The Complete Guide to College Football, Week 12 Edition

The final two weeks of the college football season are here. Playoff expectations are high.

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

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 or Ohio State 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 keeps ranking #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.

Speaking of teams that need a little bit to go right… the Big 12 is still in the Playoff hunt, for now. Oklahoma fell to Baylor last week, marking their first loss of the season. However, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma both only have one loss (which isn’t a dealbreaker, as we know from Oregon, Alabama, and Ohio State’s favorable ranking by the Committee), which means that if either of the Oklahoma teams wins out, they’ll be in the Playoff. The way the schedule is lining up, the winner of “Bedlam” (Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma) gets to go to the Big 12 Championship Game to play Baylor, while the loser goes home.

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.

The race for the final 3 spots in the College Football Playoff (Georgia is effectively a lock, barring any really ugly upsets) will be very fun. Let’s take a quick look at the upcoming games for the contending teams:

Ohio State (9-1):

  • Week 12: Michigan State (the one ranked 7th in the country)
  • Week 13: Michigan (the one ranked 6th in the country)
  • (Assuming they make it this far) Week 14: Wisconsin (the one ranked 15th in the country)

Oregon (9-1): 

  • Week 12: Utah (the team they will most likely face again in the conference championship game and another red-hot team, currently ranked 23rd)
  • 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)

Oklahoma State and Oklahoma (both 9-1):

  • Oklahoma State gets Texas Tech this week
  • Oklahoma gets a tough Iowa State team this week.

Alabama (9-1):

  • Week 12: Arkansas (Not much of a challenge, but you never know)
  • Week 13: Auburn (The Iron Bowl always produces some crazy results)

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 any of these teams would make it difficult 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:

CFP Top 25 Rankings

Some thoughts: Cincinnati remains right on the precipice of a top-4 Playoff berth. A slip-up from any of the teams in front of them means we’re going to see the Bearcats in the Playoff. Here’s hoping someone slips up soon.

Also, Mississippi State sliding into these rankings at 6-4 is emblematic of the kind of college football season we’re having. We just do not have enough dominant teams to make up a Top 25 list, especially now that some of our favorite Group of 5 teams — UCF, Coastal Carolina, SMU, and Boise State — aren’t living up to their usual standards of greatness. Many of the Power 5 teams are slumping or can’t avoid upsets, either. It’s great for Team Chaos, though!

Here’s how my Top 25 teams shook out, for comparison:

Top 25 Teams by Rating After Week 11

Tennessee and Penn State grade out better than their records, for now. My Top 25 more or less matches the CFP Top 25, although the order is a little different.

For an explanation of my ratings, please see Week 9’s article.

 

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 huge chaos implications:

Michigan State at Ohio State: Clash of the Big Ten (B1G) titans! Ohio State gets its first real test since its matchup against Oregon. Luckily for the Buckeyes, this game is at home in Columbus, which should give them a nice boost. Plus, they are coming off of a 59-point explosion against Purdue, so their offense should be firing on all cylinders to start the game. However, I am sure the Spartans will come into this game ready to play. Michigan State’s Head Coach just picked up a 10-year, $95 million contract extension, so he may even be a little more motivated to show he can play with the juggernaut of the Big Ten. A Michigan State win puts them in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten Conference Championship Game berth and drops Ohio State from the Playoff race. An Ohio State win gives them the “quality win” they’ve been looking for this season and keeps them squarely in the Playoff hunt, with a nice win for their Playoff “resume”

Oregon at Utah: This is the other big (and very close!) matchup of the week. Oregon is fighting for its Playoff life, while Utah is looking to cement its spot in the PAC-12 Conference Championship Game. Oregon has already clinched its spot in the PAC-12 CCG by virtue of its conference record, but Utah needs a win to fend off Arizona State in the PAC-12 South Division (the winner of each division feeds into the conference title game). Should Utah win this game, Oregon will likely be eliminated from the Playoff, but a win over Utah (currently ranked 23rd) would add an important bullet point to Oregon’s “resume.”

SMU at Cincinnati: I really don’t mean to keep picking the same teams for “Games to Watch” each week, but this game is going to be very exciting. SMU has faltered a little bit as of late, but their offense has been electric all season and should be a great test for Cincinnati’s highly-praised defense. Cincy hasn’t faced a truly high-quality team like SMU since they played Notre Dame a few months ago, so this game will either kick Cincinnati into high gear or serve as another reason for the Playoff Committee to move them down in their rankings.

UAB at UTSA: The theme of this week is “Really good teams taking on tough challenges.” UTSA, one of the three remaining teams with an undefeated record, will take on another strong team from Conference-USA. One of the reasons cited for UTSA being ranked so low in the Playoff rankings is that they haven’t played too many teams with winning records. UAB is certainly one of those teams, heading into this matchup at 7-3. A big UTSA win will certainly help move them up, but it will also be a fun, back-and-forth game that fans can enjoy even though it doesn’t have a ton of postseason implications.

Bonus: UCLA at USC. The Battle of LA is looking pretty tepid this year. That’s not because the teams have nothing to play for, it’s because this rivalry game is a meeting of two teams that have failed to meet expectations. USC fired its coach halfway through the season and needs a win just to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility. UCLA’s Head Coach, Chip Kelly, is fighting to save his job after several bad seasons, so every win counts. UCLA has already locked up bowl eligibility and is merely jockeying for a better bowl game at this point, but a win would give them some extra pride (and maybe steal some attention away from the school’s elite basketball team) heading into their final game against Cal/UC Berkeley/California/whatever next week.

 

Bowl Projections

 

*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 third 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.

CFP Playoff Projections

This week’s Playoff projections are brought to you by a few things:

  • A projected Oregon loss to Utah this week, sending Oregon to 2 losses ahead of the PAC-12 Championship Game.
  • A projected Oklahoma State win over Oklahoma next week, sending Ok. State to the Big 12 Championship Game and Oklahoma to a regular bowl game. Plus, a projected Oklahoma State win over Baylor in the Big 12 Championship, thus forcing the Committee to include a 1-loss, Power 5 champion
  • A projected Alabama loss in the SEC Championship Game

The top 10 teams in the CFP rankings barely changed, which remains good news for the Big Ten:

New Year’s Six Bowl Projections

Pitt makes a surprise entry onto the list because I think they’re going to win out the rest of their games and then ultimately beat Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game. With that quality win as an extra feather in their cap, Pitt will surpass some of the other teams currently ranked ahead of them and land in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Notre Dame is ranked high enough to take one of those other at-large spots, and I have Ole Miss sneaking in as the SEC’s third-best and highest-ranked team after Georgia and Alabama.

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.

Second Note: North Carolina is projected to reach 6 wins even without star QB Sam Howell because they have a very winnable game this week against FCS team Wofford. A win this week would get them to bowl eligibility.

Remaining Bowl Games

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 (RIP USC, Washington, and Oregon State), I had to fill in the L.A. Bowl with a Group of 5 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.

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