Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: Alabama has a new dance partner

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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.

Tuesday is a very special day around the country. Especially in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where every year folks celebrate this significant day by dressing up in weird costumes and throwing parties across the state.

Yes, that's right: Tuesday is Nick Saban's 66th birthday.

While those outside of Alabama might think of Oct. 31 as Halloween, Saban has been frightening for the rest of the SEC. With Jim McElwain's firing on Sunday, there have been 24 head coaching changes since Saban arrived at Alabama.

In his 22 years as a college head coach at Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04) and Alabama (since 2007), Saban has lost only 61 games.

Of the coaches that have defeated Saban, only eight are still active. Who are the eight? Well, that's why I'm here. All eight are coaching teams I am projecting to go to bowl games this season, so keep reading.

Happy Birthday, Nick - or Happy Halloween, whichever you prefer.

(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. Ohio State

Alabama remains as one of my projected national title contenders, although I wouldn't be surprised if the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday. I'll project Ohio State to reach the title game - which would be a rematch of their semifinal in the first year of the College Football Playoff.


Rose Bowl (Pasadena) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

Projection: Clemson (CFP No. 2) vs. Ohio State (CFP No. 3)

These are probably the easiest two active coaches to name that have wins over Nick Saban. Clemson's Dabo Swinney in last year's national title game (35-31) and Ohio State's Urban Meyer, who is one of two active coaches with multiples wins versus Saban. Meyer defeated Saban in 2008 (31-20), when Meyer was at Florida, and in the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinal (42-35) when he was at Ohio State.

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

Projection: Alabama (CFP No. 1) vs. Georgia (CFP No. 4)

Yes, this would be a rematch of the SEC title game, but it's fairly simple: if Georgia finishes 12-1 with its only loss in the SEC championship to Alabama, the Bulldogs will get a playoff berth if there are multiple two-loss Power 5 champions. Also, the selection committee will not manipulate the top four rankings to avoid a rematch between any teams, so we likely could see an SEC title game rematch in New Orleans.

New Year's Six bowls

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

Projection: Oklahoma State vs. UCF

UCF is having a dream season. The Knights are the only undefeated Group of 5 team and the favorite to earn the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl bid. That's the good news. The bad? Scott Frost's days are numbered in Orlando. The UCF coach is one of the hottest commodities around and look for Florida and Nebraska to wrestle for the services of the former Huskers great.

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

Projection: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

If there was ever an indication how much running back Bryce Love meant to Stanford, just look at last week's 15-14 win at Oregon State. Actually don't, it might make you sick. Love did not play because of injury and the Cardinal managed only 222 yards of total offense. By comparison, Love is averaging 198 yards rushing a game.

Can the Cardinal win the Pac-12 without Love? No way, but he's back for the Cardinal as they close with consecutive games versus Washington State, Washington, and Cal.

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

Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Penn State

Virginia Tech jumps up in my projections as the ACC's second-best team ahead of undefeated Miami and behind only Clemson. The Hokies can prove me right on Saturday when they visit Miami, which may be unbeaten, but has not been particularly impressive to this point. This will mark the first matchup of top 15 teams involving Virginia Tech since 2005, also against Miami.

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

Projection: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Notre Dame's playoff chances are very simple: Win out against Wake Forest, Miami, Navy, and Stanford and the Irish are in. Lose one of those four and they're out. I'm projecting the Cotton Bowl for Notre Dame. The Irish, led by running back Josh Adams, will be a tough out. Notre Dame has won six consecutive games by 20 or more points for the first time since 1966.

Other bowls

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

Projection: Miami vs. Auburn

This projected bowl matchup gives us our third and fourth active coaches with wins versus Saban. Miami's Mark Richt joins Urban Meyer as the only active coach with two wins versus Saban. Richt got those wins when he was at Georgia (45-16 in 2004) when Saban was at LSU and 26-23 in 2007, Saban's first year at Alabama.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn picked up his lone win (34-28 in 2013) versus Saban in the infamous Kick-6 game at Auburn, the site of this year's Iron Bowl on Nov. 25.

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

Projection: Michigan vs. LSU

Congrats to Michigan. The Wolverines defeated Rutgers Saturday to take a strangle-hold on fourth place in the Big Ten's East Division. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Brandon Peters would "likely" start at quarterback against Minnesota this week. Against Rutgers, Peters, a redshirt freshman, replaced John O'Korn when the senior was ineffective.

LSU, meanwhile, plays its annual bloodbath versus Alabama on Saturday night. LSU coach Ed Orgeron bids for his first win against Saban. Good luck, O.

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

Projection: Texas vs. Texas A&M

The fifth of the eight active coaches with a victory versus Nick Saban is Kevin Sumlin. The Texas A&M coach, with the help of Johnny Manziel, upset the Crimson Tide 29-24 in Tuscaloosa in 2012. This projected bowl matchup between the Aggies and Texas would be a dream for bowl organizers and both fan bases. The two rivals have not played since their annual series ended in 2011.

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

Projection: Purdue vs. South Carolina

South Carolina's Will Muschamp is quietly putting together one of the best coaching jobs in the nation. The Gamecocks (6-2) have already matched last year's win total and are guaranteed a second consecutive bowl under Muschamp. In his second year at South Carolina, Muschamp is 12-7, compared to a 10-13 record in his final two seasons at Florida.

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

Projection: San Diego State vs. New Mexico State

Usually teams struggle away from home, but not San Diego State. The Aztecs visit San Jose State Saturday, having won five consecutive road games, tied for the nation's fourth-longest streak. Since Oct. 10, 2015, San Diego State has a national-best 13 road victories. Last week at Hawaii, running back Rashaad Penny rushed for a career-high 253 yards.

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

Projection: Wake Forest vs. Kentucky

Wake Forest picked up a huge win against Louisville last week, but it was a costly victory. The Demon Deacons lost wide receiver Greg Dortch to a season-ending abdominal injury, which required surgery. Against Louisville, Dortch had a school-record four TD catches.

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

Projection: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State

Mississippi State clinched its eighth consecutive bowl trip with last week's victory at Texas A&M. All eight have come under Coach Dan Mullen, who just continues to win in StarkVegas. The question is for how long? Scott Stricklin, Mullen's former athletic director at Mississippi State, is now at Florida, where Mullen is expected to be a top candidate to replace Jim McElwain.

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

Projection: Louisville vs. Washington State

Washington State's playoff chances officially incinerated after the Cougars were literally run over at Arizona. Washington State coach Mike Leach, who benched Luke Falk in the first half of the loss against Arizona, said Falk will remain WSU's starter versus Stanford on Saturday. Falk is only 136 yards shy of becoming the Pac-12's all-time leader in passing yards.

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

Projection: TCU vs. Washington

TCU's playoff chances are still alive, but took a huge hit after last week's loss at Iowa State. There's no way a two-loss Big 12 team will sniff the top four, so TCU would have to win out. I think the Horned Frogs will lose in the next two weeks against either Texas or at Oklahoma.

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

Projection: NC State vs. Iowa State

How big was Iowa State's upset of TCU on Saturday? The only Taco Bell in Ames, Iowa, ran out of food: seriously. The fast-food joint said it ran out of lettuce, Doritos locos tacos, queso, beans, Baja tacos, and Mountain Dew. That is some serious partying. Taco Bell has two weeks to stock up for the Cyclones' next giant-slaying/munchies run when Oklahoma State comes to town on Nov. 11.

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

Projection: Northwestern vs. Arizona

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate started the season on the bench. Two months later, he's starting to rewrite the record books. On Monday, Tate was named the Pac-12's offensive player of the week - for a fourth consecutive week. It's something that's never been accomplished, and even more impressive considering it was also just his fourth start of the year - coinciding with Arizona’s four-game winning streak.

In his four starts, he has rushed for 840 yards, averaging 14.2 yards per carry – 14 YARDS PER CARRY! – and has thrown for 743 yards, accounting for 14 TDs. Next up for Tate: a visit to LaLa Land versus USC.

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

Projection: Syracuse vs. Navy

Syracuse hosts reeling Florida State on Saturday, with the Orange only two wins shy of bowl eligibility. The Orange have been on a roller-coaster ride this season, after an early loss to Middle Tennessee and then the upset of No. 2 Clemson two weeks ago. After Florida State, Syracuse closes with Wake Forest, Louisville, and Boston College. Syracuse could easily will all four – or lose all four. Stay tuned.

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

Projection: Iowa vs. USC

We finally reach the sixth current active coach with a win over Nick Saban: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. After Bob Stoops retired before the season, Ferentz is the nation's longest-tenured coach. Ferentz got his victory (30-25) against Saban, then at LSU, in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

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

Projection: Duke vs. Southern Miss**

Duke's David Cutcliffe is the seventh active coach with a victory against Nick Saban. Cutcliffe picked up his win (35-24 in 2001) against Saban when he was coaching Ole Miss and Saban was at LSU.

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

Projection: Boston College vs. Michigan State

Break up Boston College. The Eagles have reeled off three consecutive wins – just as Coach Steve Addazio predicted – to zoom up the ACC bowl pecking order. Since trailing at Louisville 21-7, BC has outscored UL, Virginia, and Florida State by a 114-34 margin. Boston College has scored 35 or more points in three consecutive games for the first time since 2002. BC is off this week, before hosting NC State.

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

Projection: West Virginia vs. Missouri

Hello, Missouri. The Tigers enter my bowl projections for the first time this season. Missouri (3-5) is only halfway to bowl eligibility, but the offense has come to life in a big way. In its three wins against Missouri State, Idaho, and UConn, the Tigers have scored 72, 68, and 52 points.

Mizzou has to win three of its final four games against Florida, Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, and at Arkansas to get bowl eligible. But with three of those four games against teams with likely coaching changes, the Tigers could take advantage.

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

Projection: Kansas State vs. Arizona State

So much for Arizona State's defensive renaissance. After limiting Washington and Utah to only 17 points in consecutive wins, the Sun Devils' defense melted down in last week's 48-17 loss to USC. Arizona State (4-4) now needs to split its final four games versus Colorado, UCLA, Oregon State, and Arizona to avoid missing a bowl game for a second consecutive season under Coach Todd Graham.

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

Projection: Air Force** vs. North Texas**

Air Force has shaken off a 1-4 start, to reel off three consecutive wins. During the current winning streak, the Falcons' option attack has been nearly unstoppable. Air Force has rolled up 34, 45, and 45 points in wins versus UNLV, Nevada, and Colorado State and totaled 96 first downs. In that span, the Falcons have been forced to punt only four times.

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

Projection: Utah** vs. Indiana

The eighth and final active coach with a win against Nick Saban is Utah's Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham guided the Utes to a 31-17 victory against Saban in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, capping off Utah's unbeaten season. This year's Utes need two wins in their last four games to become bowl eligible for a fourth consecutive year. Under Whittingham, Utah has won 10 of 11 bowl games, the best bowl winning percentage (91) in NCAA history.

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

Projection: Memphis vs. Colorado State

Memphis (7-1) should cruise through its final three games to earn a spot in the American Conference title game against either UCF or USF. A victory in the AAC title game would likely guarantee the Tigers a spot as the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl rep. With each win, Tigers coach Mike Norvell becomes more and more attractive to a Power 5 team seeking a new head coach.

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

Projection: UTSA vs. Army

Having secured a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl, Army now turns its attention to Air Force on Saturday and the elusive Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. The Black Knights have not captured the CIC Trophy, awarded to the service academy winner between Army, Air Force, and Navy, since 1996. Since Army's last CIC Trophy, the Black Knights have lost 18 of 20 meetings with Air Force.

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

Projection: UAB** vs. Utah State**

I'm projecting the SEC and American to fall short of filling its bowl allotments, so they will have to find teams from other conferences. Here's hoping the Birmingham Bowl snaps up the hometown UAB Blazers, one of the best stories in college football after its program was shut down for two seasons. UAB is one win away from bowl eligibility and should get it Saturday versus Rice.

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

Projection: Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Appalachian State, tied atop the Sun Belt with Arkansas State, took a break from league play last week and lost in double overtime at UMass. The Mountaineers have only lost three games this year with two coming on last-second plays.

ASU lost to Wake Forest 20-19 when its game-winning 39-yard field goal was blocked with five seconds left and lost at UMass 30-27 on a field goal in the second OT. UMass also made a 45-yard field goal with five seconds left to force overtime.

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

Projection: FIU vs. Ohio

#MACtion starts Tuesday night with Ohio playing Miami, Ohio, in a rivalry that dates back to 1908. The "Battle of the Bricks" is the first of 22 nationally televised weekday games between Mid-American teams during the season's final five weeks.

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

Projection: Western Michigan vs. Fresno State

Western Michigan meets state rival Central Michigan Wednesday. The schools, located only 134 miles apart, play for "The Battle of the Cannon Trophy." Why is it called the Battle of the Cannon Trophy, you ask? Both teams fire off cannons after scores at their respective home games, so they thought it seemed like a good idea that a cannon should represent the rivalry.

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

Projection: USF vs. Florida Atlantic

The hottest offense in America can be found in Boca Raton. Lane Kiffin has Florida Atlantic on a roll in his first season with the Owls. FAU, the only unbeaten team in Conference USA play, is averaging 52 points and 563 yards per game against league opponents. USF's national-best win streak and consecutive games scoring at least 30 points streak both were stopped in a loss to Houston last week. The Bulls visit UConn on Saturday.

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

Projection: SMU vs. Akron

Akron senior quarterback Thomas Woodson became the school’s second all-time leading passer after throwing for 286 yards and three TDs in last week's 21-20 win at Buffalo. The Zips, who are one win shy of bowl eligibility, next visit Miami, Ohio on Nov. 7.

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

Projection: Houston vs. Marshall

Be wary of Houston when it is considered the underdog. Last week, the Cougars upset USF 28-24, continuing its remarkable success in the role of an underdog. It was Houston's seventh win in its last eight games when the Cougars were the underdogs. The only loss in that stretch was 27-24 to Texas Tech. Houston likely won't be an underdog the rest of the regular season, closing with East Carolina, at Tulane, and Navy.

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

Projection: Northern Illinois vs. Troy

After Northern Illinois' eight-year bowl streak was snapped last year, the Huskies already have locked up bowl eligibility this year before November arrived. The key for NIU's turnaround has been its defense. The Huskies are limiting opponents to 20 fewer points a game and 170 fewer yards than last season. That defense will have its toughest test of the season Thursday at Toledo, in a battle between MAC West Division co-leaders.

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

Projection: UNLV** vs. Georgia State

Hello, UNLV. The Rebels enter my bowl projections for the first time this season after knocking off Fresno State last week. UNLV (3-5) still needs to win three of its final four games to reach bowl eligibility, but should have a good shot with a closing schedule of Hawaii, BYU, at New Mexico, and at Nevada.

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

Projection: Boise State vs. Oregon

Willie Taggart hasn't even been at Oregon for one full season and he's already being mentioned as a possible candidate at Florida. And rightly so. A Florida native, Taggart did an unbelievable job rebuilding the USF program before going to Oregon this season. If Florida wants a high-powered offensive coach with deep recruiting ties in the state, don't be surprised if it takes a hard look at Taggart.

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

Projection: Louisiana Tech vs. Wyoming

Louisiana Tech is bidding for a fourth consecutive bowl under Coach Skip Holtz. The Bulldogs face North Texas Saturday, having won the past three against the Mean Green. Louisiana Tech's offense has thrived in the last three meetings versus UNT, averaging 47.3 points a game.

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

Projection: Western Kentucky vs. Arkansas State

In his first season at Western Kentucky, Mike Sanford has the Hilltoppers one win from bowl eligibility. It will be a unique experience for Sanford. Not that he's coaching in a bowl, but that he will be coaching in a non-New Year's Bowl. As an assistant at Notre Dame, Boise State, and Stanford, Sanford coached in the three Fiesta and two Rose Bowls.

*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: Getty Images)

Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: Alabama has a new dance partner
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