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New College Football Playoff and bowl projections: Baylor, not TCU, joins top

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Your weekly look ahead at how the full bowl and Playoff picture is shaping up. The biggest question this time: What to do about the Big 12?

Did you know we're only four weekends away from the first-ever College Football Playoff field being finalized? The season's almost over. And while it'll be fun and all to see the Playoff in action, let's not lose sight of how fun this stretch race is gonna be.

Anyway, let's get to some projectin'. If you don't like anything here, please leave a comment, and someone will maybe be with you shortly. As always, this is a guess on how this all turns out once committees and bowls and conferences get done ordering things, not a personal ranking of how cool or dumb your team is.

College Football Playoff

Rose No. 2 Alabama No. 3 Oregon 1/1/2015 Pasadena, CA
Sugar No. 1 Florida State No. 4 Baylor 1/1/2015 New Orleans, LA

First, weekly appreciation to the Seminoles for continuing to shamble toward 13-0, no matter how flawed they look in the process. Get past Miami, Boston College, Florida, and likely Duke, and they're in, with the relatively close Sugar Bowl as the No. 1 seed's reward.

Alabama and Oregon remain here, though Saturday raises doubts about both. The Tide have to bounce back from late-night overtime at hammer-swinging LSU in time to beat hammer-swinging Mississippi State next weekend*, and that's after MSU enjoying an afternoon FCS walkthrough. The Ducks suffered injuries and likewise beat a physical team, Utah in Salt Lake City, but at least get to sort of cruise through a bye week and two bad conference teams before the Pac-12 Championship.

Yep, Baylor as the No. 4 over TCU, despite TCU surely ranking ahead of Baylor this week after blowing out Kansas State. The Bears, who destroyed Oklahoma in Norman, hold two trump cards over the Frogs, both of which the committee has stated will be important: a head-to-head win over TCU and a potential Big 12 championship as a result of that head-to-head win [update: the committee essentially announces it would consider both Baylor and TCU as conference champs, in this scenario, which means it would largely come down to head-to-head vs. strength of schedule; since the committee seems more likely to side with concrete head-to-head evidence over abstract strength-of-schedule evidence, I'll stick with Baylor for now]. If both teams finish with the same 11-1 record, which is becoming sort of likely, TCU would have the schedule strength advantage, but two advantages are more than one, in my opinion. That's assuming what the committee's told us about itself holds true.

* If MSU beats Bama, the Bulldogs just about clinch a spot, as they would likely lock up the SEC West the week after at home against Vanderbilt. Even a loss in the Egg Bowl wouldn't keep State out of the Playoff, assuming a win over the SEC East champion. Never assume anything. Even the Vanderbilt part.

The rest of the New Year's Six

Bowl Date Location Ties
Cotton TCU Ohio State 1/1/2015 Arlington, TX At-large
Fiesta Boise State Arizona State 12/31/2014 Glendale, AZ At-large
Orange Duke Mississippi State 12/31/2014 Miami, FL ACC 1 vs. Big Ten/Notre Dame/SEC
Peach Michigan State Auburn 12/31/2014 Atlanta, GA At-large

Notre Dame is out after an unsightly loss to the Sun Devils, who barge their way in. Though I'd penciled in ASU as winning this game, the lopsided final was "convincing" (which seems to be the committee jargon for BEATDOWN) enough to alter things.

Colorado State is out as the designated non-power team. Even if CSU finishes 11-1, it can't get in unless the Broncos drop another game, since Boise beat the Rams earlier in the year -- the non-power spot can only go to a conference champion. The Broncos have a much tougher road ahead, but I'm flipping the Utah State season finale in Boise's favor for now after Wyoming actually outgained the depleted USU in a weird Friday night Aggies win. (It would be tidier to put unbeaten and flamethrowing Marshall in, but the committee's preferences weigh heavily against a team that tramples a bad schedule.)

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The ACC is guaranteed a spot in the Orange Bowl, and a Duke team on course for 11-2 should start to rank well any day now. The Orange will likely get one top-10 team, though, due to its other conference ties. After that, the committee pairs teams based on geography and matchups.

Everything else

As always, bowl pecking orders are not based on conference standings. Those numbers in the right column just note which bowls pick in which order.

Bowl Date Location Conference pick
GoDaddy Northern Illinois South Alabama 1/4/2015 Mobile, AL MAC 1 vs. Sun Belt 2
Birmingham Cincinnati Missouri 1/3/2015 Birmingham, AL American vs. SEC 9
Alamo Oklahoma UCLA 1/2/2015 San Antonio, TX Big 12 2 vs. Pac-12 2
Armed Forces Houston Rutgers 1/2/2015 Fort Worth, TX American vs. Army/Big 12 7/Big Ten
Cactus Texas State* Washington 1/2/2015 Tempe, AZ Big 12 6 vs. Pac-12 7 (MWC backup)
TaxSlayer Minnesota Florida 1/2/2015 Jacksonville, FL ACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7 vs. SEC 3-8
Citrus Wisconsin Ole Miss 1/1/2015 Orlando, FL Big Ten 2-4 vs. SEC 2
Outback Maryland South Carolina 1/1/2015 Tampa, FL Big Ten 2-4 vs. SEC 3-8
Belk Clemson Tennessee 12/30/2014 Charlotte, NC ACC 3-6 vs. SEC 3-8
Music City Louisville Georgia 12/30/2014 Nashville, TN ACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7 vs. SEC 3-8
San Francisco Iowa Arizona 12/30/2014 San Francisco, CA Big Ten 5-7 vs. Pac-12 4
Liberty Oklahoma State LSU 12/29/2014 Memphis, TN Big 12 5 vs. SEC 3-8
Russell Athletic Notre Dame West Virginia 12/29/2014 Orlando, FL ACC 2 vs. Big 12 3
Texas Kansas State Texas A&M 12/29/2014 Houston, TX Big 12 4 vs. SEC 3-8
Holiday Nebraska USC 12/27/2014 San Diego, CA Big Ten 2-4 vs. Pac-12 3
Independence Pitt Louisiana Tech 12/27/2014 Shreveport, LA ACC vs. SEC 10 (C-USA backup)
Military Temple NC State 12/27/2014 Annapolis, MD American vs. ACC
Pinstripe Georgia Tech Penn State 12/27/2014 New York, NY ACC 3-6 vs. Big Ten 5-7
Sun Miami Utah 12/27/2014 El Paso, TX ACC 3-6 vs. Pac-12 5
Bitcoin UCF Middle Tennessee 12/26/2014 St. Petersburg, FL American vs. C-USA (ACC backup)
Quick Lane Boston College Western Michigan 12/26/2014 Detroit, MI ACC (MAC backup) vs. Big Ten (MAC backup)
Heart of Dallas Cal* Rice 12/26/2014 Dallas, TX Big Ten/Big 12 7 vs. C-USA
Bahamas Marshall Bowling Green 12/24/2014 Nassau, BS C-USA vs. MAC 4/5
Hawaii Western Kentucky Air Force 12/24/2014 Honolulu, HI C-USA vs. MWC 2-7
Boca UAB Ohio 12/23/2014 Boca Raton, FL C-USA vs. MAC 4/5
Poinsettia San Diego State Navy 12/23/2014 San Diego, CA MWC 2-7 vs. Navy
Miami Beach East Carolina BYU 12/22/2014 Miami, FL American vs. BYU
Camelia Akron Arkansas State 12/20/2014 Montgomery, AL MAC 3 vs. Sun Belt 3 (ACC backup)
Las Vegas Colorado State Stanford 12/20/2014 Las Vegas, NV MWC 1 vs. Pac-12 6
New Mexico UTEP Utah State 12/20/2014 Albuquerque, NM C-USA vs. MWC 2-7
New Orleans UL Lafayette Memphis* 12/20/2014 New Orleans, LA Sun Belt 1 vs. MWC 2-7
Potato Toledo Nevada 12/20/2014 Boise, ID MAC 2 vs. MWC 2-7

* Team filling another conference's unused slot.

Minor rearrangements throughout, with ASU's ascent giving the whole Pac-12 a little more room to spread out in the regular-folk bowls. The toughest question might be where to put the Georgia Tech-Clemson winner, which could finish with 10 wins but has to compete against ACC-ish Notre Dame for a worthy bowl spot. The Tigers or Jackets could certainly still make the New Year's group.

Leaving us this week are Northwestern, the loser of the annual Worst Game With The Worst Ending, the Northwestern-Michigan classic; and Oregon State, which is bad.

Joining us are Texas State, with other conferences combining to create a convenient spot; and Cal, due to reckless capriciousness.

Yes, South Carolina is still here for old times' sake. And yes, it's absurd that a potentially 10-2 Georgia Southern likely can't go bowling in its first FBS year, thanks to NCAA rules.