We don’t really acknowledge it much on QBList, but there is some football that goes on in between Thursday Night Football and Sunday. It’s called college football, and it is just as much, if not more, fun than NFL football. And, college football ends up feeding 99% of the NFL’s roster on any given Sunday, Monday, and Thursday (and Saturdays in December). So, I thought it would be a good idea to give you, the faithful reader, a quick little guide to the discourse around college football, some bowl projections, and a little prediction model by yours truly. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@MrAdster99).
A Quick (and Updated) Primer on the 2021-22 NCAA Football Season
We are nearing the final stretch of the NCAA season, and we still have so many questions that need answering, thanks to a handful of upsets that have knocked off highly-rated teams. Those upsets have muddied a tight playoff race. In fact, every ‘position’ in the Top 25 has seen an upset. Here are just a few examples:
- #1 Alabama was upset by Texas A&M
- #2 Iowa was upset by unranked Purdue
- #3 Michigan State was upset by (again) unranked Purdue and #3 Oregon was upset by unranked Stanford and #3 Ohio State was upset by #12 Oregon
22 members of the preseason Top 25 have lost games and many of them have dropped out of the Top 25 completely. There are only a few teams that remain undefeated at this point in the season: UTSA, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Wake Forest and Michigan State dropped out of the club after losses to North Carolina and Purdue, respectively.
Some teams, despite a loss, still hold their destiny in their hands, assuming the College Football Playoff Committee looks favorably upon their wins in the rest of the season. For example, Ohio State has upcoming games against their bitter rival Michigan and tough out Michigan State. They would also need to win the Big Ten Conference Championship game to get into the playoff. If Ohio State were to fall to any of the teams in their upcoming schedule, they would almost certainly be eliminated from College Football Playoff contention (the same goes for Michigan State or Michigan, actually). And the same goes for Oregon, who must win their remaining games and avoid an upset in the PAC-12 Championship Game to stay in Playoff contention.
After last week’s Top 25 rankings, it appears the only way that an undefeated Cincinnati will reach the Playoff is if they continue to win their games handily, capture an American conference title, and Oregon, Ohio State, or Oklahoma (probably at least two of the three) would need to lose a game/lose in the conference championship game. And, that doesn’t even take into account Alabama, whom the Committee inexplicably ranked #2 in the country despite having 1 loss already. Should Alabama defeat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, there will basically be no hope for the Bearcats.
And, with Wake Forest’s loss to North Carolina, the ACC (frequent participants in the Playoff in the CFP era, thanks to Florida State and Clemson) is effectively eliminated from the College Football Playoff this year. Either of the potential ACC contenders — Wake Forest and Pittsburgh — will have had at least 1 loss and have had a very weak strength of schedule this season. Essentially, Wake and Pitt’s Playoff resumes have suffered because of a bad conference (and probably benefitted from it in the W-L column, too) and uninspired wins. Yes, Wake Forest might be 8-1, but their resume doesn’t have a lot going for it. They haven’t blown teams out and they haven’t beaten too many good teams, either.
The race for the final 3 spots in the College Football Playoff (Georgia is effectively a lock, barring any really ugly upsets) is about to get very fun. Let’s take a quick look at the upcoming games for our contending teams:
- Week 11: Purdue (who has now upset TWO Top-5 teams in the last few weeks)
- Week 12: Michigan State (the one ranked #3 as recently as last week)
- Week 13: Michigan (the one ranked #5 as recently as two weeks ago and still ranked in the Top 10 as of this week)
- (Assuming they make it this far) Week 14: Wisconsin (most likely opponent, they are red-hot after 3 straight blowout wins against decent Big Ten teams)
- Week 11: Washington State (Not much of a challenge)
- Week 12: Utah (the team they will most likely face again in the conference championship game and another red-hot team)
- Week 13: Oregon State (Not a bad team, but it would likely take a really down day for Oregon to fall to Oregon State)
- (Assuming they make it this far) Week 14: Utah, again (the most likely opponent)
- Week 11: Baylor (Ranked in the Top 20 last week)
- Week 12: Iowa State (Formerly ranked, not quite the juggernaut they were earlier in the season, but still good)
- Week 13: Oklahoma State (Ranked in the Top 10)
- Week 14: (Again, assuming they make it this far) Oklahoma State, again (most likely opponent, assuming Oklahoma State avoids any upsets of its own)
These three teams, each the frontrunner in their conference, will have the strong resume the Committee is looking for if they can win each of these games. Once again, another loss from Ohio State or Oregon would make it difficult to for the Committee to justify including them in the Top 4 teams in the Playoff when all is said and done. Keep a close eye on each of them; losses (one or multiple) has the potential to cause absolute chaos in the Playoff selection process.
Top 25 Rankings
Here’s how the all-important Top 25 CFP Committee Rankings shook out this week:
Some thoughts: Nice to see UTSA make an appearance on the Top 25 rankings. Even if they haven’t played a whole lot of good teams, 9-0 is still something very few teams can lay claim to this season. Meep meep, or something.
Cincinnati is now right on the precipice of a Playoff berth. Presumably, a loss from Ohio State or Oregon in the next 2-3 weeks would put Cincinnati in a playoff position, so they’re actually in a much better spot this week than they appeared to be in last week. Of course, assuming Oklahoma wins out in the Big 12, that’s going to be one team serving as an obstacle to Cincinnati.
Alabama is still 2nd in the Playoff rankings, and barring a surprise upset in the next few weeks (probably not this week, Alabama plays New Mexico State), will take an 11-1 record into the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. The winner of that game is into the Playoff. If Georgia beats Alabama, the Tide’s candidacy for a Final Four spot gets dicey. I can’t see the Playoff Committee being able to justify including a 2-loss, non-conference champion in the Playoff, but crazier things have happened, I suppose.
Wake Forest dropping down to 12th, behind a 2-loss Texas A&M, probably serves as the end of the ACC’s playoff hopes. Unless Wake can absolutely dominate their final 3 opponents, including Clemson, their playoff hopes are very, very slim.
Here’s how my Top 25 shook out, for comparison:
Texas and Clemson are surprise additions, but Clemson’s defense and Texas’s offense are apparently enough to warrant inclusion in my Top 25 list. For all of my talk about Penn State being a non-quality opponent, the rankings seem to reflect otherwise. Go figure.
Games to Watch This Week
One of the very best reasons to watch college football is the CHAOS! You’ve heard the phrase “Any Given Sunday.” Now, imagine that instead of 16 games with the potential for chaos… there are 60 or so games with the potential for chaos. And, these athletes aren’t NFL-caliber athletes, so they’re bound to have more than the occasional off-day or are liable to make more mistakes than you’re accustomed to seeing from even the worst NFL teams, which means even more CHAOS!
Why is chaos so fun, you might ask? In the right hands and on the right day, the perfect amount of chaos can alter the very course of the college football season, even more so than your average NFL upset. There are only 12 games in a season and, if a team is lucky, the Committee will give them one free loss, provided they blow out other teams or win games against quality opponents. Some teams don’t get that kind of leeway, so every Saturday, they’re playing for their playoff lives.
Unless you’re a fan of one of these Playoff-oriented teams, I would always suggest rooting for Team CHAOS. It’s just more fun that way to see teams like Nebraska give the goliath Ohio State a real scare. I’ve picked a few games that have chaos implications (the pickings are quite slim this week; most of the highly-ranked teams are playing matchups that my model has deemed pretty likely wins) or otherwise should be considered fun games:
Oklahoma at Baylor: You knew this one was going to be on here. Oklahoma begins its first real test of the season (depending on how you view Texas) with a trip to Waco. Baylor is no joke, despite losing to unranked TCU last week. Keep an eye on Oklahoma QB and true freshman Caleb Williams, who took over from former Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler after a dismal first 7 weeks of the season. It will be interesting to see how the freshman responds to this challenge, although his performance in the second half against Texas, which spurred a huge Oklahoma comeback, was nothing short of a masterpiece, so he might be up to the challenge. An Oklahoma win keeps them in the playoff hunt, but a loss could prove detrimental to their hopes.
Michigan at Penn State: Penn State started out this season with high hopes, only to have them shattered by losses to Iowa, Illinois (the longest game ever!), and Ohio State. Penn State is still a challenging team (or at least my sheet seems to think they’re still decent) to play against, especially in Happy Valley. Penn State is a tough out at home, no matter how good the team actually is. A win over Penn State would help boost Michigan’s resume, but it probably won’t move the needle much overall. A Penn State win would eliminate Michigan from the Playoff and boost Penn State’s resume for bowl selection season.
NC State at Wake Forest: Not only are these two teams in-state rivals, but a win for one of these teams would put them on track to reach the ACC Championship game. As of now, Wake Forest is the ACC Atlantic Division leader, but an NC State win, which would give them tiebreakers over Clemson and Wake, would put the Wolfpack in control of their own destiny in the ACC standings.
Minnesota at Iowa: As much as I hate to keep picking Power 5 matchups here, this matchup also has significant implications for the Big Ten championship picture. Minnesota will most likely not end up on top in the Big Ten West, but if they were to beat Iowa here, the competition for the West title would turn into a four-horse race between Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin. The winner of that race would have the opportunity to play one of Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game. An Iowa win would essentially remove Minnesota out of the West playoff picture.
*Made prior to Tuesday and Wednesday’s MAC-tion; projections do not reflect results from those games.
The good (or bad, depending on your fandom and expectations) part of the college football season is that many schools beyond the selected Playoff schools get to end their seasons in a bowl game. These bowl games (many of which are owned and operated by ESPN) often pay the schools large amounts of money to come play in all kinds of places across the country. Many bowl games are played in nice climates in the Southeast or closer to the West Coast, where the weather is nicer and teams can get a little “vacation.” And, of course, there are some teams that unfortunately accept bids to games in the Northeast and get a nice cold-weather game.
Keep in mind that these are based on my own projections for each team’s record at the end of the season, as well as some estimation of what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee might do when it comes down to “Selection Sunday.”
First, my picks for the College Football Playoff. These are, of course, subject to change, but I’m basing these on what I think the Committee is going to ultimately do. These are important for the New Year’s Six and the rest of bowl season because each conference sends teams to various bowl games based on the number of “ties” it has with bowl games and the number of teams it has available for those “ties.” Losing teams to the Playoff reduces the number of teams available for bowl “ties.”
Even though the Committee has come out with its first set of rankings, these bowl projections are an estimate of how the rest of the season will shake out and how I think the Committee will ultimately slot various teams at the end of the season.
First, we begin with the CFP Semifinal projections. The playoff selections have a huge impact over bowl season, so any change here alters the rest of the bowl schedule quite dramatically, depending on the teams selected.
This week’s Playoff projections are brought to you by an Alabama loss in the SECCG to Georgia and an Oregon loss to Utah in Salt Lake City in a few weeks. If Oregon survives and wins the PAC-12 with just 1 loss, they’re in. The same goes for Alabama.
This week’s CFP rankings, as well as the projections, have switched up both the Playoff and the New Year’s Six Bowl Projections, which is good news for the Big Ten:
Oregon, after falling just short of the playoff, gets to play a surging Wisconsin. Alabama, after playing just short of the playoff, gets to eviscerate Oklahoma State. Michigan, after falling just short of the playoff, gets to play Texas A&M.
I have Notre Dame stealing the ACC’s New Year’s Six bowl spot. The Committee essentially picks the NY6 based on the Top 25 rankings, so as long as Notre Dame is ranked ahead of both Wake and Pittsburgh, the Fighting Irish should be able to take one of those bowl spots.
And, finally, now that we’ve gotten the best six bowls out of the way, here are the remainder of the bowl games (of course, subject to change, based on the CFP Committee’s rankings). Teams typically need to win 6 games (a .500 winning percentage) to reach a bowl game, but ESPN will occasionally take teams that are 5-7 to fill in extra bowl games. And, since ESPN organizes nearly half of the bowl games, they have a lot of discretion over what teams are in what bowl games and can choose teams to “stand-in” for conferences that can’t meet all of their bowl ties.
Note: As you scan the list of bowls, take a look at the conferences involved and check out the bowl payouts. That should give you a really good idea of the monetary disparity between various conferences.
NOTE: Since the PAC-12 doesn’t allow 5-7 teams to participate in bowl games (and I have a couple of projected 5-7 teams in the PAC-12), I had to fill in the L.A. Bowl with an extra team. I’m not really sure what ESPN will do if they’re short of PAC-12 teams for this bowl, so I am just throwing out my best guess here. Luckily, my guess works out pretty well for us college football fans, as we get to see San Diego State take on another excellent Group of 5 team in Coastal Carolina.