Hello, college football/Big Ten fans!
You know it's a wacky season when I can't even make it one week before having to update my Playoff Projections.
First, my projected CFP Top 10 rankings come Tuesday.
1. Georgia Bulldogs (9-0), was #3.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0), was #2.
3. Michigan Wolverines (9-0), was #5.
4. TCU Horned Frogs (9-0), was #7.
5. Tennessee Volunteers (8-1), was #1 (Lost to Georgia)
7. Oregon Ducks (8-1), was #8 (Lost to Georgia in Atlanta)
8. USC Trojans (8-1). was #9 (Lost at Utah)
9. Ole Miss Rebels (8-1), was #10 (Lost at LSU)
10. UCLA Bruins (8-1), was #12 (Lost at Oregon)
The CFP Committee probably wishes the season ended this week. Picking the four teams would be really easy. Of course Ohio State and Michigan will have to play each other.
So how does this affect the Playoff Projections?
I'm going to go in backwards order this week in terms of conferences that have the least chance of making the Playoff to the most, starting with the G5's.
Only the AAC was featured in last week's CFP Rankings, the Tulane Green Wave at #19 and the UCF Knights at #25. They meet in New Orleans on Saturday. A Central Florida win puts them in the driver seat for the AAC regular season title and the right to host the AAC Championship Game which is a big advantage. The AAC Championship Game has been played on campus and in its seven year history only one team (Temple in 2016) has ever won the championship game on the road. If Tulane wins, they still have to travel to the Cincinnati Bearcats on Black Friday and in all likelihood the winner of that game hosts. Tulane is currently the only AAC conference team with one loss (Liberty is an independent and is ineligible for the G5 automatic spot in the New Year's Six bowls).
If Tulane loses to either UCF or Cincinnati, the AAC Champ will have at least two losses. Coastal Carolina from the Sun Belt Conference also has just one loss but still has to travel to James Madison. Assuming Tulane loses a game, I can see a one loss Coastal Carolina stealing the G5 bid over a two loss AAC champion but I have CC losing at James Madison. Because James Madison is ineligible for the Sun Belt Championship due to their FBS transitional period, Coastal Carolina is still likely to win the Sun Belt Championship but I have Cincinnati the AAC representative.
G5 representative: Cincinnati (11-2) over Tulane (10-3)
Who can figure out Notre Dame this year? They've lost AT HOME to Marshall, a team currently 5-4 and 2-3 in the Sun Belt and to Stanford, who is 3-6 and lost at home to WASHINGTON STATE 52-14. Yet they've beaten the two best teams in the ACC, the Clemson Tigers and the North Carolina Tar Heels (in Chapel Hill!) Both Clemson and North Carolina are 8-1 right now. Clemson didn't just lose yesterday, they lost 35-14.
There's almost no chance a one loss ACC Champion makes the Playoff. Notre Dame already has three losses and likely will be an underdog at USC (although they were an underdog vs. UNC and Clemson this year). If Ohio State loses to Michigan, they will be able to wave their win over Notre Dame over the ACC Champion and their loss likely will be to an undefeated Michigan. If USC wins the Pac 12 Championship and beats Notre Dame along the way, they will definitely have that in their back pocket. And the other questionable teams will have better losses.
The ACC currently has three other teams ranked in the CFP rankings, #20 Syracuse, #21 Wake Forest, and #22 NC State but Syracuse and Wake Forest both lost and likely will fall out of the next rankings. With LSU beating Alabama, Florida State at 6-3 now looks better, maybe they make the Top 25 this week. Florida State travels to upstate New York this Saturday.
I wouldn't call the ACC Championship a lock for Clemson anymore although I still think they will win just based on experience in big games.
ACC Championship Game Prediction: Clemson (12-1) over North Carolina (10-3) - I have them losing at Wake Forest
This is where it gets interesting. The CFP Committee currently has four teams ranked in the top 14 (Oregon #8, USC #9, UCLA #12, Utah Utes #14) so there's a decent amount of love for them. Oregon State is ranked #23 but lost so they will most likely fall out but 7-2 Washington Huskies might move in.
Nov. 19 is clearly "Judgment Day" for the Pac-12. Utah plays at Oregon and USC plays "at" UCLA (obviously the game will be in the Los Angeles area, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and unless UCLA fans buy all their tickets there should be plenty of USC fans there too). The Pac 12 has no "divisions" (the games were scheduled based on the old "North" and "South" divisions). You can basically say the Nov. 19 games are semifinal games to make the Pac 12 Championship Game in Las Vegas. Oregon hosts Washington but the game that would concern me if I was a Duck fan is the game in Corvallis. Oregon for the most part has dominated the series but Oregon State did win in 2016 and 2020.
If you are the Pac 12, you want a one loss team to win the conference championship and for TCU to lose a game. You do not want Utah to win the conference as they have two losses (one to Florida). If Oregon blows a game to Oregon State (or Washington), you don't want them to beat the USC/UCLA winner (and Oregon has beaten two teams, 2019 Utah and 2020 USC, who had reasonable Playoff chances).
The resumes of potential one loss Pac-12 champions:
- Oregon: Only loss to Georgia in Atlanta, Wins over UCLA, Utah, USC-UCLA winner
- USC: Only loss at Utah, Wins "at" UCLA, Oregon-Utah winner
- UCLA: Only loss at Oregon, Wins over UCLA, Utah, Oregon-Utah winner
USC or UCLA would prefer Oregon beat Utah and potentially beat an 11-1 team in the championship game rather than a 10-2 Utah team (would be 3 losses after USC or UCLA beat them). UCLA has the win over Utah in their back pocket, USC really hasn't beaten anyone good all year. If USC beats UCLA, Oregon could potentially beat all three of the top Pac 12 teams and certainly will have the "best" loss (although is a 49-3 loss a good loss?) Oregon probably is the Pac 12's best chance at the Playoff but that 49-3 loss is certainly going to be holding them back if they are in the discussion.
If it comes down to them vs. Tennessee, 27-13 doesn't look nearly as bad and Tennessee has a 40-13 win at LSU and a win over Alabama. If it comes down to Oregon or an 11-1 Michigan, that could be really interesting. But the most Pac 12 thing would be Oregon losing at Corvallis and then screwing over the USC/UCLA winner.
Pac 12 Championship Game Prediction: Oregon (12-1) over USC (11-2)
TCU continues to win. Clemson's and Alabama's upset losses probably don't help their Playoff chances that much, an undefeated TCU likely gets in and a one loss TCU, even if they win the Big 12, likely doesn't.
The other Big 12 results Saturday were not encouraging for TCU (and for the Big 12 rooting for TCU to make the Playoff). Both Texas and Baylor stole games yesterday, They are TCU's remaining road games and if both teams now have confidence either one of them could be the loss that spoils the Horned Frogs' unbeaten season and in all likelihood their Playoff chances. Right now no other Big 12 team has fewer than 3 losses, Kansas State and Oklahoma State will likely fall in the CFP rankings (Oklahoma State might not even make them). Texas's was especially bad for TCU since it knocked Kansas State out of sole possession of 2nd place in the Big 12.
TCU wants to play Kansas State (or Kansas since they are probably still somewhat in the Big 12 race) in Arlington to have "home field advantage" for the Big 12 Championship Game. The last team TCU wants to play there? Texas. My cousin graduated from UT and lives in the Dallas area. I'm pretty sure he won't go to the game but I'm sure there are tons of Texas alum in the Dallas area and even if they aren't it's not a far drive from Austin or maybe even San Antonio or Houston. Texas will likely sell out their allotment of tickets and I'll bet Texas has more alumni in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area than a small private school like TCU. If it was TCU vs. Baylor the Frogs wouldn't as likely be outnumbered but Baylor likely would have fans in Arlington. TCU wants to play Kansas State (or Kansas) there. The schedule now is not clearly in TCU's favor anymore. Kansas State has to travel to Baylor. Texas hosts Baylor (but has to go to Kansas).
If TCU can win at Texas and Baylor, the game that could mean everything to the Horned Frogs is Texas at Kansas on Nov. 19. If Kansas holds serve, Kansas State likely still makes it to Arlington. But if Texas steals the game (and they won in Manhattan yesterday), they are the favorite to go to Jerry World. TCU would love Kansas State to win in Waco over Baylor because that would knock Baylor down and keep KSU ahead of Texas. Of course if Texas beats TCU next Saturday, it's a moot point
Big 12 Championship Prediction: TCU (13-0) over Kansas State (9-4) (They lose at Baylor)
The Alabama loss changes a lot. The SEC was probably hoping for Alabama to do what they did last year, beat Georgia (or Tennessee) and have both Alabama and the SEC winner in the Playoff (they'd prefer it to be Georgia since they are the defending national champions). Now Alabama is for all practical purposes finished. LSU can still win the SEC but a two loss team has never made the Playoff and 2016 Penn State and 2017 Ohio State can certainly tell you it will never happen. LSU likely will be boxed out by Tennessee, who beat them 40-13 in Baton Rouge and LSU likely won't have a chance to beat them (they're more likely to play Georgia in the SEC Championship). The loss to Florida State (practically a home game) likely keeps them out.
Georgia beat Tennessee and becomes a heavy favorite to win the SEC East and with Alabama out of the way a heavier favorite to win the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Tennessee now will have to win out and hope their 11-1 is good enough vs. the other P5 champions (ACC, Big 12, and Pac 12) as well as the Big Ten runner up. Right now they have two big wins, LSU and Alabama, although Alabama is likely to take a tumble in the rankings. The ACC champion is practically done and Tennessee IMO measures well with Oregon (their games vs. Georgia will likely be a major point of discussion when comparing the two). They probably don't want LSU to upset Georgia but they still look better than LSU at this point. One thing that could be a little bit of an issue with UT is if Mississippi also beats Alabama and deflates that win. LSU has road games at Arkansas and Texas A&M but both teams lost at home yesterday.
SEC Championship Game Prediction: Georgia (13-0) vs. LSU (10-3)
Ohio State played a bad game and Michigan trailed Rutgers at halftime but both teams still won and at this stage it's still big. The Illinois Fighting Illini blew a home game to Michigan State which makes the game easier for Michigan but it also devalues their potential win. Maryland also lost at Wisconsin, a team Michigan didn't play so that loss hurts Michigan. It looks more like the winner of the Nov. 26 game in Columbus will be 13-0 and be a shoo win to the Playoff while the loser will be 11-1 and waiting for the phone to ring come "Selection Sunday", most likely hoping for teams to lose.
Michigan won the game last year but has only one three of the last 20 meetings and hasn't won in Columbus since 2000 so more than likely they will be the one most likely out. They were ranked #5 by the Committee last week behind Clemson which did raise some eyebrows and people talked about their weak non conference schedule (Colorado State, Hawaii, Connnecticut, although UConn has won five games this season). Their best win right now is Penn State and their hope is that PSU finishes 10-2. Illinois was another chance for Michigan to get a ranked win but they can't count on that anymore. It's going to be unlikely Michigan makes it over Tennessee if it came down to the two of them.
The interesting debate I see now would be if TCU loses and it comes down to Oregon vs. Michigan for #4 (assuming Georgia #1, Ohio State #2, Tennessee #3). Last week Provelt commented that they do give weight to P5 champions if they have the same number of losses and a P5 champion has never been kept out of the Playoff in favor of a non champion with fewer losses. The last time the Pac 12 champion had just one loss was 2016 and Washington did get in. On the other hand Ohio State, who didn't win the Big Ten, was ranked ahead of them.
If Michigan keeps it close in Columbus, that 49-3 will be hard to ignore and us at the Big Ten have been on the wrong side of a blowout loss before. In 2017, Ohio State's blowout loss to Iowa might have been a reason they got kept out (in addition to losing two games to one for Alabama). In 2018, OSU's blowout loss to Purdue could have done it. On the other hand, a blowout loss to a mediocre team is way different than a blowout loss to Georgia, a team that is likely going to go 13-0. But if TCU is undefeated, it's a moot point.
Big Ten Championship Game Prediction: Ohio State (13-0) over Illinois (9-4)
I'm picking TCU to win out so...
- Fiesta Bowl: #2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #3 TCU (13-0), Dec, 31, Early Game
- Peach Bowl: #1 Georgia (13-0) vs. #4 Tennessee (11-1), Dec. 31, Late Game
- New Year's Six:
- Rose Bowl: Michigan (11-1) vs. Oregon (12-1), Jan. 1, 5pm
- Sugar Bowl: LSU (10-3) vs. Texas (8-4), Jan. 1, 8:30pm
- Orange Bowl: Clemson (12-1) vs. Alabama (10-2), Dec. 30, 8pm (Who wouldn't want to see Clemson-Alabama?)
- Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati (11-2) vs. Penn State (10-2), Jan. 1, 1pm
I'll stick with Illinois and Mississippi in the Citrus Bowl and I now have Wisconsin vs. Kentucky in the ReliaQuest (formerly Outback) Bowl. But after yesterday, odds are these projections will look way different next Sunday.