowl season. Now you could reasonably consider five teams for that spot: LSU, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
So let’s compare the resumes of each school, factoring in what we project to happen during the regular-season finale.
- LSU: Wins over Texas A&M (projected), Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Missouri, Jacksonville State — four of which might be bowl-eligible. Losses to Wisconsin, Auburn, Alabama, Florida.
- Florida: Wins over LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri, UMass, North Texas — six of which might be bowl-eligible. Losses at Tennessee, at Arkansas and at Florida State (projected).
- Auburn: Wins over LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama A&M — five of which might be bowl-eligible. Losses to Clemson, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama (projected).
- Texas A&M: Wins over Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina, UCLA, UTSA, New Mexico State, Prairie View A&M — six of which might be bowl-eligible. Losses to Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU (projected)
- Tennessee: Wins over Florida, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt (projected), Ohio, Appalachian State, Tennessee Tech — seven of which might be bowl-eligible. Losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and South Carolina.
Tennessee would have the most wins against bowl-eligible teams, including Ohio (7-4), App State (8-3) and Vanderbilt (5-7), which can get in based on APR scores (more on that below). The Vols also should have the most impressive nonconference win of any school listed here. If Florida beats Florida State, that might change, but UT still has a head-to-head win over the Gators.
That logic also allows for some juicy bowl matchups. We’d have…
Sugar Bowl: A rematch of the Sept. 2015 Oklahoma-Tennessee thriller. Can the Vols send Josh Dobbs off with a bang?
Citrus Bowl: If Jimbo Fisher stays at Florida State, this is the “what we could have had” bowl for LSU fans. If somehow the Tigers manage to lure Fisher back to Baton Rouge, unlikely as that is, then the game gets an added layer of potential drama. It’s also sure to be Leonard Fournette’s last game wearing the purple and gold.
Outback Bowl: No especially interesting story lines, but Auburn and Nebraska are both pretty good defensive teams that like running the ball. Strength vs. strength.
TaxSlayer Bowl: I’m still on board with reviving this rivalry. The U is 7-1 against Florida since 1985, and that has to bother some folks in Gator Nation.
Rounding out the SEC
Bret Bielema coaching against his alma mater (Iowa) makes way too much sense. Texas A&M battling former quarterback Kenny Hill should be a fun, high-scoring affair. And Georgia, which can finish 8-4 by beating Georgia Tech in Sanford Stadium, pairs nicely with Virginia Tech in a battle of Kirby Smart and Justin Fuente.
That leaves South Carolina, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt all in play for a handful of lower-tier bowls.
The Gamecocks have probably the best win of any team in that group (Tennessee) and are playing better under freshman quarterback Jake Bentley. Kansas State played in the Liberty Bowl last year, but the Wildcats are a better option than Baylor, having just beaten the Bears soundly head-to-head.
Kentucky actually would match up fairly well with Houston. The Cougs possess a tremendous defense, but UK’s one-two tailback combo of Benny Snell and Boom Williams should help keep that fearsome pass rush at bay.
The Egg Bowl will determine how the last three teams on this list stack up. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who scored 6 touchdowns against Arkansas on Saturday, should run rampant against a Rebels defense that just gave up 38 points to Vanderbilt.
And speaking of the Commodores, they’ve basically secured a bowl berth already. Even at 5-7, they hold a strong chance of getting in because of their NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, which are calculated on a 1000 scale.
- Vanderbilt: 990
- Mississippi State: 971
- Ole Miss: 958
Vanderbilt’s score is fourth-highest among all FBS teams, behind Duke, Northwestern and Wisconsin. So even if Ole Miss wins Saturday and moves to 6-6, the Commodores almost certainly would fill a bowl spot that another conference couldn’t fill with a 6-6 team.
In the above scenario, though, Vanderbilt would hold the tiebreaker over 5-7 Mississippi State and slots a solid bowl matchup with Wake Forest.
However, the Bulldogs also can fill another conference’s spot. Take the Big 12. Even if Texas Tech beats Baylor on Saturday to finish 5-7, its 941 APR score would give the advantage to a school like MSU. Thus, a spot in one of the Big 12’s bottom tier of bowls — in this case the Armed Forces Bowl — would make sense. Playing Navy would make for a good matchup, too.
See, learning does matter! Or at least when it comes to mediocre football teams.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 13:
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (13-0, 9-0)**||Florida (8-4, 6-3)**|
|Auburn (8-4, 5-3)||Tennessee (9-3, 5-3)|
|LSU (7-4, 5-3)||Georgia (8-4, 4-4)|
|Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4)||Kentucky (6-6, 4-4)|
|Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)||South Carolina (6-6, 3-5)|
|Miss State (5-7, 3-5)||Vanderbilt (5-7, 2-6)|
|Ole Miss (5-7, 2-6)||Missouri (3-9, 1-7)|
|**Including SEC title game|