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College Football Playoff Projections: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Forecast

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College Football Playoff Projections: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Forecast0 of 8

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Down goes Oregon. Adios, UCLA. See you later, Ole Miss.

With those three previously College Football Playoff Top 12 teams each taking their second loss of the season in Week 11, we are now down to just eight remaining Power Five teams with either zero or one losses. And that means, at least for now, the projected CFP picture is pretty cut-and-dry: Georgia, Ohio State/Michigan, TCU and Tennessee.

Could LSU crash the party by winning out?

Will TCU suffer (at least) one loss and open the door for USC or Clemson/North Carolina?

What happens if Ohio State beats Michigan and then loses in the Big Ten Championship Game (to whomever the heck emerges from the carnage that is the Big Ten West)?

Is the real race this year for the lone wild-card spot in the Cotton Bowl?

And will six-win UConn actually get to go to a bowl game?

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, we’ve got projections for all 41 bowls.

Please note that these are bowl projections and not some sort of “if the season ended today” exercise. Though the end of the season is rapidly approaching, each team’s projected win total according to ESPN’s Football Power Index is more important than its current record or AP ranking.

The bowl games have been broken into tiers and are presented in ascending order of magnitude.

For the first four tiers of bowls, we’ll discuss one team projected for a better bowl than it was one week ago as well as a team that checks in a bit lower in the aftermath of Week 11 results. After touching on the updated CFP projections, we’ll wrap things up with a conference-by-conference breakdown of which teams are projected to go to which bowls.

Bowl Math and APR Candidates1 of 8

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With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s time to start really looking at whether we’re likely to end up with 82 bowl-eligible teams, and which potential 5-7 teams could sneak in if we don’t get to 82.

Excluding not-eligible-for-a-bowl-this-season James Madison, we are up to 64 teams that have already won six games with 20 others sitting at 5-5, just one win away from punching their tickets.

That’s a solid spot, as most of those currently .500 teams will win at least one of their final two games.

But not all of them.

In fact, only 11 of the 20 are given at least a 70 percent chance of winning another game, per ESPN’s College Football Power Index. Four of 20 are below 51 percent, including Miami, which plays at Clemson this week before ending the season with a toss-up game against Pittsburgh.

Sum up all of the six-win percentage projections (again, excluding James Madison) and you get 8151%, or an estimated 81.51 bowl-eligible teams.

Basically, it’s going to be a photo finish, and we may need to let Academic Progress Rate scores determine which 5-7 teams secure the final spot or two in the bowl season field.

Should it come down to that, here are the top APR scores among teams that neither have six wins nor eight losses, meaning they could finish at 5-7:

994 – Rice* (5-5)
992 – Wisconsin (5-5)
987 – Temple (3-7)
986 – Boston College (3-7) and Iowa State (4-6)
985 – Stanford (3-7)
984 – UNLV (4-6)
983 – Virginia (3-7), Arizona State (3-7), Missouri (4-6), Auburn (4-6) and Michigan State (5-5)

*Rice is 5-5, but is given just a 28.4 percent chance of winning one of its final two games. It is likely the Owls will be the top team on the list, frantically rooting against their fellow 5-6 teams on the night of Nov. 26.

For now, there are exactly 82 teams with at least a 50 percent chance of getting to six wins. That is your current field of 82.

Stay tuned to find out how much that changes in Week 12.

Group of 5 Bowls2 of 8

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Bahamas (Dec. 16): Buffalo (5-5) vs. UTSA (8-2)
Cure (Dec. 16): Ball State (5-5) vs. Georgia Southern (5-5)
Frisco (Dec. 17): BYU (5-5) vs. Southern Miss (5-5)
LendingTree (Dec. 17): Troy (8-2) vs. UNLV (4-6)
New Mexico (Dec. 17): Fresno State (6-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (5-5)
Myrtle Beach (Dec. 19): Appalachian State (5-5) vs. San Diego State (6-4)
Boca Raton (Dec. 20): South Alabama (8-2) vs. UAB (5-5)
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 20): Ohio (7-3) vs. Wyoming (7-3)
New Orleans (Dec. 21): Coastal Carolina (9-1) vs. Western Kentucky (7-4)
Armed Forces (Dec. 22): Marshall (6-4) vs. SMU (6-4)
Independence (Dec. 23): Connecticut (6-5) vs. Memphis (5-5)
Hawai’i (Dec. 24): Air Force (7-3) vs. North Texas (6-5)
Camellia (Dec. 27): Florida Atlantic (5-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-5)
Arizona (Dec. 30): Eastern Michigan (6-4) vs. San José State (6-3)

Moving Up: Connecticut Huskies

Of all the wholly unpredictable things that have happened this season—Kansas winning six games, Illinois spending multiple weeks in the Top 25, Texas A&M becoming a dumpster fire and Tulane going from 2-10 to, possibly, 10-2—UConn becoming bowl-eligible might top the list.

The Huskies went 0-10 against FBS foes in 2021, did not play in 2020 and went a combined 1-22 against FBS competition between 2018 and ’19, with the lone win coming against equally dreadful over the past half decade Massachusetts.

Yet here are the Huskies, winners of five of their last six games, including Saturday’s stunning victory over AP No. 19 Liberty.

Heading into that game, Connecticut had lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents, 10 of them by a margin of at least 24 points. But the Huskies put up 36 points on the Flames—their highest point total since that win over UMass in 2019—to secure bowl eligibility.

Now, they still aren’t guaranteed a bowl game. As an independent team with no bowl affiliations, UConn would presumably be the odd team out if we ended up with 83 bowl-eligible teams. But the Huskies sure could help their own cause this weekend with a win over 3-6 Army to officially knock out the Black Knights.

Sliding Down: UNLV Rebels

The Rebels jumped out to a 4-1 start and seemed to be well on their way to just their second bowl game since 2000.

However, they have since lost five in a row, all against teams that currently have at least six wins (San José State, Air Force, Notre Dame, San Diego State and Fresno State), slipping to the brink of elimination.

But they still have a chance. Not a great one, but a chance. In fact, UNLV is our only projected bowl team with fewer than five wins, with the FPI giving the Rebels a 52.0 percent chances of winning their two remaining games against Hawai’i and Nevada to finish at 6-6.

Group of 5 vs. Power 5 Bowls3 of 8

AP Photo/Dave Crenshaw

Fenway (Dec. 17): Cincinnati (8-2) vs. Pittsburgh (6-4)
LA (Dec. 17): Boise State (7-3) vs. Oregon State (7-3)
Gasparilla (Dec. 23): Houston (6-4) vs. Michigan State (5-5)
Quick Lane (Dec. 26): Toledo (7-3) vs. Maryland (6-4)
Birmingham (Dec. 27): Syracuse (6-4) vs. Washington State (6-4)
First Responder (Dec. 27): East Carolina (6-4) vs. Texas Tech (5-5)
Military (Dec. 28): Miami (5-5) vs. Tulane (8-2)

Moving Up: Miami Hurricanes

The great “Miami Do-Si-Do of 2022” continues. The Hurricanes have gone L-W-L-W-L-W over their last six games, incessantly bouncing back and forth between five and six projected wins.

This week’s W came at the hands of Georgia Tech, in which Miami scored more points (35) than it had in any previous game this season against an FBS foe. Most of that damage came in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter as Georgia Tech starting tossing interceptions left and right, but hey, 35 points in a win is noteworthy for the ‘Canes right now.

The win-loss trend figures to continue for at least one more week, as Miami will be a substantial underdog at Clemson. But the ‘Canes could get to 6-6 by winning the season finale against Pitt—against whom they have a four-game winning streak

Sliding Down: Tulane Green Wave

It’s a hard-knock life in the Group of Five.

Tulane entered Week 11 as the favorite to play in the Cotton Bowl, likely against a 10-win team such as Oregon, Ole Miss or Penn State. It would have been a major opportunity for a team that went 2-10 one year ago to both make a statement and to get Willie Fritz a massive raise with a Power Five program.

That payday may still be on its way for the Green Wave’s coach, but after a home loss to UCF, a bowl game against a 6-6 or 7-5 ACC team is probably Tulane’s destiny.

The Green Wave simply had no answer for UCF’s potent run game. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee missed the previous week’s game against Memphis with an undisclosed injury, but he scampered for 176 of UCF’s 336 rushing yards on the day.

Tulane could still play its way into the Cotton Bowl, but it will need to beat SMU this week, win at Cincinnati the following week and then get revenge on UCF in the AAC Championship Game. We wish the Green Wave luck in that quest.

Power 5 Bowls with Potential to Be Great4 of 8

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Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 27): Kansas (6-4) vs. Wisconsin (5-5)
Holiday (Dec. 28): Duke (7-3) vs. Utah (8-2)
Liberty (Dec. 28): Oklahoma (5-5) vs. Liberty (8-2)
Texas (Dec. 28): Baylor (6-4) vs. South Carolina (6-4)
Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Iowa (6-4) vs. Louisville (6-4)
Duke’s Mayo (Dec. 30): Illinois (7-3) vs. NC State (7-3)
Sun (Dec. 30): Washington (8-2) vs. Wake Forest (6-4)
Music City (Dec. 31): Arkansas (5-5) vs. Purdue (6-4)

Moving Up: Duke Blue Devils

Not even 90 seconds into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, Duke went three-and-out and allowed the Hokies to score a 53-yard touchdown. It looked like a potential disaster for the Blue Devils, but they rallied to outscore Virginia Tech 24-0 the rest of the way, improving to 7-3 on the year.

Duke moves up a tier as a result, but can we address the possibility that this is the worst/luckiest 7-3 Power Five team ever?

The Blue Devils have played just two games against FBS teams that currently have a winning record, losing those contests against 6-4 Kansas and 9-1 North Carolina. They also lost to 4-6 Georgia Tech and have just one win over an FBS opponent with a better than 3-7 record—that horrific, eight-turnover game by 5-5 Miami a few weeks ago.

Duke could change the narrative a bit with a win over 6-4 Pittsburgh and/or 6-4 Wake Forest over these final two weeks. As things stand, though, if this Holiday Bowl pairing with Utah actually happened, Duke would probably be a three-touchdown underdog.

Sliding Down: The Projected Duke’s Mayo Bowl Teams

One week ago, CFP No. 16 NC State and CFP No. 21 Illinois were both sitting at 7-2 and in good shape for one of their league’s marquee bowls—the Wolfpack in the Gator Bowl; the Illini in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

But after home losses to unranked opponents, it’s looking like Dave Doeren vs. Bret Bielema with a mayo bath for the “winner.”

At least Illinois’ loss came against a respectable Purdue team that might win the Big Ten West. The Illini were favored, but it was expected to be a competitive game.

NC State, on the other hand, blew a 14-0 lead against a Boston College team that previously had just one win against FBS competition and which scored a measly three points in a loss to UConn last month. And that might just be the beginning of a rocky finish for the Wolfpack, as they still have to play at Louisville and at North Carolina.

Top Non-New Year’s 6 Bowls5 of 8

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Las Vegas (Dec. 17): Kentucky (6-4) vs. Oregon (8-2)
Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma State (7-3) vs. UCLA (8-2)
Cheez-It (Dec. 29): Florida State (7-3) vs. Texas (6-4)
Gator (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (6-4) vs. Notre Dame (7-3)
Citrus (Jan. 2): Ole Miss (8-2) vs. Penn State (8-2)
ReliaQuest (Jan. 2): Florida (6-4) vs. Minnesota (7-3)

Moving Up: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Florida State (38-3 at Syracuse) and Minnesota (31-3 vs. Northwestern) also climbed up a tier after improving to 7-3 in dominant fashion, but there’s no realistic path for either of those teams to climb one tier further into the New Year’s Six picture. (Minnesota could win out against Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan/Ohio State to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl, but I said “realistic.”)

Notre Dame, on the other hand, grows more interesting by the day.

The Fighting Irish weren’t exactly impressive this week, darn near blowing a 22-point first-half lead in a 35-32 victory at Navy. But it was their seventh win in eight games, which includes handing both Clemson and North Carolina their only losses of the season, as well as victories over BYU and Syracuse, who were both ranked at the time of the game.

Notre Dame also has a game remaining at USC, which would be a massive opportunity to potentially vault into the Top 10.

Whether it would be enough to leapfrog the likes of Penn State and Ole Miss remains to be seen, but neither of those two-loss teams has a single win over a currently AP Top 25 team. Got to think a three-loss Notre Dame with wins over Clemson, UNC and USC would get some serious love in the CFP selection committee’s conversations.

Sliding Down: Oregon Ducks

The biggest loser of the week was UCLA, which dropped a home game against sub-.500 Arizona to completely remove itself from the playoff mix.

However, the Bruins were already on this tier as the projected loser of this coming weekend’s showdown with USC.

The actual slider in the Pac-12 is Oregon, which is also now out of the running for a spot in the playoff following its loss to Washington.

The Ducks still control their own Rose Bowl destiny, though. A home win over Utah this week followed by a road win over Oregon State would get them into the Pac-12 Championship Game, probably against USC. (Wherein even a loss to USC might get Oregon into the Rose Bowl, if it results in a 12-1 Trojans squad making the playoff.)

The Cotton Bowl isn’t happening for Oregon, though. It’s looking like the only viable path for any Pac-12 team to get into that game now would be USC beating both UCLA and Notre Dame before losing the conference championship.

Non-CFP New Year’s 6 Bowls6 of 8

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Orange (Dec. 30): Clemson (9-1) vs. Alabama (8-2)
Sugar (Dec. 31): LSU (8-2) vs. Kansas State (7-3)
Cotton (Jan. 2): UCF (8-2) vs. North Carolina (9-1)
Rose (Jan. 2): Michigan (10-0) vs. USC (9-1)

Making Sense of the Week 11 Chaos

While the CFP quartet did not change, we’ve got three new teams in the projected NY6 picture this week.

In the Cotton Bowl, UCF replaces Tulane following a head-to-head victory. There’s now a three-way tie atop the AAC with UCF, Tulane and Cincinnati all sitting at 5-1 in league play. But while there’s still a huge Tulane at Cincinnati game yet to come, UCF should just about sleepwalk into the conference championship game against 3-7 Navy and 1-9 South Florida.

Whether we end up with UCF-Tulane or UCF-Cincinnati, it should be an excellent game for the Group of Five’s spot in the Cotton Bowl.

(Don’t sleep on UTSA crashing the conversation. The Roadrunners have won seven straight and could finish the year at 11-2 with the losses coming against Houston and Texas. But it is probably the AAC’s spot to lose.)

The second change here is Kansas State taking Texas’ spot in the Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats destroyed Baylor in Waco this week and now have the inside track to the Big 12 Championship Game, needing wins over West Virginia and Kansas to secure a rematch with TCU.

If we get that matchup, KSU is probably locked into the Sugar Bowl, right? Either the Wildcats win and automatically get it as the Big 12 champion, or they lose to TCU, propelling the Horned Frogs into the CFP and leaving the Sugar Bowl to the next-highest-ranked Big 12 team, which is presumably Kansas State.

And the last new arrival is North Carolina as the wild-card team in the Cotton Bowl, which is quite the contested race at this point.

Penn State, Ole Miss, Oregon, UCLA and Utah are all sitting at 8-2 with a realistic shot. Notre Dame has also stormed into the conversation, could make things very interesting with a win at USC over Thanksgiving weekend and was responsible for UNC’s lone loss of the season.

If the Tar Heels win out at home against Georgia Tech and NC State, though, they should enter the ACC Championship Game against Clemson ranked ahead of all of those teams, save for perhaps the winner of next week’s Utah-Oregon game—which, if we’re assuming USC ends up in the Rose Bowl, would be picking up a third loss in the Pac-12 championship anyway. And unless the Tar Heels get just destroyed by Clemson in Charlotte, they shouldn’t get penalized for playing an extra game.

College Football Playoff7 of 8

AP Photo/Stephen Spillman

Peach (Dec. 31): No. 1 Georgia (10-0) vs. No. 4 Tennessee (9-1)
Fiesta (Dec. 31): No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) vs. No. 3 TCU (10-0)

National Championship (Jan. 9): No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 2 Ohio State

One week ago, ESPN’s College Football Power Index gave TCU a 15.5 percent chance of making the playoff and just a 3.7 percent chance of winning out (including the Big 12 championship). But after the road win over Texas, those numbers are up to 31.9 and 17.5, respectively.

A 13-0 TCU is officially a realistic possibility at this point, and that’s cause for pushing the Horned Frogs ahead of Tennessee as the projected No. 3 seed.

That said, if all four of these teams win out, it still would not be that surprising if Tennessee ends up ranked ahead of TCU.

It would defy logic, since the Horned Frogs are already ahead of the Volunteers and because TCU has a much more challenging remaining slate (at Baylor, vs. Iowa State, Big 12 championship—likely against Kansas State) than what Tennessee has left to come (at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt). But if Tennessee maintains its spot as the No. 1 scoring offense while TCU continues to eke out wins by slim margins, the selection committee might give the edge to the team that destroyed LSU in Baton Rouge.

That’s the full extent of the Selection Day drama if all four teams win out. But following losses by Ole Miss, Oregon and UCLA in Week 11, the big question now is what the heck happens if one of these teams loses?

If Ohio State loses to Michigan, the Wolverines simply take the Buckeyes’ place as the likely No. 2 seed.

But if Georgia loses to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, would the two-loss Tigers bump out the one-loss Volunteers, despite that 40-13 head-to-head result earlier this season? Or would a two-loss SEC champion miss the playoff?

What if TCU loses a game and Georgia wins the SEC championship to eliminate LSU from the conversation?

If USC wins out against UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon/Utah/Washington, it would have to be the Trojans, right? Their current list of quality wins is nil, but that would be a strong finish for what is already the No. 7 team. (Really, 12-1 USC might not even need a TCU loss to crack the Top Four, because it would have a strong argument for supplanting 11-1 Tennessee. But we can at least wait until next week’s game at UCLA before starting that debate.)

But if TCU, LSU and USC all lose—each has a win-out projection below 20 percent for a 39.9 percent chance that they all lose—bah gawd, that’s Dabo Swinney’s music. Maybe the No. 4 seed goes to the Michigan-Ohio State loser instead, but Clemson still has a pulse in this chaos.

Bowl Games by Conference8 of 8

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Here is the breakdown of bowl projections listed alphabetically by conference. New Year’s Six games have been italicized and underlined to help those of you who scrolled to the bottom to find the marquee bowls.

American Athletic (seven teams): Cincinnati (Fenway), East Carolina (First Responder), Houston (Gasparilla), Memphis (Independence), SMU (Armed Forces), Tulane (Military), UCF (Cotton)

Atlantic Coast (10 teams): Clemson (Orange), Duke (Holiday), Florida State (Cheez-It), Louisville (Pinstripe), Miami (Military), North Carolina (Cotton), NC State (Gator), Pittsburgh (Fenway), Syracuse (Birmingham), Wake Forest (Sun)

Big 12 (eight teams): Baylor (Texas), Kansas (Guaranteed Rate), Kansas State (Sugar), Oklahoma (Liberty), Oklahoma State (Alamo), TCU (Fiesta), Texas (Cheez-It), Texas Tech (First Responder)

Big Ten (10 teams): Illinois (Duke’s Mayo), Iowa (Pinstripe), Maryland (Quick Lane), Michigan (Rose), Michigan State (Gasparilla), Minnesota (ReliaQuest), Ohio State (Fiesta), Penn State (Citrus), Purdue (Music City), Wisconsin (Guaranteed Rate)

Conference USA (six teams): Florida Atlantic (Camellia), Middle Tennessee (New Mexico), North Texas (Hawai’i), UAB (Boca Raton), UTSA (Bahamas), Western Kentucky (New Orleans)

Independents (four teams): BYU (Frisco), Connecticut (Independence), Liberty (Liberty), Notre Dame (Gator)

Mid-American (five teams): Ball State (Cure), Buffalo (Bahamas), Eastern Michigan (Arizona), Ohio (Famous Idaho Potato), Toledo (Quick Lane)

Mountain West (seven teams): Air Force (Hawai’i), Boise State (LA), Fresno State (New Mexico), San Diego State (Myrtle Beach), San José State (Arizona), UNLV (LendingTree), Wyoming (Famous Idaho Potato)

Pac-12 (seven teams): Oregon (Las Vegas), Oregon State (LA), UCLA (Alamo), USC (Rose), Utah (Holiday), Washington (Sun), Washington State (Birmingham)

Southeastern (10 teams): Alabama (Orange), Arkansas (Music City), Florida (ReliaQuest), Georgia (Peach), Kentucky (Las Vegas), LSU (Sugar), Mississippi State (Gator), Ole Miss (Citrus), South Carolina (Texas), Tennessee (Peach)

Sun Belt (eight teams): Appalachian State (Myrtle Beach), Coastal Carolina (New Orleans), Georgia Southern (Cure), Louisiana-Lafayette (Camellia), Marshall (Armed Forces), South Alabama (Boca Raton), Southern Miss (Frisco), Troy (LendingTree)

Kerry Miller covers college football, men’s college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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