Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: TCU leaps into CFP picture
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Brett McMurphy has been a college football reporter for nearly 30 years. He is a longtime voter in the Associated Press poll as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. Find him on Twitter @brett_mcmurphy.

A few days ago I received a text message from a bowl executive asking if I could include their bowl sponsor's name in my "coveted bowl projections."

Coveted? Flattery - and swag - will get you everywhere. So I will mention that bowl's sponsor, but with a catch. What if each current bowl sponsor decided to pitch in and sponsor a bowl together?

Say hello to the "Allstate-Autonation-Autozone-Bad Boy Mowers-Belk-Buffalo-Wild Wings-Camping World-Capital One-Chick-fil-A-Dollar General-Famous Idaho-Foster Farms-Franklin American Mortgage-Gildan-Goodyear-Hyundai-Lockheed Martin-New Era-Nova Home Loans-Outback-PlayStation-R&L Carriers-Raycom Media-San Diego County Credit Union-TaxSlayer-Valero-Walk-On's-Zaxby's Bowl presented by AT&T, Northrop Gruman, and Northwestern Mutual."

While I wait for an influx of bowl gifts, let's not delay this week's projections. And, as a reminder, these are what I predict the bowl pairings will be when they're officially announced Dec. 3 - and not what they'd be if the season ended today.

(Teams that have accepted bowl invitations are listed in bold type.)

College Football Playoff

Championship Bowl (Atlanta) Jan. 8 CFP semifinal winners

Projection: Alabama vs. TCU

Alabama continues to roll over everything in sight. Until Nick Saban announces his retirement or Bama's first and second teams are ruled ineligible, the Crimson Tide remain my pick to reach the national title game.

TCU's defense is one of the best around. It forced four turnovers at Oklahoma State and held Kansas to 21 yards of total offense. Twenty-one was also the number of viewers that tuned in Saturday to watch the TCU-KU carnage.


Rose Bowl (Pasadena) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

Projection: Clemson (CFP No. 2) vs. TCU (CFP No. 3)

Since these are my bowl projections for December, I believe Clemson finishes 12-1 and as ACC champions. That secures the Tigers a spot in the College Football Playoff. Their biggest remaining tests are at NC State in two weeks and the regular season finale at surprising South Carolina - plus a likely matchup with Miami in the ACC title game.

TCU is my projected Big 12 champion. I think TCU loses at Oklahoma but wins the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State.

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

Projection: Alabama (CFP No. 1) vs. Ohio State (CFP No. 4)

Alabama is headed for another 13-0 record and SEC championship. As impressive as Penn State was last week, this week I like Ohio State to upend the Nittany Lions and finish as the Big Ten champions. A 12-1 Big Ten champ Buckeyes team makes the playoff field as a four-seed.

New Year's Six bowls

Peach Bowl (Atlanta) Jan. 1 at-large vs. Group of 5*

Projection: Wisconsin vs. UCF

This week's tomato can for Wisconsin is Illinois. Of the Badgers' opening seven wins, only two came against teams that are above .500 - FAU (4-3) and Northwestern (4-3). The Badgers will finish the regular season 12-0 before losing the Big Ten title game to Ohio State.

UCF is off to its best start in school history. The Knights and USF appear on a Nov. 24 collision course, with the winner emerging as the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion - as long as it wins the AAC title the following week.

Fiesta Bowl (Glendale) Dec. 30 at-large vs. at-large

Projection: Penn State vs. Stanford

Penn State got its revenge against Michigan last week and Saquon Barkley re-established himself as the Heisman Trophy favorite in the process. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Barkley is the 4-7 favorite, followed by Stanford's Bryce Love at 2-1.

I'm projecting Penn State to go 11-1, but that one loss - this week at Ohio State - keeps the Nittany Lions out of the CFP. Instead, they'll be paired against the Pac-12 champions, who miss the playoffs with two losses. As far as non-playoff bowls, Barkley and Love on the same field would be a treat.

Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens) Dec. 30 ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND

Projection: Miami vs. Georgia

As long as there are at least three Power 5 conference champions with one loss or fewer, I don't see 12-1 Georgia (with its only loss to Alabama in the SEC title game) getting in the playoff. Under that scenario, I think Georgia finishes ranked No. 5 by the committee, which automatically earns the Bulldogs an Orange Bowl berth against an ACC opponent.

That would be Miami - the highest-ranked available ACC team after ACC champ Clemson returns to the playoff to defend its national championship.

Cotton Bowl (Arlington) Dec. 29 at-large vs. at-large

Projection: Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame throttled USC in a historic beatdown and is very much in contention for a playoff berth. The problem is the Irish must run the table to get to 11-1, and with games still remaining versus NC State Saturday and next month at Miami and Stanford, I see at least one loss. That still will be enough for Notre Dame to earn its second New Year's Six bowl appearance.

Oklahoma State can earn a New Year's Six bid after losing in the Big 12 title game and finishing 11-2.

Other bowls

Citrus Bowl (Orlando) Jan. 1 ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC

Projection: Michigan State vs. Auburn

Another year, another 1,000-yard Auburn running back. The Tigers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last eight seasons, which is tied with Boise State for the nation's longest streak. Kerryon Johnson is on his way to making it nine straight years. Despite missing two games, Johnson has 723 yards for the season, needing only 277 with five games left.

Outback Bowl (Tampa) Jan. 1 Big Ten vs. SEC

Projection: Michigan vs. LSU

Michigan CB Lavert Hill responded to the Wolverines' 42-13 loss at Penn State by extending his middle finger to the Nittany Lions' crowd. We're guessing he was only responding to the question: How many wins does Jim Harbaugh have in five games versus rivals Ohio State and Michigan State?

This week, it's a Big Ten showdown for Michigan. A battle of 2-2 teams tied for fourth in the Big Ten East: Michigan and, oh, what the ... Rutgers?

Liberty Bowl (Memphis) Dec. 30 Big 12 vs. SEC

Projection: Texas vs. Florida

Former Florida quarterback Will Grier, now at West Virginia, threw five touchdowns last week against Baylor. That's the same number of TD passes Florida's entire team has thrown this year. That's not good for the Gators, who meet Georgia in Jacksonville at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville) Dec. 30 ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC

Projection: Purdue vs. South Carolina

South Carolina (5-2) should earn bowl eligibility this week against Vanderbilt. Purdue (3-4) needs to take care of business at home the next two weeks vs. Nebraska and Illinois to improve its position to go bowling in Jeff Brohm's first season at the helm.

Arizona Bowl (Tucson) Dec. 29 MWC vs. Sun Belt

Projection: San Diego State vs. New Mexico State

San Diego State has fallen and can't get back up. The same team that defeated Stanford and Arizona State in September was dominated in consecutive October losses to Boise State and Fresno State.

Belk Bowl (Charlotte) Dec. 29 ACC vs. SEC

Projection: Georgia Tech vs. Texas A&M

Because of Hurricane Irma and Georgia Tech's canceled game at UCF, Saturday marks only the Yellow Jackets' third game away from home when they visit Clemson. Tech is hoping for better road fortunes than the previous two away trips: last-second losses to Tennessee (42-41 in OT) and Miami (25-24).

Music City Bowl (Nashville) Dec. 29 ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC

Projection: Virginia vs. Kentucky

Kentucky hosts Tennessee on Saturday as coach Mark Stoops looks for his first win vs. the Vols. Both Stoops and Butch Jones took their respective jobs in 2013. In SEC play, Stoops is only 10-26, after starting 2-14, while Jones is 14-22. Despite a four-game difference between the coaches, the respective fan bases would claim the programs are trending in different directions.

Sun Bowl (El Paso) Dec. 29 ACC vs. Pac-12

Projection: Louisville vs. Arizona State

Hello, Arizona State. It took a while but we're finally believers in the Sun Devils. Todd Graham entered the season on the hot seat, but the only heat coming from Tempe is the red-hot Sun Devils. ASU's defense has suffocated Washington and Utah in consecutive wins, allowing a total of 17 points. In past years, the Sun Devils would allow 17 points in a quarter.

ASU can prove it's a legit contender for the Pac-12 title when USC visits Saturday.

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) Dec. 28 Big 12 vs. Pac-12

Projection: Oklahoma vs. Washington

Will the real Oklahoma please stand up? The Sooners were dominant in a 31-16 win at Ohio State back on Sept. 9. But in Big 12 play, all four Sooner games were down-to-the-wire: wins by eight points or less vs. Baylor, Texas, and Kansas State, and a seven-point home loss to Iowa State. The Sooners should have an easier time Saturday against Texas Tech.

Camping World Bowl (Orlando) Dec. 28 ACC vs. Big 12

Projection: NC State vs. West Virginia

West Virginia hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday in a game pitting Mike Gundy against Dana Holgorsen, who was Gundy's offensive coordinator at OSU in 2010. Besides having similar offensive philosophies, the two coaches share the same musical tastes. They each told me their favorite artist is Prince.

Holiday Bowl (San Diego) Dec. 28 Big Ten vs. Pac-12

Projection: Northwestern vs. Washington State

After losing at Cal two weeks ago, Washington State coach Mike Leach called his team "a bunch of pathetic front-runners." After blanking Colorado 28-0, Leach was asked about his assessment of the Cougars. "We were less pathetic," he said.

The Cougars' run defense better not be anything close to pathetic Saturday at Arizona, or Wildcats QB Khalil Tate will run over Wazzu's Pac-12 title hopes.

Military Bowl (Annapolis) Dec. 28 ACC vs. American

Projection: Syracuse vs. Navy

Navy suffered a second consecutive loss Saturday, falling to UCF. But there was one bright spot: a third-quarter head injury to QB Zach Abey doesn't appear long term. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Abey should return for Navy's next game Nov. 2 at Temple. Abey is the nation's second-leading rusher (1,142 yards) and fourth in points per game (11.1).

Foster Farms Bowl (Santa Clara) Dec. 27 Big Ten vs. Pac-12

Projection: Iowa vs. USC

USC - or what's left of USC after Notre Dame ran over and through the Trojans - visits Arizona State on Saturday in a matchup for first place in the Pac-12 South. USC hasn't fared well away from home, holding off Cal 30-20 (thanks to six Cal turnovers) and losing at Washington State and Notre Dame.

Independence Bowl (Shreveport) Dec. 27 ACC vs. SEC

Projection: Boston College vs. Southern Miss**

Hello, Boston College. The Eagles are in my bowl projections for the first time this season after consecutive road upsets at Louisville and Virginia got BC back to .500 for the first time since Week 2. A big reason is the emergence of running back A.J. Dillon. He's had 361 yards rushing in his last two games compared with 333 yards in his first six games.

The Eagles host Florida State Friday in a game with huge bowl implications for both teams.

Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx) Dec. 27 ACC vs. Big Ten

Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Minnesota

Virginia Tech hosts Duke on Saturday, and while oddsmakers are expecting a lopsided contest - the Hokies are a 16-point favorite - history suggests otherwise. Based on the last four meetings, it will be a lot tighter. The road team has won the past four contests and each has been decided by three points or less, including one game decided in four OTs.

Texas Bowl (Houston) Dec. 27 Big 12 vs. SEC

Projection: Iowa State vs. Mississippi State

Don't look now, but Iowa State controls its own destiny in the Big 12 race. If the Cyclones win out, they'll be in the Big 12 title game. ISU is ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since 2005, and the success under second-year coach Matt Campbell has some TV analysts suggesting he's "gone" after the season for a better Power 5 job.

If he does leave, it won't come cheap: Campbell has a $9.4-million buyout.

Cactus Bowl (Phoenix) Dec. 26 Big 12 vs. Pac-12

Projection: Texas Tech vs. Oregon

QB Justin Herbert can't return soon enough for Oregon. Before he suffered a broken collarbone on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, the Ducks led the nation, averaging 49 points a game. They've scored a total of 31 points in three games without Herbert - all losses.

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas) Dec. 26 Big Ten vs. Big 12

Projection: Indiana vs. Kansas State

Expect Kansas State to take out its frustrations from its current three-game losing streak on state rival Kansas this Saturday. Coach Bill Snyder is 21-4 all time against the Jayhawks and hasn't lost to KU since returning to K-State in 2009.

Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit) Dec. 26 ACC vs. Big Ten

Projection: Florida State vs. Utah**

Florida State is 2-4, with three of the Seminoles' losses to teams currently ranked: No. 1 Alabama, No. 8 Miami, and No. 14 NC State. Still, the fan base is frustrated, as is coach Jimbo Fisher. Following Saturday's home loss to Louisville, an FSU fan yelled at Fisher that he needed new coaches, and Fisher yelled back: "Walk you're a-- down here and say it."

FSU needs wins in four of its final five games, or the Seminoles' streak of 35 consecutive bowls will end.

Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu) Dec. 24 American vs. MWC

Projection: Memphis vs. Boise State

Since losing at home to Virginia, Boise State has mowed down its last three opponents: BYU, San Diego State, and Wyoming. The Broncos and Colorado State appear headed for a showdown in Fort Collins on Nov. 11, with the winner representing the Mountain West's Mountain Division in the MWC title game.

Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth) Dec. 23 C-USA vs. Army

Projection: UTSA vs. Army

One bowl bid down, 77 to go. Army became the first team to officially receive its bowl bid after beating Temple on Saturday. The Black Knights are the nation's only school that has a guaranteed bid to a specific bowl - well, other than Alabama to the College Football Playoff.

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham) Dec. 23 American vs. SEC

Projection: USF vs. Tennessee

In the last 210 minutes and 25 seconds of game time, dating back to the second quarter vs. UMass on Sept. 23, Tennessee has more defensive TDs (one) and middle fingers extended skyward (two by Rashaan Gaulden) than offensive TDs (zero).

Dollar General Bowl (Mobile) Dec. 23 MAC vs. Sun Belt

Projection: Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Appalachian State gets a break from Sun Belt play Saturday when it visits UMass. The Mountaineers appear the class of the Sun Belt and should have no trouble with the Minutemen, who picked up their first win of the year last week against winless Georgia Southern.

Bahamas Bowl (Nassau) Dec. 22 C-USA vs. MAC

Projection: FIU vs. Ohio

In only six games, new FIU coach Butch Davis already has more wins in a season than all but five of the Panthers' previous 16 teams. FIU faces its toughest Conference USA test Saturday at East Division leader Marshall.

Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise) Dec. 22 MAC vs. MWC

Projection: Western Michigan vs. Fresno State

Fresno State's Jeff Tedford isn't only the favorite for the Mountain West Coach of the Year honors, but he could challenge for the national award as well. In his first year at his alma mater, Tedford has guided the Bulldogs to five wins (they were 4-20 in the past two seasons), with the only losses to Alabama and Washington.

Gasparilla Bowl (St. Petersburg) Dec. 21 American vs. C-USA

Projection: Duke** vs. Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic scored on its first 11 drives and rolled up a Conference USA record 804 yards against North Texas last week. The Owls averaged 9.7 yards per play. However, there was something much more impressive: the dance moves displayed by Monte Kiffin, Lane's 77-year old father, in a boisterous locker room afterward.

Frisco Bowl (Frisco) Dec. 20 American vs. MAC/MWC

Projection: SMU vs. Central Michigan

SMU WR Trey Quinn is having one of the best seasons no one knows about. Quinn, an LSU transfer, has had at least 15 receptions in three consecutive games - the only player to do that in 17 years. In last week's win at Cincinnati, Quinn had 17 catches for 186 yards, including a 28-yard reception on fourth-and-26 in overtime.

Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton) Dec. 19 American vs. C-USA

Projection: Houston vs. Marshall

Houston has allowed seven points in the first half of its last two games, but 80 points after halftime in losses to Tulsa and Memphis. And then there's this quote from Houston president Renu Khator from last year. She told her staff and faculty at her holiday party: "The winning is defined at the University of Houston at 10 and two," she said. "We'll fire coaches at eight and four."

Houston is 4-3 and soon to be 4-4 after visiting undefeated USF on Saturday.

Camellia Bowl (Montgomery) Dec. 16 MAC vs. Sun Belt

Projection: Northern Illinois vs. Troy

Northern Illinois won at Bowling Green last Saturday. Why's that significant? Because it was the Huskies' last Saturday game this season. Starting on Thursday vs. Eastern Michigan, NIU's final five games will be played on weekdays. The Huskies will finish with three Thursday games, one on Wednesday, and one on Friday. In fact, the entire MAC won't play any games Saturday in the month of November.

Cure Bowl (Orlando) Dec. 16 American vs. Sun Belt

Projection: UAB** vs. South Alabama

You can say this about UAB's return to football after a two-year absence: It certainly hasn't been boring. The Blazers' last four games have been decided by a total of seven points (a three-point loss at North Texas, a one-point win vs. Middle Tennessee, a two-point win vs. Louisiana Tech, and a one-point loss at Charlotte).

Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas) Dec. 16 MWC vs. Pac-12

Projection: Colorado State vs. Arizona

Arizona QB Khalil Tate was named the Pac-12's offensive player of the week for the third week in a row. The last player to do that was USC QB Rodney Peete in 1988, when he finished second in Heisman voting. In Tate's last nine quarters, he has 668 yards rushing on only 35 carries (19 yards per carry) and seven TDs.

New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque) Dec. 16 C-USA vs. MWC

Projection: North Texas vs. Wyoming

Wyoming QB Josh Allen, the ballyhooed NFL draft prospect, may end up having a long and successful pro career, but this season has been a disappointment. He's only averaging 174 yards passing a game and has eight touchdowns to go with six interceptions. His best two games were against outmanned Gardner-Webb and Texas State.

New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans) Dec. 16 C-USA vs. Sun Belt

Projection: Western Kentucky vs. Arkansas State

I saved the best for last.

Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson recently visited an elementary school in Jonesboro, Ark., to speak with a second-grade class. He noticed the entire classroom was covered with Arkansas Razorback pictures. "It would be nice to have a couple of (Arkansas State) Red Wolf logos around here," Anderson told the teacher.

She said she was sorry. "I'm a Razorback. The whole class is Razorbacks." She then asked the class, "Everybody in the class that is a Razorback, raise your hand." Everyone but one girl, Jenny, raised their hands. Jenny said, "I'm a Red Wolf." The teacher asked, "Jenny, why are you a Red Wolf?"

Jenny said her mom and dad were Red Wolves. The teacher said you don't have to be exactly what your parents are. "What if both your parents were losers?" the teacher asked. "Well," Jenny said, "then I'd be a Razorback."

*The highest-rated champion from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) will be selected to play in either the Cotton, Fiesta, or Peach Bowl. If Army is bowl-eligible, it must play in the Armed Forces Bowl.

**Replaces team from league that can't fill bowl.

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(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: TCU leaps into CFP picture
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