Hello, college football/Big Ten fans!
Welcome to a brand new season of College Football Playoff projections here at Off Tackle Empire!
We are almost at the end of October, Halloween is tomorrow, and the first College Football Playoff rankings will be released on Tuesday.
First, we look at the Big Ten Conference standings being a Big Ten blog.
Over in the East, we have the usual suspects, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines at the top, both a perfect 8-0 this year. The Penn State Nittany Lions are at 6-2 with the losses to Michigan and Ohio State. Maryland is a surprising 6-2 with a loss to Michigan and Purdue. Michigan State is surprisingly in last place at 1-4 in the conference and 3-5 overall. They still play fellow basement dwellers Indiana and Rutgers at home so they likely won't stay at the bottom but will need to win at either Illinois or Penn State to become bowl eligible and Sparty is 0-3 away from home this year.
Speaking of the West, my alma mater Illinois Fighting Illini are leading the pack at 7-1 overall (damn Indiana loss!) with the Purdue Boilermakers the only other West Division team with two conference losses. The winner of their Nov. 12 game likely heads to Indianapolis.
It looks like both Michigan and Ohio State will be cruising to their Nov. 26 showdown in Columbus. Both of them have their toughest game before then the week before on Nov. 19. Michigan plays Illinois although the game will be in Ann Arbor. Ohio State has to travel to Maryland. I'm not sure Maryland is that good, they really don't have that many impressive wins this year, I'll know more after they travel to Wisconsin this week. Wisconsin has been a disappointment but has played better since they fired their coach and their blowout loss at home to Illinois doesn't look nearly as bad today as it did back when it happened.
Big Ten Championship Game Prediction: Ohio State (13-0) beats Illinois (10-3) - I just love the fact that I wrote Illinois in a Big Ten Championship Game.
We move over to the SEC. The biggest story of the year has to be the Tennessee Volunteers who are still undefeated and have the biggest win of the season over the Alabama Crimson Tide, 52-49. Also in the SEC are the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Tennessee travels to Georgia this Saturday in the Game of the Week between two of the six remaining undefeated FBS teams and the winner almost certainly will win the SEC East and advance to the SEC Championship Game. Alabama plays at the LSU Tigers and then the Ole Miss Rebels next week. LSU beat Mississippi already. If Alabama sweeps both road games, they should win the West. If LSU wins, they should be going to Atlanta. Mississippi has the advantage in that they didn't play Tennessee (both Alabama and LSU did) so if Mississippi beats Alabama and Alabama beats LSU the Rebels likely will win the SEC West as they will be the only team remaining with just one conference loss.
Alabama definitely has no margin for error. A two loss team has never made the CFP before, a loss to LSU or Mississippi likely eliminates them from the SEC West, and they can't afford to lose the SEC Championship and expect to make it as a two loss "wild card" game, especially if Georgia wins the SEC and they can't get in over Tennessee. But if they win the SEC, they will jump to the front of the SEC pack when it comes to CFP candidates since Georgia and Tennessee can't both finish undefeated and Alabama will defeat the other and we all saw that exact scenario happened last year. The difference now is Georgia beat Alabama in the national championship in January and should be ready for them.
SEC Championship Game Prediction: Georgia (13-0) over Alabama (11-2)
We move over to the ACC. After last year's down year the Clemson Tigers are back and currently undefeated. In conference, they only have two games left, both at home (Louisville and Miami). Louisville had a huge win yesterday in stomping over Wake Forest, who was ranked in the top ten coming into the game. Miami has struggled throughout the year. They also have two non conference games left, at Notre Dame and home vs. South Carolina. Notre Dame has lost home games to Stanford (3-5) and Marshall but won at Syracuse (6-2) and North Carolina (7-1) this year. South Carolina won at Kentucky but lost at home to Missouri.
Clemson's likely opponent in the ACC Championship Game will be the North Carolina Tar Heels who are unbeaten in conference play and have beaten the only teams in the ACC Coastal Division with two or fewer conference losses, Duke and Miami. The ACC Championship Game is in Charlotte which means UNC will likely have fans there and Clemson might not have as big a home crowd as they usually do. The ACC seems rather weak this year so I don't think a one loss Clemson or North Carolina can make the Playoff. Losing to a three loss Notre Dame isn't going to be impressive compared to Michigan or Ohio State losing to the other or Tennessee or Georgia losing to the other.
ACC Championship Game Prediction: Clemson (13-0) over North Carolina (11-2)
On to the Big 12. The usual suspect, Oklahoma, has lost three games, including one 49-0 to Texas, who also has three losses. Last year's Big 12 champion Baylor is just 5-3 and the runner up Oklahoma State lost 48-0 yesterday. The surprise of the year is the TCU Horned Frogs, by far the most improbable undefeated team left. TCU still has two road games at Texas and Baylor, two teams that have disappointed so far. In second place in the Big 12 right now is the Kansas State Wildcats and if yesterday is any indication (48-0 over Oklahoma State), they have a good chance of finishing in second place. Next Saturday's game in Manhattan will go a long way to determine second place. Baylor still hosts Kansas State and TCU (and travels to Texas) so if they get their act together they can still make it to Arlington. But they already lost this year at home to Ok State and were the only team to lose in conference to West Virginia.
It's going to be a tough road for TCU but everything seems to be going their way and they can't ask for a Big 12 Championship Game in the Dallas area in their backyards vs. Kansas State, a team almost 500 miles away, so it will basically be a home game for them. TCU probably can't afford to lose a game and still make the Playoff even if they win the conference and everyone else in the conference has at least two losses.
Big 12 Championship Game Prediction: TCU (13-0) over Kansas State (10-3)
We go to the Pac-12. Everyone in the conference has at least one loss. Unlike the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC, the Pac 12 isn't recognizing divisions, the top two teams will play in the conference championship game. They still used the divisions for scheduling and the Big Ten and SEC can use that model for their conference championship games in 2023 if they wish.
The Oregon Ducks lost 49-3 to Georgia the first week of the season but haven't lost since. The UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans, both future Big Ten members, have only lost once, UCLA at Oregon and USC to the Utah Utes. Utah travels to Oregon and USC plays "at" UCLA (the Rose Bowl). The winners likely will play in the Pac 12 Championship in Las Vegas. It will be hard for the Pac 12 Champion to make the Playoff. They definitely don't want Oregon to win the Pac 12 and Georgia to not win the SEC since they would then be compared head to head. Even if Georgia wins the SEC, the Tennessee-Georgia and Oregon-Georgia scores could be compared so if Tennessee is anywhere close Oregon won't have a prayer (and UT has a win over Alabama).
Pac 12 Championship Game Prediction: Oregon (12-1) over USC (11-2)
The AAC and G5's are a mess. Only Tulane and Coastal Carolina still have only one loss and both have at least one tough road game left.
If my projections are accurate, it will be really easy to pick the four teams as there will be four undefeated teams remaining.
Peach Bowl: Dec. 31, Early Game: #4 TCU vs. #1 Georgia
Fiesta Bowl: Dec. 31, Late Game: #3 Clemson vs. #2 Ohio State
Assuming Tennessee and Michigan lose, they are hoping for Clemson and/or TCU to lose. If one of them lose, I have to say Tennessee would have the stronger chance to make the Playoff. The CFP Committee usually has been biased towards the SEC and against the Big Ten in the past (2017?) and this year Tennessee has a win over Alabama while Michigan's best win would be over Penn State (or Illinois). If Tennessee beats Georgia and it's Georgia vs. Michigan, Georgia will have the win over Oregon (49-3), if Oregon wins the Pac-12 that really helps Georgia's resume.
If both Clemson and TCU lose, I would expect it to be two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams. I don't think any one loss ACC, Big 12, or Pac 12 teams can get in over them unless there are more unexpected losses along the way.
Over in New Year's Six Bowls,
Oregon goes to the Rose Bowl as the Pac 12 champion and Michigan goes to replace Ohio State.
The Sugar Bowl needs to replace both Georgia and TCU and takes Tennessee and Kansas State.
The Orange Bowl takes North Carolina to replace Clemson. They can take an SEC or Big Ten team so it would be Alabama or Penn State so I'll say Alabama.
The Cotton Bowl has to take the G5 representative. I currently have it as AAC champion Cincinnati. I have them playing Penn State.
New Year's Six Bowls:
Dec. 30: Orange Bowl: North Carolina vs. Alabama
Jan. 1: Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Penn State
Jan. 1: Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. Oregon
Jan. 1: Sugar Bowl: Tennessee vs. Kansas State
In remaining bowls, I have Illinois and Mississippi in the Citrus Bowl and Purdue vs. Kentucky in the ReliaQuest (formerly Outback) Bowl.