College Football Playoff Projection (11/29/20)

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, college football/Big Ten fans!

It's been a tough 2020 in the real world and in the college football world due to COVID-19. Hopefully we will have a College Football Playoff come January but who knows how things are going these days? The current plans are for conference championship games to be played on Friday, December 18 and Saturday, December 19 and the College Football Playoff matchups to be announced on Sunday, December 20. Right now, the semifinals will be played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl Friday, January 1, 2021 with the national championship in Miami on Monday, January 11, 2021. The CFP Committee released its first rankings of the season last Tuesday.

I have posted these weekly as we got closer to the end of the season for the last few years. Here was my final 2019 projections. It looks like SB Nation is phasing out Every Day Should Be Saturday in favor of Banner Society which doesn't have FanPosts available so I'll be posting these here at Off Tackle Empire from here on (assuming no objections from the staff of course). Each Sunday I'll go through who I think should be in the CFP based on both current and future results.

Because I'm using a Big Ten site, of course I will discuss the Big Ten first. I have a Bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois and a Master's degree from Penn State so the Big Ten is my home conference.

Big Ten:

The first note is that FOX announced the Big Ten Championship Game will now be played at noon ET rather than in prime time. I assume they don't want to compete against the SEC Championship Game which will be played in prime time for the first time since 2001.

Big Ten East

The other news is that the heavy favorite for the Big Ten Championship, the Ohio State Buckeyes, might not even be eligible to play in the game. According to the Big Ten, teams must play six games to be eligible. Ohio State has only played four meaning they must play both the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines to have the six games to be eligible. If they play both but lose one of them, they would still win the East Division but their chances to make the CFP would likely go out the window. Should Ohio State not be eligible, the Indiana Hoosiers would most likely be the East Division representative (they lead the Maryland Terrapins by a game in the loss column and beat them yesterday).

Big Ten West

In the West Division, the Northwestern Wildcats are ahead by one game over the Iowa Hawkeyes and beat them. The Wisconsin Badgers have just one loss but can play a maximum of five games so they will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. Even if they were, Northwestern beat Wisconsin and would have the tiebreaker if they finish with just one loss.

Both the Minnesota Golden Gophers and my Illinois Fighting Illini still play Northwestern and have three losses so if both win out and Northwestern loses out they could have a tiebreaker edge over the Wildcats but other teams would also be involved.

Who makes the Playoff?

As for the Playoff, I would assume if Ohio State finishes undefeated they are going to the Playoff whether it is 8-0 and a win in the Big Ten Championship Game or 7-0/6-0/5-0 with a win during "Big Ten Champions Week". If they lose a game they will likely draw Wisconsin or Iowa and still impress the Committee. Northwestern might have had a chance to make the Playoff had they gone undefeated and beaten Ohio State in the championship but now even if they beat Ohio State in Indianapolis they still will have to explain to the Selection Committee the Michigan State loss (and if Northwestern gets lucky and Ohio State is ineligible Northwestern won't make the Playoff).

I think the more games/data points for Ohio State the better and having the "Big Ten Champions" title will be more impressive to their resume. They are hurt this year because the Big Ten is down. I'm guessing they will be in the 2-3 game and be headed to Pasadena.


The top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide have been the most impressive team this season. They are currently 8-0 in the SEC with two games left in their season and have been dominating most of their games. One win in their final two games or one loss by the second place Texas A&M Aggies will clinch the SEC West Division for them and a spot in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game (Alabama won the head to head).

Over in the East Division, the Florida Gators lead the Georgia Bulldogs by a game and have the head to head over them so one win or one Georgia loss clinches the East. Like most years, the SEC is well respected (or the committee is biased in favor of them if you're not from the SEC, they clearly were in 2017 when they chose Alabama over Ohio State). Alabama is #1, Texas A&M is #5, Florida is #6, and Georgia is #9 despite the fact that they were #13 in the AP poll last week. Georgia (with 2 losses) is ranked ahead of Indiana whose only loss was to Ohio State and five places ahead of an undefeated BYU.

Who makes the Playoff?

The most likely scenario is Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship and will be the #1 overall Playoff seed. I think if Florida wins the title they will likely make the Playoff and so will Alabama. If Alabama wins, Texas A&M (if they finish 9-1) can make a strong case for the Playoff with their only loss to an undefeated Alabama at Tuscaloosa (although it was 52-24). They also have a strong win over Florida. They'd be in a pool of other teams including a potential one loss ACC Championship Game loser Notre Dame and an undefeated Cincinnati.

The SEC has gotten the benefit of the doubt in the past but "Notre Dame" could be too hard to pass up if the Selection Committee is influenced by dollars and Notre Dame did beat Clemson (although it was at home, without Trevor Lawrence, and was in three overtimes). Texas A&M isn't out of the woods yet, they play Saturday at the Auburn Tigers which is not going to be a gimme.


This year the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a "full time" ACC member, playing a full 10 game conference schedule, and will be eligible for the ACC Championship Game/championship. Also, there are no divisions and the top two teams will play for the championship game. Notre Dame is 8-0 in the ACC (9-0 overall) and the Clemson Tigers are 7-1 (8-1).

The Miami Hurricanes are 6-1 (7-1) but lost to Clemson (Miami and Notre Dame aren't scheduled to play) so they would lose any tiebreaker involving Clemson (including a three way tiebreaker). It looks like a rematch between Clemson and Notre Dame will be the ticket in Charlotte (4pm on ABC). If Notre Dame wins again, they will obviously be going to the Playoff (I'm assuming Notre Dame won't lose a game before then and they probably can lose a game before then and beat Clemson and still make the Playoff). If Clemson wins out and beats Notre Dame, they have to be in the Playoff as they can say their only loss was with their starting QB out because of COVID-19, on the road, in 3 OT, and they beat that team.

The Notre Dame Question: Who makes the Playoff?

The question would then turn to whether Notre Dame would get in. If Florida upsets Alabama, they and Alabama likely both get in and if you assume Alabama and Ohio State are in, Notre Dame would have to be out. Otherwise, Notre Dame would be competing with Texas A&M and Cincinnati (assuming they both win out). My thought is their win over Clemson was at home and if Trevor Lawrence played Notre Dame doesn't win that game. Notre Dame is #2 now but that's based on the season to date. If you assume they lose to Clemson, where do you put Notre Dame? Would that win over Clemson mean as much? If Clemson wins the rematch, they are clearly the better team in the ACC. Notre Dame isn't better than Alabama and if Ohio State's unbeaten OSU's better.


The Cincinnati Bearcats are currently #7 in the CFP rankings. It is quite reasonable, especially compared to BYU which is #14. But they are behind Texas A&M (#5) which will likely be favored in both of their remaining wins so even if Florida and Notre Dame or Clemson lose, Cincinnati will have to make a case to jump Texas A&M (or need Auburn to beat the Aggies).

Cincinnati plays at the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on December 12 and most likely will play them again in Cincinnati on December 19 in the AAC Championship Game. Tulsa is 5-1 with their only loss a non conference one to Oklahoma State. They are ranked #25 in the CFP while Oklahoma State is #23. Maybe Cincinnati gets somewhat of a jump if they beat Tulsa on the road. Hurting Cincinnati is the fact that the only currently ranked team they will have played would be Tulsa and it's possible Tulsa won't be ranked after losing to Cincinnati twice (and if Tulsa beats Cincinnati once, Cincinnati is out of Playoff consideration anyway).

New Year's Six:

The Big 12 and Pac-12 (or as I like to call them, the Pathetic 12) look to be out of Playoff consideration this season. No Big 12 team has fewer than two losses and the top Big 12 team in the CFP rankings is the #11 Oklahoma Sooners. SEC Shorts has already officially eliminated them. The Oregon Ducks are the top ranked team from the Pac-12 at #15 but lost to Oregon State. That leaves the USC Trojans (#18) as their best chances and my guess is that Oregon will knock USC out like they did Utah last year.

Both the Big 12 and Pathetic 12 would be assigned to their "home" bowls but the Sugar Bowl (Big 12) and Rose Bowl (Pac-12) are semifinal bowls so they will have to go to other bowls. If Cincinnati (or the highest ranked G5 team) doesn't make the Playoff, they will make a NY6 bowl. If the ACC runner up doesn't make it to the Playoff, they will go to the Orange Bowl.


Championship Games

Big Ten: Ohio State beats Northwestern

SEC: Alabama beats Florida

ACC: Clemson beats Notre Dame

AAC: Cincinnati beats Tulsa

Big 12: Oklahoma beats Iowa State

Pac-12: Oregon beats USC

College Football Playoff

Rose Bowl: Jan. 1, 5pm: #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Clemson

Sugar Bowl: Jan. 1, 8:30pm: #1 Alabama vs. #4 Notre Dame

Other NY6 Bowls:

Cotton Bowl: Dec. 30, 7:15pm: #5 Texas A&M vs. #7 Oklahoma

Peach Bowl: Jan. 1, 12:30pm: #6 Cincinnati vs. Georgia

Fiesta Bowl: Jan. 2, 4pm: Oregon vs. BYU

Orange Bowl: Jan. 2, 8pm: #8 Florida vs. Miami

The Orange Bowl should get the next highest ranked SEC team but I see the Committee switching Florida and Texas A&M so both bowl can have their home state teams.

Can another Big Ten team make a New Year's Six bowl? Indiana (#12) and Wisconsin (#16) play next Saturday in Madison and it's likely both teams will play again on Dec. 19 if both teams remain in 2nd place in their divisions unless the Big Ten tries to avoid rematches. The winner of the game would likely have to avoid a second loss. With limited fan attendance, "how well a team/school travels" won't be as big a factor this season. An undefeated BYU will certainly move up as other teams move down and will be hard to pass up.