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The committee has anted up and thrown out its opening bid, and the public is ready to call its bluff. The three of a kind known as the SEC West will not be the ultimate winning hand in this revolving poker game.
If you haven’t seen the opening ratings for the college football playoffs, it goes like this:
1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
4. Ole Miss
7. T C U
8. Michigan State
9. Kansas State
10. Notre Dame
14. Arizona State
16. Ohio State
19. L S U
20. West Virginia
22. U C L A
23. East Carolina
If the season ended today, there would be omelets served in New Orleans on New Year’s Day, as Ole Miss and Mississippi State would hook up to make the Sugar Bowl, the Egg Bowl, part deux. Florida State and Auburn would hook up in the Rose Bowl.
Of course, the season did not end Saturday, and these ratings are going to change, as these teams lose games. Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play in the real Egg Bowl, producing one loser. Ole Miss and Auburn play this week. Alabama still must play LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Auburn and Georgia must play. These teams will cannibalize each other, and it could end up with all the SEC teams suffering two losses.
Florida State has a trap game tomorrow night at Louisville, and the Seminoles may or may not have a legitimate running back able to play, while former Auburn star back Michael Dyer just emerged from a two year sabbatical to torch North Carolina State for 173 yards.
In the Big Ten, Michigan State and Ohio State must still face off in a couple weeks, and the winner of this game could face a one-loss Nebraska team in the Big Ten Championship Game, although we are not ready to say the Cornhuskers are headed to an 11-1 finish.
Oklahoma must still play Baylor in the Big 12, while Baylor must also still play Kansas State. TCU has games remaining against West Virginia and Kansas State. There could be no one-loss teams left here by December 7.
Out West, the Pac-12 is very competitive, and there are still one-loss teams in Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah. UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington, and Oregon State could all play spoiler.
Notre Dame still has one loss, but the Irish have tough road games against Arizona State and USC.
For those fans that want an eight-team playoff, you really have a chance to consider the rest of the season a 16-team playoff, because any of the top 16 could possibly move up into the top four depending on how all these crucial games turn out.
Let’s take a look at how we see the rest of the season playing out. It is surely not going to be this way, but we want to make it interesting to read, while still looking possible.
All won-loss records shown are predicted final records and not current records.
The Group of Five
These five conferences are the leagues competing for one guaranteed spot in the New Year’s Eve/Day Big Four Bowls (Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach). As of today, East Carolina from the American Athletic Conference is the highest only rated team, but we believe the Pirates will stub their toe one more time this year and allow another team to pass them. Marshall, Central Florida, and Boise State appear to be the only two other teams capable of moving into the top spot.
American Athletic Conference
UCF lost two games early, but the Knights have run off five straight wins and look to be on a roll. Their season-ender at ECU will decide the league title, and we are going to stick with George O’Leary’s squad until somebody beats them.
East Carolina has a couple of tough games to play before hosting UCF on December 4. They venture to Temple this weekend and follow that up with a road game at Cincinnati after a bye week.
Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis still hold feint hopes of backing into the crown, while Temple is looking for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011, and the Owls have a tough closing schedule.
1. St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida (8-0/10-2)
2. Miami Beach Bowl: East Carolina (7-1/10-2)
3. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (6-2/8-4)
4. Military Bowl: Cincinnati (6-2/8-4)
5. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (6-2/8-4)
Also Bowl Eligible: Temple (4-4/6-6)
Marshall has a better than 50-50 chance of running the table, and we believe the Thundering Herd has the best chance of winning the big prize for the Group of 5 teams. A road game against mediocre UAB and the conference title game, most likely against Louisiana Tech, are the only two possible road blocks. Coach Doc Holliday figures to be a key player in the Power 5 coaching carousel, as he may be the best recruiter in the business. He could be a wildcard in the Florida coaching search.
It looks like as many as seven CUSA teams will become bowl eligible for five guaranteed bids, but three will be mired at 6-6. Geography may help the league place all their bowl eligible teams in bowls if Marshall garners the big prize.
1. Peach Bowl: Marshall (8-0/13-0)
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (7-1/8-5)
3. Bahamas Bowl: U T E P (5-3/7-5)
4. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee (5-3/7-5)
5. New Mexico Bowl: Rice (4-4/6-6)
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Western Kentucky (3-5/6-6)
7. Independence Bowl (at-large invitation): U A B (4-4/6-6)
Toledo is the highest-rated team, but the Rockets are too far down in the pecking order to contend for a New Year’s Big Four Bowl. Until a MAC team beats Toledo, we are going to call for the Rockets to run the table in the regular season. But, like in more than half the seasons, we believe the upset could send the underdog team to the top bowl.
The parity among the rest of the league means that as many as eight teams could get to six wins this year. The MAC is only allotted five bowls, so three teams could be left jilted at the end of the year, unless a Midwestern or Northeastern Bowl needs an at-large team.
1. Bahamas Bowl: Bowling Green (6-2/9-4)
2. Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo (8-0/9-4)
3. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan (6-2/8-4)
4. Camellia Bowl: Central Michigan (6-2/8-4)
5. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Northern Illinois (4-4/7-5)
Also Bowl Eligible
Ball State (5-3/6-6)
Mountain West Conference
Boise State’s loss at Air Force on September 27 is the only reason the Broncos are not the leading candidate from the Group of 5 leagues to make a New Year’s bowl. Their other loss is to Ole Miss, which is much better than East Carolina’s lone loss to South Carolina. If ECU loses again, and Marshall loses at all, the Broncos can earn the big bowl by winning out. A season finale against Utah State and a conference championship game against a weaker opponent is all that stands in their way of going 11-2.
Colorado State has just one loss this year, but it was to Boise State. The Rams could easily run the table and finish 11-1, and even with a win at Boston College, CSU does not figure to pass Boise State if the Broncos do not lose. Backroom politics could provide the Rams or Boise a shot at moving up to a better bowl even though there are no real rules for such a thing to happen. It has happened in the past.
1. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State (7-1/11-2)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Colorado State (7-1/11-1)
3. Hawaii Bowl: Utah State (6-2/9-4)
4. New Mexico Bowl: Air Force (4-4/8-4)
5. New Orleans Bowl: Nevada (5-3/8-5)
6. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego State (5-3/7-5)
7. Cactus Bowl (alternate affiliate): Fresno State (5-3/6-6)
The Sunbelt Conference is perpetually the weakest overall league, but it most frequently produces surplus bowl eligible teams that get selected to Southern bowls needing at-large teams. Look for more of the same this year, as there will be at least five bowl eligible SBC teams for just three bowl tie-ins. We believe four of the five bowl eligible teams will be playing late in December or early in January.
Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Southern do not play each other this season, and chances are decent that they both will finish unbeaten in league play to split the title. ULL has been to the New Orleans Bowl three years running, and they might as well start putting this game on their regular schedule, because the folks in the Big Easy would like nothing more than to invite the Ragin’ Cajuns for a fourth straight year.
1. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Georgia Southern (8-0/10-2)
2. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-0/9-3)
3. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (6-2/8-4)
4. Independence Bowl (at-large invitation): South Alabama (5-3/6-6)
Also Bowl Eligible: Texas State (5-3/7-5)
Notre Dame is part of the Power 5 and not included in this section. Army, BYU, and Navy are all guaranteed specific bowls if they become bowl eligible. BYU is fading fast, but the Cougars should get that sixth win with UNLV and Savannah State still on the schedule. Navy might need an unbelievable 13th consecutive win over Army to get to six wins, but as of this week, we believe the Midshipmen will do it. Army will not get there this year, as the Black Knights have losses to Yale and Kent State. Navy will be their bowl game on December 13 in Baltimore.
1. Miami Beach Bowl: B Y U (6-6)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (6-6)
The Power 5
Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State can ill afford to drop an ACC game and expect to stay ahead of a host of other one-loss teams. The Seminoles have a lot of outside interference getting in their way at the present time, and a Thursday night nationally televised game at Louisville looks tricky at the moment. FSU must consider this game their “Sweet 16” round game in the playoffs, with their “Elite 8” game coming in the ACC Championship Game.
Duke is still technically alive for the Playoffs, but the Blue Devils would have to run the table and then handily defeat a 12-0 FSU team to have even a remote chance of finishing in the top four. A Duke team at 11-2 and as the highest ranked ACC team after Florida State, could force the Orange Bowl to invoke their clause, where they could invite Big Ten and SEC opponents, forcing Duke into the Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly Capital One) Bowl.
Notre Dame is included in the ACC grouping, and the Irish need to finish 11-1 or 10-2 to earn a Big Four New Year’s bowl. We believe they will.
Clemson is still in the mix for an Orange Bowl bid, but the Tigers must handle arch-rival South Carolina and still have a tricky game at Georgia Tech. We aren’t sure CU has the horses this year to win both games.
Louisville has a lot riding on their big game tomorrow night against Florida State. If the Cardinals win, they could possibly get on a roll, win at both Boston College and Notre Dame and finish 10-2 to get into the mix for the Orange Bowl. If they lose a heartbreaker, things could go the other way, and UL could be 6-5 when they host Kentucky on November 29.
The Coastal Division is looking more and more mixed up. Duke controls their own destiny, while the other six teams could all finish 6-6 or better. We believe one team will sink in the sunset while allowing the other teams to get bowl eligible. Virginia has suffered some disheartening losses this year, and we believe the Cavaliers will fall apart and fail to get to six wins.
Even with Notre Dame included in the bowl tie-ins, because both the Irish and Florida State appear to be headed to games outside the ACC contracts, this league will fall two teams shy in their obligations to bowls, opening up room for two other Southern bowl eligible teams to gain tickets to the waltz.
1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Florida State (8-0/13-0)
2. Cotton Bowl: Notre Dame (10-2)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Duke (7-1/11-2)
4. Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson (7-1/9-3)
5. Gator Bowl: Georgia Tech (5-3/8-4)
6. Belk Bowl: Louisville (4-4/7-5)
7. Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech (4-4/7-5)
8. Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (4-4/7-5)
9. Military Bowl: North Carolina (4-4/6-6)
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Miami (5-3/8-4)
Big Ten Conference
The Michigan State and Ohio State winner should sneak up into the top four if that team wins the Big Ten Championship Game as well. We believe that will happen, and the loser of the OSU-MSU game will still earn a Big Four New Year’s bowl with two losses.
With two teams expected to play in part of the overall Big Six bowl games, the Big Ten may not have enough bowl eligible teams for all their allotted spots. Teams like Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, and Northwestern still have work to do to get to six wins. Indiana and Purdue are not included as possible bowl eligible teams at this point. For sanity’s sake, and to provide a surplus of one team to become an a quality at-large bowl invitee, we will call for UM, RU, IU, and NU to all finish 6-6.
1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Michigan State (8-0/12-1)
2. Orange Bowl: Ohio State (7-1/10-2)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Nebraska (5-3/9-3)
4. Outback Bowl: Wisconsin (6-2/9-4)
5. Holiday Bowl: Iowa (5-3/8-4)
6. Music City Bowl: Penn State (3-5/7-5)
7. San Francisco Bowl: Minnesota (4-4/7-5)
8. Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (2-6/6-6)
9. Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois (3-5/6-6)
10. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Maryland (3-5/6-6)
11. St. Petersburg Bowl (at-large invitation): Northwestern (5-3/6-6)
Big 12 Conference
This is the league where a one-loss team has the unfortunate best chance to miss out on the playoffs to a one-loss Big Ten team. TCU and Baylor may not garner the same prestige as Michigan State and Ohio State, and thus the loser of this political game may have to settle for a Cotton Bowl bid, while a second Big 12 team winds up in the Fiesta Bowl, and a third team could go to Atlanta in the Peach Bowl against the Group of 5 invitee.
Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas are virtually out of contention for bowl eligibility. With three teams expected to play in New Year’s bowls and just six probably bowl eligible teams, this league will not meet its obligations to supply seven bowls with teams.
1. Cotton Bowl: T C U (8-1/11-1)
2. Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (7-2/10-2)
3. Peach Bowl: Baylor (7-2/10-2)
4. Alamo Bowl: Kansas State (6-3/8-4)
5. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia (6-3/8-4)
6. Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma St. (4-5/6-6)
The Pac-12 still has four one-loss teams in both Arizona’s, Utah, and Oregon. We believe one team will emerge at 12-1, but because we are picking Arizona to be that team, the Wildcats would have to leapfrog Michigan State, after the Spartans beat Ohio State and either Wisconsin or Nebraska.
Oregon may find itself a victim of geographical circumstances if the Ducks do not win out and finish 12-1. At 11-2, Oregon might take a backseat to two-loss teams more than 1,000 miles closer to bowls available.
If no team from this league makes the playoffs, there will be surplus bowl eligible teams, and this league will be at the top in priority when other bowls start to look for at-large invitees.
1. Fiesta Bowl: Arizona (8-1/12-1)
2. Alamo Bowl: Oregon (7-1/11-2)
3. Holiday Bowl: Arizona St. (7-2/10-2)
4. San Francisco Bowl: U C L A (6-3/9-3)
5. Sun Bowl: U S C (6-3/7-5)
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Washington (4-5/8-5)
7. Cactus Bowl: Stanford (5-4/7-5)
8. Texas Bowl (at-large invitation): Utah (4-5/7-5)
9. Armed Forces Bowl (at-large invitation): Oregon State (3-6/6-6)
The league that perpetually wears the black hat or is like rooting for the Yankees once again appears to be the strongest of all, but cannibalization in November is going to remove at least one of the projected three playoff spots.
Mississippi State is number one and undefeated, but we do not believe the Bulldogs have a snowball’s chance of winning three incredibly tough games they would have to win to be 13-0 on December 7. With Alabama, Ole Miss, and a possible SEC Championship Game bout with Georgia lurking ahead in the next five weeks, nobody could be expected to win all three.
Alabama is the enigma. The Crimson Tide is not a juggernaut and cannot be expected to totally shut down opponents with their defense like in past years. However, their offense is capable of looking more like the Denver Broncos. Alabama has tough games left against LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn, and we believe they will stub their toe at least once and miss out on the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn also has three tough games in their way of making it to the SEC Championship Game, and it is too tough for the Tigers to beat Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama.
Ole Miss could easily lose to Auburn this week and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to finish 9-3. They could also beat both teams to make it to the SEC Championship Game, but Georgia’s defense looks like it could stop the Rebels’ offense.
Somebody from the West must win the division flag and advance to the Championship Game, so we will go with Alabama for now, but we will also call for the Tide to lose to Georgia.
Georgia, the team from the East with little remaining resistance, looks to have a huge advantage to work out the kinks in their offense, get Todd Gurley back in November, and run the table, including winning the SEC Championship Game to sneak into the Playoffs. They will not be battered and bruised like the SEC West Champ.
In other bowl developments, look for Florida to miss out and finish 5-6. The Gators might try to arrange some type of backroom deal to get an invitation because they did not get to play Idaho, which would have been a for sure win to make them 6-6, but until the political stiffs come to that conclusion, we will leave the Gators out of the picture.
Kentucky and Tennessee are the two teams to watch. The Wildcats looked like a possible Buffalo Wild Wings or Outback Bowl contender two weeks ago, but consecutive losses to LSU and Mississippi State have put the Blue and White at the back of the pecking order. If the ‘Cats lose at Missouri this week, it is going to get iffy for the Blue Mist at 5-4. With games against Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisville, 5-7 is very possible.
As for Tennessee, the Volunteers are definitely the best 3-5 team in America with four top 20 losses. The schedule eases up quite a bit for the Big Orange in November, and it isn’t impossible that UT will win all four to finish 7-5. We believe 6-6 is almost assured, and Butch Jones will guide his squad into a bowl.
1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Georgia (7-1/12-1)
2. PLAYOFFS—Sugar Bowl: Mississippi State (7-1/11-1)
3. Orange Bowl: Alabama (7-1/11-2)
4. Outback Bowl: Auburn (5-3/9-3)
5. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss (5-3/9-3)
6. Music City Bowl: L S U (5-3/9-3)
7. Belk Bowl: South Carolina (4-4/8-4)
8. Liberty Bowl: Tennessee (3-5/6-6)
9. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M (3-5/7-5)
10. Birmingham Bowl: Missouri (4-4/7-5)