Not many teams at the top of the college football rankings had an easy go of things on Saturday. Wins were hard earned, regardless of how heavily a team was favored.
Even Alabama got tested. The Crimson Tide needed a stop on a two-point conversion attempt at Florida to hold off the Gators, 31-29. Oklahoma renewed its rivalry with Nebraska and got a fight from the Cornhuskers. The Sooners ended up with a 23-16 win. Oklahoma is still struggling to find its rhythm this season having won its two games against FBS competition by a combined 12 points.
But results are what we are looking for this time of year. Therefore, there are no changes to the College Football Playoff projections. The Cotton Bowl is expected to host No. 1 seed Alabama and No. 4 seed Oregon, which had an easy time with FCS Stony Brook. Oklahoma retains the projected No. 3 seed expected to face No. 2 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs were dominant against South Carolina.
College Football Playoff
Title game Semifinal winners
Miami Gardens, Fla.
(1) Alabama vs. (4) Oregon
(2) Georgia vs. (3) Oklahoma
The Pac-12 South was 0-5 in nonconference games despite being favored in all of those contests. Arizona lost to FCS Northern Arizona for the first time since 1932, handing the league its second loss to an FCS team this year while it’s just 9-14 against FBS opponents. Yet, if Oregon earns a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will have to pick one of the other teams to represent the Pac-12 in that game. That team is likely to be no better than 9-3 and in the bottom half of the top 25.
That mess ended up being the cause of the only change in the projections for the other New Year’s Six games. UCLA was upset at home by Fresno State, which had come close to taking down two other Pac-12 foes before. USC had a great first game for interim coach Donte Williams. The Trojans throttled Washington State, 45-14.
UCLA has dropped out of the projection for the Rose Bowl and has been replaced by USC. Ohio State is still expected to represent the Big Ten, though the Buckeyes still have a lot of work to do to fix their defense. They gave up over 400 yards to Tulsa in a 41-20 win.
Clemson has the opposite problem. The Tigers defense has yet to surrender a touchdown this season yet needed a goal line stand to hold off Georgia Tech, 14-8. I might have replaced Clemson as the projected ACC champion, but no other team looks capable of providing a challenge. Virginia Tech took its first loss of the season at West Virginia, and Miami got trounced at home by Michigan State. The only remaining undefeated teams in the ACC are Wake Forest and Boston College, and BC lost its starting quarterback for the season last week.
Therefore, the Tigers are still projected to face Notre Dame in the Peach Bowl. As if keeping Purdue’s Big Bass Drum out of the stadium and kicking the Boilermaker Special, Purdue’s mascot, off campus wasn’t enough, the Fighting Irish beat the Boilermakers on the field as well.
New Year’s Six bowl games
SEC vs. Big 12
Texas A&M vs. Iowa State
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Ohio State vs. USC
At-large vs. At-large
Iowa vs. Cincinnati
At-large vs. At-large
Clemson vs. Notre Dame
Cincinnati kept its hopes alive for an undefeated season and consideration for the CFP with a 38-24 win at Indiana. Now, the Bearcats need the Hoosiers to start playing like the team that was ranked 17th in the Preseason AP Top 25 so that win carries more weight in December. Cincinnati has a week off to prepare for its next game at Notre Dame. The Bearcats are projected to face Iowa, which also beat Indiana this season, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State and Florida are both expected to finish in the top 12 of the final CFP Rankings but get left out of the New Year’s Six due to bowl contractual obligations. The Nittany Lions, however, do not even get projected to the next best Big Ten bowl game. The Citrus Bowl is expected to get Wisconsin instead, despite the Badgers losing at home to Penn State and being ranked behind them. That is because the Big Ten’s primary priority when it comes to bowl selections is to keep teams from going to the same game or even region too often. Penn State was just in the Citrus Bowl three years ago. Wisconsin hasn’t been since 2013, and that is why the Badgers get this spot. Remember: Bowls outside the New Year’s Six are not filled based on merit. Sure, that can play a role, but it’s always more about putting together the best matchup to attract fans to the game and viewers on TV.
This week, I only have five 5-7 teams in the bowl projections. That number has crept steadily downward as the season has gone on. It may never entirely disappear, but even the pool of projected 5-7 teams to choose from is getting smaller. I only had seven to choose from this week. As always, those decisions are made by the higher NCAA APR rankings.
Conference play will begin in earnest over the next couple of weeks and the challenges will get tougher. Stay tuned.
Don’t see your team? Check out the rest of Jerry Palm’s updated bowl projections.