Brett McMurphy's bowl projections: Auburn silences the doubters
On Nov. 14, I projected that two two-loss teams (Auburn and Ohio State) would make the College Football Playoff. The feedback I received on social media made Tennessee fans' reaction to Greg Schiano look tame.
And yet, here we are: only days away from my prediction coming true, as long as Auburn wins the SEC championship game and Ohio State wins the Big Ten title game. If - I mean, when - that happens, I believe the College Football Selection committee will place the Tigers and Buckeyes in the playoff along with Big 12 champion Oklahoma and ACC champion Clemson.
My next updated bowl projections can be found here late Saturday night when the conference title games are winding down. And I also appreciate the rare positive feedback - multiple band members at bowl-bound schools are emailing me for the scoop on where their school will be bowling.
There are lots of changes in this week's projections after I spent the past week talking to various sources about how the bowl lineup will look when the official announcements are made Dec. 3.
(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
If Auburn and Ohio State can make the playoff, there’s no reason they can’t win their semifinal matchups and meet for the title.
|Rose Bowl (Pasadena)||Jan. 1||CFP semifinal|
Projection: Oklahoma (CFP No. 2) vs. Auburn (CFP No. 3)
Big 12 champion Oklahoma could challenge for the No. 1 seed, but I think the committee will put Clemson No. 1. This would be the fourth time in five games that Auburn's played a team ranked in the top six.
|Sugar Bowl (New Orleans)||Jan. 1||CFP semifinal|
Projection: Clemson (CFP No. 1) vs. Ohio State (CFP No. 4)
As long as Wisconsin doesn’t employ any cameramen on defense, I think Ohio State wins the Big Ten title and edges Alabama for the fourth and final spot.
New Year's Six bowls
|Peach Bowl (Atlanta)||Jan. 1||at-large vs. at-large*|
Projection: Notre Dame vs. UCF
Based on my projections, the final at-large New Year’s Six spot will come down to Notre Dame (9-3) and Washington (10-2). The selection committee will rank the Fighting Irish higher based on a tougher schedule and more wins versus teams that finished with a winning record (Notre Dame five, Washington three).
|Fiesta Bowl (Glendale)||Dec. 30||at-large vs. at-large|
Projection: USC vs. Wisconsin
It’s simple for Wisconsin: beat Ohio State on Saturday and the Badgers are in the College Football Playoff. Lose to Ohio State and say hello to the Fiesta Bowl. USC, after a win over Stanford in Friday’s Pac-12 title game, is a lock for Glendale.
|Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens)||Dec. 30||ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND|
Projection: Miami vs. Alabama
Remember last week when I projected Alabama would lose to Auburn, miss the playoff, and instead go to the Orange Bowl? Hold on a second while I pat myself on the back … OK, done. Well, the Crimson Tide (11-1) will finish No. 5 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, which means they automatically go to the Orange Bowl. The Tide will face ACC runner-up Miami, which will lose to Clemson in the ACC title game Saturday.
|Cotton Bowl (Arlington)||Dec. 29||at-large vs. at-large|
Projection: Georgia vs. Penn State
Penn State (10-2) is locked into a New Year’s Six bowl. Technically, the Nittany Lions could play in the Fiesta, Cotton, or Peach, but I’ll go with the Cotton against SEC runner-up Georgia (11-2).
|Citrus Bowl (Orlando)||Jan. 1||ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC|
Projection: Michigan State vs. LSU
LSU (9-3) appears headed to its second consecutive Citrus Bowl, and the Tigers leapfrog Mississippi State for the SEC’s top non-New Year’s Six bowl after the Bulldogs' upset loss to Ole Miss. This will be a nice matchup of top 20 teams.
|Outback Bowl (Tampa)||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs. SEC|
Projection: Michigan vs. South Carolina
I’m told Michigan (8-4) is pretty much a lock to play in Tampa for the first time since 2012. The Wolverines are expected to face South Carolina (8-4). The Wolverines and Missouri are the only Power 5 teams that have winning records this season but no wins against an opponent that finished with a winning record. Michigan can change that with a bowl victory.
|Liberty Bowl (Memphis)||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. SEC|
Projection: West Virginia vs. Memphis**
Look for the hometown Tigers to make their first appearance in the Liberty Bowl. I’m told the American Athletic Conference is moving around some of its teams to help fill other vacancies. With the SEC unable to fill this slot, the Tigers would be the purr-fect choice (sorry about that pun). Hopefully Will Grier can return for West Virginia, so this bowl would feature two of the nation’s top QBs in him and Riley Ferguson.
|TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville)||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC|
Projection: Louisville vs. Texas A&M
I’m projecting Texas A&M will return to Jacksonville for the first time in 60 years. The Aggies haven’t played in a Florida bowl since the 1957 Gator Bowl, and they'll do so without Kevin Sumlin. His firing makes it a remarkable 28 coaching changes in the SEC since Nick Saban took over in 2007.
|Arizona Bowl (Tucson)||Dec. 29||MWC vs. Sun Belt|
Projection: Utah State vs. New Mexico State
With a win Saturday versus South Alabama, New Mexico State (5-6) will become bowl eligible and end the nation’s longest bowl drought. The school hasn't been to a bowl game since the 1960 Sun Bowl.
|Belk Bowl (Charlotte)||Dec. 29||ACC vs. SEC|
Projection: Wake Forest vs. Missouri
There may not be a hotter team right now than Missouri. The Tigers managed a remarkable turnaround this season after starting 1-5, closing with six consecutive victories.
|Music City Bowl (Nashville)||Dec. 29||ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC|
Projection: Northwestern vs. Kentucky
Even though Northwestern (9-3) finished with two more wins than Iowa (7-5), I’m hearing the Holiday Bowl may select Iowa as its Big Ten representative instead. If so, the Wildcats will battle more Wildcats in Nashville.
|Sun Bowl (El Paso)||Dec. 29||ACC vs. Pac-12|
Projection: NC State vs. Arizona State
Unless Washington earns a New Year’s Six bid and reshuffles the Pac-12 bowl lineup, I’m told Arizona State is locked into the Sun Bowl. It will be the final game for fired coach Todd Graham.
|Alamo Bowl (San Antonio)||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Pac-12|
Projection: TCU vs. Washington
Speaking of Washington, I’m told the Huskies will head to the Alamo Bowl if they don’t make a New Year’s Six bowl. Awaiting Washington will be Big 12 runner-up TCU.
|Camping World Bowl (Orlando)||Dec. 28||ACC vs. Big 12|
Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
This matchup is pretty much set - as long as Notre Dame makes a New Year’s Six bowl. If if doesn't, the Irish would replace the Hokies here.
|Holiday Bowl (San Diego)||Dec. 28||Big Ten vs. Pac-12|
Projection: Iowa vs. Stanford
Despite two fewer losses than Northwestern, I’ve been told the Holiday Bowl could select Iowa (7-5) over the Wildcats (9-3). The Hawkeyes would face Pac-12 runner-up Stanford and Heisman finalist Bryce Love.
|Military Bowl (Annapolis)||Dec. 28||ACC vs. American|
Projection: Virginia vs. Navy
While there is some uncertainty among the American Athletic Conference bowl slots, Navy appears locked into its second Military Bowl appearance in three years. The Midshipmen will be playing in their sixth consecutive bowl under coach Ken Niumatalolo.
|Foster Farms Bowl (Santa Clara)||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs. Pac-12|
Projection: Fresno State** vs. Washington State
If Fresno State loses to Boise State in the Mountain West title game, I’m hearing the Bulldogs would fill the Big Ten’s vacant spot against Washington State.
|Independence Bowl (Shreveport)||Dec. 27||ACC vs. SEC|
Projection: Florida State vs. Florida Atlantic**
As Conference USA champion, Florida Atlantic is allowed to pick its bowl destination. Since the SEC won't be able to fill this spot and C-USA is a backup conference, the Owls would love to face a Power 5 opponent, especially Florida State. Lane Kiffin tweeting about FSU for a month leading up to this game? I cannot wait.
|Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx)||Dec. 27||ACC vs. Big Ten|
Projection: Boston College vs. Purdue
Purdue is bowl-bound in coach Jeff Brohm’s first season with the Boilermakers. He probably won’t win Big Ten Coach of the Year, but Brohm did one of the best coaching jobs in the country. As a head coach, in games played from Oct. 29 on, Brohm is 19-2.
|Texas Bowl (Houston)||Dec. 27||Big 12 vs. SEC|
Projection: Texas vs. Mississippi State
Mississippi State will be without coach Dan Mullen, who took the Florida job. The Bulldogs will face a Texas squad trying to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2013.
|Cactus Bowl (Phoenix)||Dec. 26||Big 12 vs. Pac-12|
Projection: Iowa State vs. Oregon
Iowa State locked in coach Matt Campbell on Monday, giving him a new six-year contract worth $22 million. He’ll earn every penny trying to slow down Willie Taggart’s Oregon offense, which is averaging more than 50 points a game with quarterback Justin Herbert.
|Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas)||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs. Big 12|
Projection: Utah** vs. Kansas State
With the Big Ten unable to fill this spot and the Pac-12 having two more bowl teams than bowl affiliations, Utah will head to Dallas to face Kansas State. Will it be the final game for legendary coach Bill Snyder?
|Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit)||Dec. 26||ACC vs. Big Ten|
Projection: Duke vs. Texas Tech**
Tennessee contacted David Cutcliffe about the Volunteers’ coaching job, but he said he'll remain with Duke. Cutcliffe's done a great job in Durham, and is taking the Blue Devils to their fifth bowl in the last six years.
|Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu)||Dec. 24||American vs. MWC|
Projection: Houston vs. Colorado State
If Houston ends up in Hawaii, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan base that's had better back-to-back bowl trips - the Cougars played in the Las Vegas Bowl last season.
|Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth)||Dec. 23||C-USA vs. Army|
Projection: UTSA vs. Army
In two seasons, coach Frank Wilson has UTSA in back-to-back bowls. Not bad for a program that’s only six years old. The Roadrunners will be challenged by Army’s option offense.
|Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham)||Dec. 23||American vs. SEC|
Projection: USF vs. UCLA**
With the Pac-12 having more bowl teams than available bowls, UCLA gets shipped to Birmingham to face USF. The Bruins will be without coach Jim Mora, but will have Josh Rosen.
|Dollar General Bowl (Mobile)||Dec. 23||MAC vs. Sun Belt|
Projection: Toledo vs. Appalachian State
Toledo coach Jason Candle has been mentioned as a candidate for some of the Power 5 coaching vacancies. Since taking over for Matt Campbell, Candle has a 20-6 record entering Saturday’s MAC title game with Akron.
|Bahamas Bowl (Nassau)||Dec. 22||C-USA vs. MAC|
Projection: UAB vs. Ohio
If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don’t, why not?) you would have found out Sunday that UAB and Ohio are headed to the Bahamas Bowl. The Blazers exceeded expectations in their first season back after the program was disbanded for two years.
|Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise)||Dec. 22||MAC vs. MWC|
Projection: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming
Wyoming, I’m told, is locked into the Boise bowl as the Mountain West representative. The MAC side of this game isn’t as certain, since the league has seven bowl-eligible teams but only four bowl slots.
|Gasparilla Bowl (St. Petersburg)||Dec. 21||American vs. C-USA|
Projection: Temple vs. Southern Miss
Temple finished strong, winning three of its final four games to earn a bowl berth in coach Geoff Collins’ first season with the Owls.
|Frisco Bowl (Frisco)||Dec. 20||American vs. MAC/MWC|
Projection: SMU vs. Louisiana Tech
I’m hearing SMU is a lock for the Frisco Bowl. The other side is up in the air; it could be a team from Conference USA, the Mid-American, or the Mountain West. I’ll go with the Bulldogs, who got their sixth win Saturday.
|Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton)||Dec. 19||American vs. C-USA|
Projection: Northern Illinois vs. FIU
FIU's benefited from one of this season's more underrated coaching jobs, and Butch Davis has the Panthers back bowling. A win Saturday versus UMass would give FIU (7-4) an eighth victory, tying the school record for most wins in a season.
|Camellia Bowl (Montgomery)||Dec. 16||MAC vs. Sun Belt|
Projection: Akron vs. Arkansas State
When Terry Bowden came to Akron in 2012, the Zips were coming off a one-win season. He struggled to a 1-11 mark in his first year, but he's since guided the Zips to bowl games in two of the past three years. Saturday, Akron meets Toledo in the MAC title game.
|Cure Bowl (Orlando)||Dec. 16||American vs. Sun Belt|
Projection: Western Kentucky** vs. Georgia State
Georgia State is another upstart program that's already making multiple bowl appearances in its fifth season. The Panthers went 1-21 in their first two seasons, but they'll have been to two bowl games in the next three.
|Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas)||Dec. 16||MWC vs. Pac-12|
Projection: Boise State vs. Arizona
The Mountain West champion advances to the Las Vegas Bowl. I’ll go with Boise State to defeat Fresno State in a rematch of last week’s regular-season finale. I’m told Arizona is locked in as the Pac-12 participant.
|New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque)||Dec. 16||C-USA vs. MWC|
Projection: Marshall vs. San Diego State
San Diego State is locked in as the Mountain West’s representative. Rashaad Penny may not make it to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, but he’s put together one of the best seasons in college football history, topping the 2,000-yard mark and posting four consecutive 200-yard games.
|New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans)||Dec. 16||C-USA vs. Sun Belt|
Projection: North Texas vs. Troy
North Texas closes its season Saturday at FAU, playing for the Conference USA title. The Mean Green lost the first meeting to the Owls 69-31. Win or lose, it appears North Texas will play its second consecutive bowl in as many seasons under coach Seth Littrell.
*The highest-rated champion from the Group of 5 conferences (American Athletic, 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)