The Pi-Rate Ratings

November 17, 2014

PiRate Ratings College Football Playoffs and Bowl Projections

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How many points is Alabama worth in home field advantage at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Would you say that five points is about right? If so, then The Crimson Tide and Mississippi State are dead even on a neutral field, correct?

The brains that vacuum large pots of money out of the books in Las Vegas, Reno, and offshore would tell you this is true, but the elite that select the teams for the playoffs may not see it that way. There is precedent for not seeing the forest for all the trees.

Let’s go back to 2006. Number one Ohio State, 11-0, hosted number two Michigan, also 11-0, at the giant horseshoe in Columbus. Ohio State’s home field advantage was worth at least four and as much as six points, and the Buckeyes had to hold on to edge the Wolverines by three points. In essence, on a neutral field, Michigan figured to be marginally better than Ohio State, and these two teams should have been slotted to face each other for the national championship a month and a half later. It would have been the greatest National Championship Game of the BCS era, but the BCS rankings dropped Michigan down and elevated Florida up into the number two slot.

Florida exploded to embarrass Ohio State in the title game, while a dejected Michigan team failed to show up in the Rose Bowl against a quality USC team. Had there been a playoff that year, these would have been the four teams, so in the end, Florida and USC would have advanced to the title game.

Back to 2014, what say the college football nation should Mississippi State and Alabama both win out? The Bulldogs are most likely going to edge out any 11-1 Big 12 team, as well as a possible 12-1 Ohio State team. In our opinion, any one-loss SEC West team must be in the playoffs, especially since Arkansas is now one win away from making all seven SEC West teams bowl eligible. There are no Iowa State’s, Kansas’s, or Texas Tech’s in the SEC West. There are no Purdue’s, Illinois’s, or Indiana’s in the SEC West. There are no Colorado’s or Washington State’s in the SEC West.

There are still a bevy of tricky games left that could shake up both the playoff race and the bowl projections.

In the ACC, Georgia Tech is one Duke loss away from facing Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. The Seminoles want no part of the spread option of the Yellow Jackets, as one or two breakdowns on defense could be the difference of 14 points. What if GT got an early lead? Can FSU come from behind against the best time-consuming offense there is?

In the Big Ten, Wisconsin might be strong enough to beat Ohio State in a possible conference championship game. The Badgers still have tough games left against Iowa and rival Minnesota.

In the Big 12, Baylor faces an Oklahoma State team this week that must win this game or upset Oklahoma to become bowl eligible. The Cowboys are probably looking at 5-7, but they may force the Bears to extend themselves. Baylor still has a date with Kansas State in December.

TCU has an even tougher assignment coming up on Thanksgiving. The Horned Frogs face a coming-on-strong Texas Longhorns team in Austin. We see that as a tossup as of today.

The Pac-12 could be interesting as well. The South Division is a mess with six of the seven teams still in contention for the division flag. UCLA controls its own destiny, and the Bruins will face Oregon in the conference championship game if they down USC and Stanford, both games to be played at the Rose Bowl. There is a chance for a five-team tie at 6-3, in which case Utah would emerge as the division champion.

In the race for the one Big Six Bowl invitation guaranteed to a Group of Five team, it is Marshall’s to lose. The Thundering Herd has a little bit of a tricky game this week at UAB, but we believe MU will come through. The likely opponent in the Conference USA Championship Game is Louisiana Tech, but Marshall looks like the class of this league, and coach Doc Holliday will be on the short list on many head coaching openings. Should Dana Holgersen get the offer at Florida or Michigan, or any other school that will get him out of West Virginia, then Holliday will be the next coach in Morgantown. If Marshall finishes 13-0, look for the Herd to play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

Should Marshall fall, Colorado State is the team in waiting, but only if the Rams can win at Air Force. At 11-1, the Rams would likely be in the Fiesta Bowl against a Baylor or TCU.

Here is a look at each conference and where we project the teams to go.

Records shown are our projections for where the teams will finish.

[ Team ] Indicates an at-large invitee

Group of 5 Conferences

American Athletic Conference
Coach Justin Fuente has greener pastures in his future after he has brought the Memphis Tigers back from the lowest of the lows to within two wins of a conference championship. The Tigers have home games against South Florida and Connecticut, and they figure to win both games by double digits. Unfortunately, at 9-3, Memphis has no real chance of falling into a Big Six bowl.

Temple appears to be in serious trouble in the bowl hunt. The 5-5 Owls must win out to have any chance to earn a spot, because at 6-6, their fan base is not strong enough to earn an at-large bid, as they cannot average 30,000 per game at Lincoln Financial Field.

1. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (7-1/9-3) vs. Florida
2. St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida (6-2/8-4) vs. Miami (Fla.)
3. Miami Beach Bowl: Cincinnati (7-1/9-3) vs. B Y U
4. Military Bowl: East Carolina (6-2/9-3) vs. Virginia Tech
5. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (5-3/7-5) vs. [ California ]

Also Bowl Eligible—Temple 4-4/6-6

Conference USA
As we mentioned above, Marshall has a clear path to a 13-0 finish, which will secure the automatic Group of Five bid to a Big Six Bowl. CUSA will get an extra bowl spot because of this, and the league will still have a surplus of bowl eligible teams. There is a secondary bowl tie-in, but we believe the bowl in question will choose to take a much more prestigious school from out West rather than a 6-6 CUSA team that averages less than 10,000 fans per home game in attendance.

In the West Division Louisiana Tech is not a lock for the top spot. The Bulldogs play at Old Dominion this week, and the Monarchs are in a must-win situation to become bowl eligible. If ODU wins, then LT must defeat Rice in two weeks to win the division title. If Rice beats UTEP this week, and ODU beats LT, then the November 29 game between the Owls and Bulldogs would decide the division title.

1. Big 6—Peach Bowl: Marshall (8-0/13-0) vs. Georgia
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (8-0/9-4) vs. Air Force
3. Bahamas Bowl: Rice (5-3/7-5) vs. Bowling Green
4. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee (5-3/6-6) vs. Northern Illinois
5. New Mexico Bowl: U T E P (5-3/7-5) vs. Utah St.
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Western Kentucky (3-5/6-6) vs. Maryland
Also Bowl Eligible: UAB 4-4/6-6

Mid-American Conference
Northern Illinois’s win over Toledo throws the West Division up for grabs with four teams still in the race. Western and Central Michigan join the other two in contention for the division crown. In the East, Bowling Green has already clinched the division title. The Falcons have a tough road game against an angry Toledo team Wednesday night. BGU’s lone conference loss came against Western Michigan, and the Broncos totally shut down the Falcons’ offense in the second half of that game.

The MAC figures to have two extra bowl eligible teams, both at 6-6, and neither will be lucky enough to earn an at-large invitation.

1. Bahamas Bowl: Bowling Green (6-2/9-4) vs. Rice
2. Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois (6-2/9-3) vs. Middle Tennessee
3. Idaho Potato Bowl: Toledo (7-1/8-5) vs. San Diego St.
4. Camellia Bowl: Western Michigan (6-2/8-4) vs. South Alabama
5. GoDaddy Bowl: Central Michigan (6-2/8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Also Bowl Eligible: Ohio 4-4/6-6 & Akron 4-4/6-6

Mountain West Conference
For awhile Saturday night, it looked like the Mountain Division representative in the MWC Championship Game was about to be Colorado State, as San Diego State shot out to a nice lead over Boise State, before the Broncos charged back to win. The top four teams remain Mountain Division schools, as the West Division currently has a three-way tie at 3-3, with one of the co-leaders, Fresno State, mired at 4-6 overall.

The league has six bowl tie-ins and will produce six bowl eligible teams. Should Colorado State edge out Marshall for the Big Six bowl bid, it will force a the Idaho Potato Bowl to search for an at-large team, which most likely would come from the Pac-12.

1. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise St. (7-1/11-2) vs. Utah
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Colorado St. (7-1/11-1) vs. Navy
3. Hawaii Bowl: Air Force (5-3/9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech
4. New Mexico Bowl: Utah St. (6-2/9-4) vs. U T E P
5. New Orleans Bowl: Nevada (5-3/8-5) vs. Arkansas St.
6. Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego St. (4-4/6-6) vs. Toledo

Sunbelt Conference

Louisiana-Lafayette clinched the top seed in the bowl order, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have not clinched the conference championship. Georgia Southern is also undefeated in conference play, but the Eagles are not bowl eligible this year unless there are not enough bowl eligible teams (which there will be by quite a few). ULL has been in a rut, playing in three consecutive New Orleans Bowl games. We think it is about time, they leave the state in December.

This will be an interesting bowl race among the rest of the field. Arkansas State and South Alabama are already bowl eligible, while Texas State and Appalachian State are one win away.

1. GoDaddy Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-0/9-3) vs. Central Michigan
2. New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas St. (5-3/7-5) vs. Nevada
3. Camellia Bowl: South Alabama (5-3/6-6) vs. Western Michigan

Also Bowl Eligible: Texas St. 5-3/7-5

Independents (Notre Dame included in ACC bowl tie-ins)
Army’s loss to Western Kentucky officially eliminates the Black Knights from their Armed Forces bowl tie-in. BYU clinched their Miami Beach Bowl berth with a win over UNLV, while Navy has two chances left to win one more game and earn their Poinsettia Bowl invitation.

1. Miami Beach Bowl: B Y U (7-5) vs. Cincinnati
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (7-5) vs. Colorado St.

Power 5 Conferences

Atlantic Coast Conference
Whew! That’s what ACC Commissioner John Swofford must have mouthed late Saturday night when Florida State pulled out yet another dramatic finish to stay undefeated. The Seminoles will not make the playoffs if they lose any remaining game, and Swofford needs something positive for his conference with an academic fraud investigation hanging over his head at North Carolina (he was formerly the AD at UNC), as well as numerous rumors about the Florida State program.

Virginia Tech’s upset of Duke opens the door for Georgia Tech to win the Coastal Division title, and the Yellow Jackets will back into that game should North Carolina beat Duke this weekend. FSU will be rooting heavily for the Blue Devils to win that game.

1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Florida St. (8-0/13-0) vs. Oregon
2. Big 6—Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech (6-2/9-4) vs. Wisconsin
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke (5-3/9-3) vs. West Virginia
4. Gator Bowl: Clemson (6-2/8-4) vs. Ole Miss
5. Belk Bowl: Notre Dame (8-4) vs. L S U
6. Sun Bowl: Louisville (5-3/8-4) vs. Arizona St.
7. Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (4-4/7-5) vs. Rutgers
8. Military Bowl: Virginia Tech (4-4/7-5) vs. East Carolina
9. Independence Bowl: North Carolina (5-3/7-5) vs. South Carolina
10. Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina St. (2-6/6-6) vs. Northwestern
11. St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Fla.) (5-3/8-4) vs. Central Florida

Big Ten Conference

Ohio State is still squarely in the playoff race, but after this past Saturday’s games, we now seriously doubt that they can win the Big Ten Championship. After watching Wisconsin run through Nebraska, and remembering what happened the last time OSU and UW faced off, we believe the Badgers might be a little too strong for Ohio State’s run defense if these two face off for the title.

Wisconsin still must earn their spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, and that will be no easy task. The Badgers have a road game against Iowa and a home game for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota. Weather could easily play a factor in both games, so it is not guarantee that UW will even make it to Indianapolis.

We have made one change in the bowl eligibility list this week. With Northwestern’s comeback win at Notre Dame, we now move the Wildcats over Illinois.

1. Big 6-Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (7-1/11-2) vs. Georgia Tech
2. Big 6-Cotton Bowl: Ohio St. (8-0/11-2) vs. T C U
3. Big 6-Fiesta Bowl: Michigan St. (7-1/10-2) vs. Baylor
4. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Nebraska (5-3/9-3) vs. Missouri
5. Outback Bowl: Iowa (5-3/8-4) vs. Auburn
6. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota (4-4/7-5) vs. Arizona
7. Music City Bowl: Penn St. (2-6/6-6) vs. Tennessee
8. San Francisco Bowl: Michigan (4-4/6-6) vs. U S C
9. Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (2-6/6-6) vs. Boston College
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Northwestern (4-4/6-6) vs. North Carolina St.
11. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Maryland (4-4/7-5) vs. Western Kentucky

Big 12 Conference

It has been quite apparent for some time that the Big 12 will not supply enough bowl eligible teams to meet all of its bowl obligations. This will be a certainty if both Baylor and TCU win out. Oklahoma State is now on the outside looking in, as the Cowboys are 5-5 with games remaining against Baylor and Oklahoma.

Texas is the key to this league’s bowl projections. The Longhorns have a legitimate chance to knock off TCU and throw a large monkey wrench into the works. For now, because it makes things much too difficult to rearrange, we are going to go with TCU and Baylor to win out.

1. Big 6-Cotton Bowl: T C U (8-1/11-1) vs. Ohio St.
2. Big 6-Fiesta Bowl: Baylor (8-1/11-1) vs. Michigan St.
3. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma (6-3/9-3) vs. U C L A
4. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia (6-3/8-4) vs. Duke
5. Liberty Bowl: Texas (5-4/6-6) vs. Arkansas
6. Cactus Bowl: Kansas St. (6-3/8-4) vs. Washington

Pac-12 Conference

Oregon has already clinched the North Division title, but the Ducks have two tough games that must be victories if they are going to make the playoffs. They end the regular season at rival Oregon State, and the Beavers will probably be 5-6 needing a win to earn a bowl bid. Of course, the Pac-12 Championship Game will be tough, and the Ducks will not know their opponent until late on November 29.

We have already written about the South Division title race. If UCLA wins out, the Bruins are in the title game. However, if UCLA loses to either USC or Stanford (or both), there are numerous tie-breaker possibilities that can give USC, Arizona, Arizona State, or Utah the flag.

There are seven teams already bowl eligible, and three teams need just one more win to get there. We believe two of the three will get that sixth win, meaning nine teams will be bowl eligible. We project two of the nine will have to sweat out at-large invitations, and being the top two available at-large candidates, they will secure the projected two at-large available spots.

1. PLAYOFFS-Rose Bowl: Oregon (8-1/12-1) vs. Florida St.
2. Alamo Bowl: U C L A (7-2/10-3) vs. Oklahoma
3. Holiday Bowl: Arizona (6-3/9-3) vs. Minnesota
4. San Francisco Bowl: U S C (6-3/8-4) vs. Michigan
5. Sun Bowl: Arizona St. (6-3/9-3) vs. Louisville
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Utah (6-3/9-3) vs. Boise St.
7. Cactus Bowl: Washington (4-5/8-5) vs. Kansas St.
8. Texas Bowl (at-large): [ Stanford ] (4-5/6-6) vs. Texas A&M
9. Armed Forces (at-large): [ California ] (3-6/6-6) vs. Houston

Southeastern Conference

If Kentucky can beat rival Louisville, and if Arkansas can beat either Ole Miss or Missouri, the SEC will end up with an amazing 13 bowl eligible teams. We are going with 12, and this will be just enough to satisfy all the bowl tie-ins for the king of college conferences.

Read above to reinforce why we believe the SEC will win out over the Big 12 and Big Ten in the one-loss race to the playoffs.

If, by chance, Ole Miss wins the Egg Bowl and Georgia knocks off Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, then it is going to be a very difficult choice for the Playoff Committee to take any SEC team if there are still four teams that have zero or one loss. Imagine if Georgia wins out to finish 11-2. How could the Bulldogs jump over TCU and Baylor, if both finish 11-1? Even a 12-1 Ohio State team would finish ahead of UGA.

Now, let’s say there are five two-loss SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Missouri), and then losses to TCU, Baylor, and Ohio State leave a dozen two loss teams in the mix. The real winner in this scenario would be Novartis, the owner of Maalox, because 12 influential elites would come down with the first case of mass heartburn.

For the sake of Condaleeza Rice’s stomach, let’s stick with the Tide and Bulldogs winning out.

Note—with the SEC’s decision to place conference teams where they can best capitalize on the bowl matchups, we have made some very interesting bowl games thanks to maneuvering like we expect the league will do.

1. PLAYOFFS-Sugar Bowl: Alabama (7-1/12-1) vs. Mississippi St.
2. PLAYOFFS-Sugar Bowl: Mississippi St. (7-1/11-1) vs. Alabama
3. Big 6-Peach Bowl: Georgia (6-2/10-3) vs. Marshall
4. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Missouri (5-3/8-4) vs. Nebraska
5. Outback Bowl: Auburn (4-4/8-4) vs. Iowa
6. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss (4-4/8-4) vs. Clemson
7. Belk Bowl: L S U (4-4/8-4) vs. Notre Dame
8. Music City Bowl: Tennessee (4-4/7-5) vs. Penn St.
9. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M (3-5/7-5) vs. [ Stanford ]
10. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas (3-5/7-5) vs. Texas
11. Independence Bowl: South Carolina (3-5/7-5) vs. North Carolina
12. Birmingham Bowl: Florida (4-4/6-5) vs. Memphis

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