Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: Auburn, OSU remain on course for CFP showdown

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I have some good news and some bad news about this week's bowl projections. First, the good: If you agreed with my playoff picks last week, you are absolutely going to love them again this week. The bad: If you disagreed, well, you guessed it, they're not any better this time.

With no upsets of the top teams from last week, my College Football Playoff picks remain the same. I’m projecting Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State to win out, and for the selection committee to put them in the playoff based on their respective conference championships.

I also have some bad news for fans of schools hoping to get a bowl with a 5-7 record: It’s not looking great. With two weeks left, there are 70 eligible teams for 78 spots, and 18 teams are at five wins. There are four games remaining between teams with 5-6 records, so that automatically fills up 74-of-78 spots, leaving only four available bids. It looks very doubtful that any five-win team will earn a bowl bid this season.

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

College Football Playoff

Championship Bowl (Atlanta) Jan. 8 CFP semifinal winners

Projection: Auburn vs. Ohio State

It's simple for Auburn: Upset Alabama on Saturday and win the SEC title game versus Georgia, and become a lock for the playoff. Ohio State? Not so much. The Buckeyes must post impressive wins over the next two weeks against Michigan and then Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game - and I'm not sure that will even be enough. Ultimately, I think the committee picks the Big Ten champion Buckeyes over a non-league champion from the SEC or ACC.


Rose Bowl (Pasadena) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

Projection: Oklahoma (CFP No. 2) vs. Auburn (CFP No. 3)

Based on the College Football Playoff selection committee's Nov. 14 rankings, I've dropped Oklahoma to a No. 2 seed. If the committee doesn’t change its mind – which is a huge leap of faith – and Oklahoma, Clemson, and Auburn all win out, Oklahoma should finish as the No. 2. This semifinal would be a rematch of last year's Sugar Bowl.

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) Jan. 1 CFP semifinal

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

If Clemson wins out and Alabama loses to Auburn, Clemson should earn the No. 1 seed and play in the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State gets in over Alabama and Miami by virtue of its conference championship and wins veresus three Top 25 teams in its final four games.

New Year's Six bowls

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

Projection: Notre Dame vs. UCF

UCF meets USF on Friday in the "War on I-4" with the winner advancing to the American Conference title game. Afterward, the real battle begins for UCF - trying to keep Scott Frost as its coach for next season.

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

Projection: USC vs. Wisconsin

Wisconsin and USC can't meet in the Rose Bowl this year since neither team will make the College Football Playoff. But this is a nice consolation prize - albeit 375 miles east of Pasadena - for the Pac-12 and Big Ten clubs.

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

Projection: Miami vs. Alabama

If my projections are accurate - and c'mon, have I ever been wrong? - this would be an epic Orange Bowl: Miami (12-1) vs. Alabama (11-1). It would be their first meeting since the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama upset No. 1 Miami 34-13. I can still picture Alabama's George Teague catching Miami receiver Lamar Thomas from behind and stripping him of the football.

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

Projection: Georgia vs. Penn State

A win Saturday by Penn State at Maryland would give the Nittany Lions double-digit victories in consecutive seasons under James Franklin.

Other bowls

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

Projection: Michigan State vs. Mississippi State

This bowl pits the highest-ranked teams not in the College Football Playoff or a New Year's Six bowl. As long as Michigan State and Mississippi State don't stumble in their respective regular-season finales against Rutgers and Ole Miss, the two MSUs should meet in Orlando.

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

Projection: Michigan vs. LSU

Michigan hosts Ohio State, as the Wolverines are still looking for their first win this season against a team that currently has a winning record. Did I mention Jim Harbaugh is one of the five highest-paid coaches in the country?

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

Projection: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

If this projected matchup occurs, West Virginia could be without quarterback Will Grier, who suffered a broken finger in last week's loss to Texas. Meanwhile, Texas A&M could be without its coach if the fickle Aggies regents get their wish.

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

Projection: Florida State vs. South Carolina

Florida State (4-6) needs wins at Florida on Saturday and the following week verus UL-Monroe to become bowl eligible. Saturday's rivalry game with the Gators (4-6) marks only the second time both teams have entered with losing records (also in 1959).

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

Projection: Wyoming vs. New Mexico State

New Mexico State officials recently said they would consider whether to accept a bowl bid based on the location and the travel costs. This is the Aggies' final season in the Sun Belt before becoming an independent; if NMSU is really going to turn down the school’s first bowl bid since 1960, perhaps it should drop down to the FCS ranks.

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

Projection: NC State vs. Kentucky

NC State hosts rival North Carolina on Saturday and a win by the Wolfpack would give them six ACC wins. That's double the previous-most ACC wins for fifth-year coach Dave Doeren, who won three games in each of the past three seasons after an 0-8 ACC mark in his first season.

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

Projection: Iowa vs. Missouri

Missouri's bowl hopes were given up for dead after the Tigers' 1-5 start. But they're now one of the nation's hottest teams, having won five consecutive games while scoring at least 40 points in each victory. Coach Barry Odom went from being on the hot seat to a legitimate contender for SEC Coach of the Year.

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

Projection: Wake Forest vs. Arizona

Dave Clawson has quietly done a great job at Wake Forest this season. The Demon Deacons are bowling for a second consecutive year - something they hadn't accomplished since 2007 and '08. Wake Forest has the ACC's second-best offense and ranks third in scoring.

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

Projection: TCU vs. Washington

Washington’s loss to Stanford eliminated the Huskies from contention for the Pac-12 title. The Huskies, however, can make sure rival Washington State doesn't play in the Pac-12 title game either. If Washington beats WSU, Stanford advances to the Pac-12 title game. If WSU wins, the Cougars advance to the Pac-12 title game.

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

Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State's chances to get a rematch against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game all but ended in a home loss to Kansas State. The Cowboys will be officially eliminated from playing in the title game when TCU defeats Baylor this weekend.

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

Projection: Northwestern vs. Washington State

Washington State coach Mike Leach recently tweeted a list of schools that have worse overall records than the Cougars over his last three years in charge. The question is, does Leach remain in Pullman for another season? If his team upsets Washington and plays for the Pac-12 title, Leach's stock would increase even more, making him even more attractive for a number of openings - specifically in the SEC.

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

Projection: Virginia vs. Navy

Virginia gave Miami a scare last week, but ultimately couldn’t hold onto a two-touchdown lead. On Saturday, the Cavaliers will try to halt a 13-year losing streak to Virginia Tech, the longest such streak in the 98-year history of the rivalry.

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

Projection: Purdue vs. Stanford

Purdue’s upset at Iowa means the Boilermakers only need a win at home Saturday versus Indiana to earn a bowl bid in coach Jeff Brohm’s first season. Depending on how many openings develop on the coaching carousel in the coming weeks, Brohm may have the opportunity to move on to a bigger Power 5 school.

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

Projection: Boston College vs. Louisiana Tech**

Boston College became bowl eligible with last week's win over UConn. A victory Saturday at Syracuse or in its bowl game would give Boston College seven wins in four-of-five seasons under coach Steve Addazio.

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

Projection: Louisville vs. UCLA**

UCLA fired coach Jim Mora on Sunday after its loss to USC - perhaps to make a run at Chip Kelly, who's already talked to Florida about the Gators' opening. The Bruins (5-6) host Cal (5-6) on Saturday with the winner becoming bowl eligible. Both UCLA and Cal are coming off close losses to their respective rivals, but I think the inspired Bruins get the win.

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

Projection: Texas vs. Utah**

A win Saturday for Texas (6-5) would guarantee the Longhorns a winning record for the first time since 2013. A Texas victory also would eliminate Texas Tech's bowl hopes and would put coach Kliff Kingsbury's future in doubt.

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

Projection: Iowa State vs. Arizona State

After Iowa State's blazing 6-2 start, its won only one of its last three games. The Cyclones close the regular season against nemesis Kansas State, which has won nine straight against ISU - but only one of those victories was by more than eight points.

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

Projection: UNLV** vs. Kansas State

UNLV got its win at New Mexico last week and now needs to win at Nevada on Saturday to get bowl eligible. The 5-6 Rebels, who haven't been to a bowl since 2013, are guaranteed to increase their win total in coach Tony Sanchez's third season after winning three in 2015 and four in 2016.

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

Projection: Utah State** vs. Western Michigan**

Western Michigan has clinched a fourth consecutive bowl bid, but has been eliminated from defending last year's MAC championship. However, the Broncos can still have a say in which school plays in the conference title game. On Friday, WMU visits Toledo. A win would knock the Rockets out of the MAC title game and make Northern Illinois - if it beats Central Michigan on Friday - the MAC West representative.

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

Projection: Memphis vs. San Diego State

Last week versus Nevada, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, who leads the nation in rushing yards, became the first FBS player since 1996 to record two rushing touchdowns, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown in a single game.

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

Projection: Western Kentucky vs. Army

Army's loss to North Texas on Saturday ended the Black Knights' six-game winning streak. Army (8-3) now has two weeks off before facing Navy. A victory against the Midshipmen would give the Black Knights their most wins in a season since a 10-2 record in 1996.

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

Projection: Temple vs. Marshall**

There will be a lot of teams that can't reach six wins rooting against Temple on Saturday. The Owls (5-6) get bowl eligible with a win at Tulsa, but a loss could allow a 5-7 team to earn a bid. After blowout losses early in the year at Notre Dame and USF, Temple has won two of its last three road games.

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

Projection: Toledo vs. Troy

Toledo needs a win Friday against Western Michigan to earn its first appearance in the MAC title game since 2004. The biggest reason has been senior quarterback Logan Woodside, who's rewriting the school's record books.

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

Projection: FIU vs. Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois remains mathematically alive to reach the MAC title game, but will need some help. First, NIU must win at Central Michigan on Friday and then needs Western Michigan to upset Toledo.

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

Projection: Ohio vs. Fresno State

Fresno State clinched a berth in the Mountain West Conference title game by winning the West Division. Boise State won the Mountain Division, so the teams will play in two consecutive weeks - Saturday's regular-season finale at Fresno State and the MWC title game Dec. 2 at Boise State.

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

Projection: USF vs. Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic clinched a berth in the Conference USA title game and will host the championship for the first time. The C-USA East Division champion Owls meet North Texas, the C-USA West champions, on Dec. 2. In an earlier meeting on Oct. 21, FAU won 69-31.

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

Projection: SMU vs. Central Michigan

SMU secured a bowl bid back on Oct. 27 with a win over Tulsa. Since then, the Mustangs have lost three consecutive games. Saturday, they host Tulane, which needs a win to give the American Conference at least seven bowl-eligible teams.

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

Projection: Houston vs. UAB

UAB (7-4) has already qualified for only the second bowl game in school history. A victory Saturday against UTEP, however, would give the Blazers a school-record eight wins in a season, topping the 2000 and 2004 teams that both won seven games.

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

Projection: Akron vs. Appalachian State

All Akron needs is a win Tuesday against Kent State to win the MAC East Division and clinch a spot in the MAC title game against either Toledo or Northern Illinois. That would give the Zips seven wins for the second time in six seasons, making Terry Bowden only the second coach in school history with two seasons featuring at least seven victories.

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

Projection: North Texas** vs. Georgia State

North Texas has clinched the Conference USA West Division and will visit Florida Atlantic on Dec. 2 for the C-USA title game. The Mean Green have made another leap in coach Seth Littrell's second season. The year before Littrell arrived, UNT went 1-11. In his first season, the team improved to 5-8, including its first bowl game since 2013. This year, it has eight wins.

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

Projection: Boise State vs. Oregon

Welcome back Justin Herbert. Oregon's quarterback returned from a broken collarbone Saturday for the first time in five games and sparked the Ducks to a 48-28 win against Arizona. With Herbert in the lineup, the Ducks are 5-1 this season, averaging nearly 50 points a game. Without him, they're 1-4, averaging just 15 points per game.

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

Projection: UTSA vs. Colorado State

UTSA closes the regular season at Louisiana Tech. It will mark just the Roadrunners' second game outside the state of Texas this season. They played nine of their first 10 games in-state, with the only exception at Florida International on Nov. 4. Last week's win versus Marshall earned UTSA its second consecutive bowl bid - impressive for a program that only started in 2012.

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

Projection: Southern Miss vs. Arkansas State

Arkansas State is among a four-team logjam atop the Sun Belt Conference with Appalachian State, Georgia State, and Troy. Arkansas State has already defeated Georgia State, and will host Troy on Dec. 2. Saturday, the Red Wolves visit UL-Monroe. They've already clinched a fourth consecutive winning season under coach Blake Anderson, the first coach to do so in ASU history.

*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.

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 or on Facebook.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: Auburn, OSU remain on course for CFP showdown
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