This will be the penultimate week of College Football’s regular season. The current top 4 teams, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Mississippi State, will probably not be the same top four teams by the time the committee meets again and issues the actual four teams in the playoffs in December, maybe more than a little different thanks to games this week.
There are numerous teams with 5-6 records needing to win their final game; some will lose and miss out on a bowl. Some will win and earn a trip to an “also-ran” bowl. Yet others will win but not be selected for a bowl.
The race to see which Group of 5 Conference top team will receive a bid to a Big Six Bowl could be decided this week, as Marshall hosts improving Western Kentucky, while Colorado State plays at in-state rival Air Force. Boise State clings to life hoping that the Thundering Herd and Rams both lose. Should Marshall lose either this week or next week in the Conference USA Championship Game, and both Colorado State and Boise State lose, then the door might be slightly ajar for a Cincinnati or Memphis to back into the Peach Bowl.
There are still playoff spots up for grabs in the conference championship game races.
In CUSA, the winner of this week’s Louisiana Tech-Rice game in Ruston, LA, will get the privilege of facing Marshall for the conference title.
There are still three teams alive in the MAC-West trying to advance to the conference championship game against Bowling Green. If Northern Illinois beats Western Michigan, the Huskies earn the nod. Should Western Michigan prevail, then Toledo would win the division if the Rockets take care of lowly Eastern Michigan. If EMU upsets Toledo, then Western Michigan would earn the spot if the Broncos beat NIU.
Both divisions of the Mountain West Conference are up for grabs. In the Mountain Division, Boise State controls their destiny. The Broncos win the division title with a win at home over Utah State. If the Aggies upset the Broncos, then they would take the division if Air Force beats Colorado State, but the Rams would win the division title if they beat the Falcons in Colorado Springs.
In the West Division, it’s almost ashamed that any team can still win this race, when CSU could finish 11-1 and not get into the championship. San Diego State and Fresno State are currently tied at 4-3 in league play. If both win this week, Fresno State would claim the division flag with a 6-6 overall record. Obviously, if one wins and one loses, the winner goes to the MWC Championship Game.
If the Aztecs and Bulldogs both lose to finish 4-4, then Hawaii will also be 4-4 by virtue of defeating Fresno State. Nevada can also get to 4-4 with a win over rival UNLV. In a four-way tie like this, Nevada would win the division based on best head-to-head record among the four tied teams. If Nevada loses to UNLV, and Hawaii wins over Fresno State, then the flag goes to Fresno due to their win over Nevada (and filtering through three prior tiebreakers to get to this point).
The Big Ten West goes to the team that claims Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Babe the Blue Ox wears number 25 for Wisconsin, and Minnesota may need axes to beat the Badgers in Madtown.
The Big 12 is still a three-team race. Baylor plays Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Bears control their own destiny and finish the regular season at home against Kansas State.
TCU plays a real trap game in Austin against Texas, and the Longhorns are a team nobody looks forward to playing in late November. TCU closes with a home game over Iowa State the following week.
Kansas State needs a little help to win the Big 12. The Wildcats should dismiss Kansas this week, and they need a Texas win over TCU. If that happens, then their game at Baylor would decide the Big 12 title.
The Pac-12 South is still a three-team race. USC and Utah were eliminated last week. If UCLA defeats Stanford in Pasadena Friday, the Bruins win the division. If Stanford wins, then the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State game Friday in Tucson advances to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Remember that Arizona penned the lone loss on North Division champion Oregon.
Finally, in the Southeastern Conference, both division races are yet to be decided. In the East, if Missouri beats Arkansas, the Tigers win the East with a 7-1 record. If Arkansas wins, then Georgia claims the title. In the West, if Alabama beats Auburn or Ole Miss beats Mississippi State, the Crimson Tide wins the division crown. If Auburn beats Alabama and Mississippi State wins The Egg Bowl, then Mississippi State wins the division title.
Should the West Division champion lose to Missouri or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the committee will have a difficult time selecting a two-loss SEC champion over any of the one-loss teams in the other Power 5 conferences.
Here is our current look at Playoff and Bowl Projections by conference.
If a team is bracketed thusly, [ Team ], they are an at-large selection.
Group of 5 Conferences
American Athletic Conference
Central Florida has a tough game at East Carolina remaining, and we believe the Pirates will prevail. Cincinnati has a tough game at Temple remaining, but we believe the Bearcats will win in Philly. Memphis has just one game left to play, at home against Connecticut. A win over the lowly Huskies gives the Tigers the AAC Championship. Unfortunately, winning the AAC Title may only get the Memphians a trip down US 72 to Birmingham.
Temple is likely headed to a 6-6 record, and there will not be a contracted spot for the Owls. We believe Temple has little chance to earn an at-large bowl invitation, as the bowls most likely to need a replacement team are all several hundred miles away from the Keystone State.
1. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (7-1/9-4) vs. South Carolina
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. North Carolina St.
5. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (5-3/7-5) vs. [ Ohio U ]
Bowl Eligible but no bowl: Temple (4-4/6-6)
Marshall fans were nervous for awhile last week as UAB gave the Thundering Herd all they could handle. A home finale against Western Kentucky might be an interesting high scoring game, but we believe MU will win by double digits. The CUSA Championship Game might be interesting for a quarter to a half, but MU looks to strong for any league opponent. We are sticking with Doc Holliday and his troops to be the initial Group of 5 Conference team to earn a Big Six Bowl bid.
1. Big Six—Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Marshall (8-0/13-0) vs. Georgia
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (7-1/8-5) vs. Utah St.
3. Bahamas Bowl: Rice (5-3/7-5) vs. Toledo
4. New Mexico Bowl: U T E P (5-3/7-5) vs. Air Force
5. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee (5-3/6-6) vs. Northern Illinois
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Western Kentucky (3-5/6-6)
Bowl Eligible but no bowl: Old Dominion (4-4/6-6), UAB (4-4/6-6)
Fortunately, the Buffalo-Kent State game had no postseason implications as both teams had already been eliminated from bowl eligibility. It appears that there will be seven bowl eligible teams from the MAC for five guaranteed bowl bids. We believe one of the two other teams will earn the last bowl invitation. The MAC has been a little down this year, but it would not surprise us if the league goes 5-1 or even 6-0 in the bowls.
1. Bahamas Bowl: Toledo (7-1/9-4) vs. Rice
2. Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois (6-2/9-3) vs. Middle Tennessee
3. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Bowling Green (6-2/8-5) vs. Nevada
4. Camellia Bowl: Western Michigan (7-1/9-3) vs. South Alabama
5. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Central Michigan (5-3/7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
6. Armed Forces Bowl: [ Ohio (4-4/6-6) ] vs. Houston
Bowl Eligible but no bowl:Akron (4-4/6-6)
Mountain West Conference
We are going to go with Boise State over Utah State this week to secure the Mountain Division title, and then take the Broncos to win the Conference Championship Game the following week. We also believe Colorado State will win at Air Force. Regardless these four teams are the top quartet in the league and will receive the four
1. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise St. (7-1/11-2) vs. Arizona St.
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Colorado St. (7-1/11-1) vs. Navy
3. Hawaii Bowl: Utah St. (6-2/9-4) vs. Louisiana Tech
4. New Mexico Bowl: Air Force (4-4/8-4) vs. U T E P
5. New Orleans Bowl: San Diego St. (5-3/7-5) vs. Arkansas St.
6. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada (4-4/7-5) vs. Bowling Green
Note: Fresno State is projected to win the West Division and lose to Boise State to finish 6-7. In the past, special waivers have been made for 6-7 teams like this to accept a bowl invitation. Fresno could trump Ohio for an at-large bowl invitation in this instance, but we will leave the Bulldogs out this week.
Georgia Southern could win the Sunbelt with a perfect 8-0 conference record and a 9-3 overall record, but the Eagles will not get a bowl invitation. GSU can only earn a bowl bid if there are not enough bowl eligible teams to fill all the bowls, and their will be more than enough teams this year.
Louisiana-Lafayette lost to a very hot Appalachian State team last week, but the Ragin’ Cajuns will still receive the top bowl offer from the SBC, due to Georgia Southern’s ineligibility. The New Orleans Bowl has selected ULL three years in a row, while the GoDaddy.com Bowl has become Arkansas State’s annual 13th game. This year, we believe the bowls might like to have a little variation. There will be two extra bowl eligible teams, and we are certain that at least one bowl needing an at-large representative will choose a team from this league.
1. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-1/8-4) vs. Central Michigan
2. New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas St. (5-3/7-5) vs. San Diego St.
3. Camellia Bowl: South Alabama (5-3/6-6) vs. Western Michigan
4. Heart of Dallas Bowl: [ Texas St. (5-3/7-5) ] vs. Western Kentucky
Bowl Eligible but no bowl: Appalachian St. (6-2/7-5) and very deserving
Notre Dame is included in the Atlantic Coast Conference bowl tie-ins, and the Irish are dropping fast. A loss to USC could place Notre Dame in El Paso or Nashville in December.
BYU is the first team to know for sure where they are headed. The Cougars will play in the Miami Beach Bowl won or lose against California.
Navy needs one more win and has two chances. We believe the Middies will win out and finish 7-5, and their reward will be a possible Top 15 opponent.
1. Miami Beach Bowl: B Y U (8-4) vs. Cincinnati
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (7-5) vs. Colorado St.
Power 5 Conferences
Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State is creeping closer and closer to the edge on slippery ground. The Seminoles cannot keep winning ugly like this and expect to remain in the Top Four if Baylor, TCU, and even Ohio State win big. A regular season finale against rival Florida is going to be a real fight, and the Seminoles then have to deal with Georgia Tech’s option offense in order to get to the Playoffs.
The Orange Bowl might prefer Florida State to lose to Florida and win the ACC Championship Game, because the Seminoles would head to Miami instead of the Playoffs and sport a 12-1 record. If FSU makes the Playoffs at 13-0, then a possible four-loss Georgia Tech team could end up in the Orange Bowl over three-loss Duke and Louisville teams and possible four-loss Clemson team.
Pittsburgh can still gain bowl eligibility with a mild upset win at Miami, while the Virginia-Virginia Tech game is a bowl qualifier for the winner and eliminator for the loser.
1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Florida St. (8-0/13-0) vs. Oregon
2. Big Six—Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech (6-2/9-4) vs. Wisconsin
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke (5-3/9-3) vs. Kansas St.
4. Gator Bowl: Louisville (5-3/9-3) vs. Ole Miss
5. Belk Bowl: Clemson (6-2/8-4) vs. Florida
6. Sun Bowl: Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Washington
7. Pinstripe Bowl: North Carolina (5-3/7-5) vs. Penn St.
8. Military Bowl: North Carolina St. (2-6/6-6) vs. East Carolina
9. Independence Bowl: Virginia (4-4/6-6) vs. Texas A&M
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College (4-4/7-5) vs. Rutgers
11. St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Fla.) (4-4/7-5) vs. Central Florida
While we do not project Ohio State to make the Playoffs, mainly because we have the Buckeyes losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, we do believe that three league teams will receive Big Six Bowl invitations.
Not much has changed in the bowl pecking order here. We have removed Michigan from the bowl list, because a loss to Ohio State will leave the Wolverines at 5-7. The winner of the Illinois-Northwestern game in Evanston will decide the last league bowl representative.
1. Big Six—Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (7-1/11-2) vs. Georgia Tech
2. Big Six—Cotton Bowl: Ohio St. (8-0/11-2) vs. T C U
3. Big Six—Fiesta Bowl: Michigan St. (7-1/10-2) vs. Baylor
4. Buffalo Wild Wings (Citrus) Bowl: Iowa (5-3/8-4) vs. Missouri
5. Outback Bowl: Nebraska (4-4/8-4) vs. Auburn
6. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota (5-3/8-4) vs. Arizona
7. Music City Bowl: Maryland (5-3/8-4) vs. Tennessee
8. San Francisco Bowl: Northwestern (4-4/6-6) vs. U S C
9. Pinstripe Bowl: Penn St. (2-6/6-6) vs. North Carolina
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers (2-6/6-6) vs. Boston College
Should Texas beat TCU and Kansas State beat Baylor, the Big 12 will lose all chances to place a team in the Playoffs. If both TCU and Baylor win out, then there is a chance one or even both could end up playing for all the marbles. What hurts the Big 12 is not having a conference championship game (which could hurt an 11-1 Mississippi State team if Alabama wins the SEC West).
Because of the likelihood that both Baylor and TCU will at least earn Big Six Bowl bids, and because four league teams, instead of the usual two or three, will fail to earn bowl eligibility, the Big 12 will not meet its obligations to supply enough teams to the contracted bowls. In fact, we believe two bowls will be forced to find alternatives.
1. Big Six—Cotton Bowl: T C U (8-1/11-1) vs. Ohio St.
2. Bix Six—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: Kansas St. (7-2/9-3) vs. Duke
5. Liberty Bowl: Texas (5-4/6-6) vs. Arkansas
6. Cactus Bowl: West Virginia (5-4/7-5) vs. Utah
Oregon slipped in November last year with a loss to Arizona that cost the Ducks any chance to finish in the top two of the final BCS standings. This year, they are playing for their Playoff lives. The Ducks should win their Civil War battle against Oregon State, but the game is at Reser Stadium, where the Beavers can be tough. The Pac-12 Championship Game then must be won to guarantee Oregon a spot in the Final Four.
U C L A was supposed to contend for a Playoff spot, but the Bruins lost one too many games to stay in the chase. Even if the SEC finishes with four two-loss teams, and Ohio State loses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, it will be difficult for an 11-2 Bruins team to sneak into the Final Four.
California is 5-6 with a home game against BYU this week. The Bears have a chance to get to 6-6 and take the final at-large bowl bid away from Ohio, but we believe the Cougars will score 35-40 points and keep the Bears out of a bowl.
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 (7-2/10-2) vs. Minnesota
4. San Francisco Bowl: U S C (6-3/8-4) vs. Northwestern
5. Sun Bowl: Washington (4-5/8-5) vs. Notre Dame
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona St. (6-3/9-3) vs. Boise St.
7. Cactus Bowl: Utah (5-4/8-4) vs. West Virginia
8. Texas Bowl: [ Stanford (4-5/6-6) ] vs. L S U
There are three questions this week with the SEC. The first one is the more important one. What happens to Mississippi State if the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss, while Alabama beats Auburn to earn the West Division flag? The Committee has indicated that conference champions will be given higher priority over non-conference champions. Mississippi State is still number four, but The Committee cannot place another team past the Bulldogs with the understanding that Baylor, TCU, or Ohio State could be a conference champion. Might the Big 12 Champion or Ohio State pass an idle Bulldog team in the final poll?
Question number two involves two teams still attempting to become bowl eligible. Tennessee is 5-6 with what amounts to a home game on their rival’s home field. The Volunteers should handle Vanderbilt easily to earn a bowl bid. Kentucky was once 5-1 and the sexy choice for contention for a Big Six bowl. At 5-1, we wrote that the Wildcats could easily lose their final six games and not go to a bowl. UK is one loss to Louisville away from making us soothsayers.
Question number three involves the SEC not wanting to give the Big 12 a chance to move Texas into the Texas Bowl against Texas A&M. The SEC most definitely will arrange for the Aggies to go to a bowl that cannot invite a Big 12 team. Thus, we believe another interesting matchup is possible. Look below at our Liberty Bowl projection.
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 Six—Peach Bowl: Georgia (6-2/10-2) vs. Marshall
4. Buffalo Wild Wings (Citrus) Bowl: Missouri (7-1/10-3) vs. Iowa
5. Outback Bowl: Auburn (4-4/8-4) vs. Nebraska
6. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss (4-4/8-4) vs. Louisville
7. Texas Bowl: L S U (4-4/8-4) vs. [ Stanford ]
8. Belk Bowl: Florida (4-4/6-5) vs. Clemson
9. Music City Bowl: Tennessee (3-5/6-6) vs. Maryland
10. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas (2-6/6-6) vs. Texas
11. Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina (3-5/7-5) vs. Memphis
12. Independence Bowl: Texas A&M (3-5/7-5) vs. Virginia