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New bowl projections, where everything but the title game feels up for grabs

Here are picks for all 40 bowl games, including the College Football Playoff.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

With Week 8 down, college football’s postseason picture looks clear, but only at the very top. Alabama and Clemson remain untouchable, and everything else is uncertain. Ohio State was in that group, but lingering issues caught up hard in a blowout loss at Purdue. So while we’re right where we were nine months ago — looking ahead to a seemingly likely Alabama vs. Clemson national title game — there’s a whole lot more to bowl season than just one game.

Each week, I update a board of projected winners for every FBS game, tally up records, and guess what the Playoff committee and bowl committees would do with the results. Things get closer and closer to eventual accuracy as Selection Sunday nears, but more importantly, it’s some weekly fun!

Below, projections for all 40 2018 bowl games. A lot of these will change dramatically over the next two months, so if you don’t like where your team is listed, I bet a few wins on the field will change things!

First, the College Football Playoff

  • Cotton (Arlington, TX): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
  • Orange (Miami): No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan
  • Championship (Santa Clara, CA): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Clemson

That’s the same Playoff I had last week. A lot of Ohio State fans were mad about it at the time. I think I’m going to leave it, though, especially now that Michigan overcame mojo to win in East Lansing and the Buckeyes got destroyed by Purdue.

To address the other fair complaint from last week: why might Michigan rank ahead of Notre Dame in December, if the Irish won head to head in September?

Well, the committee doesn’t use head to head as the only deciding factor between two teams. It lists it as one of several criteria it uses if it thinks teams are otherwise equal. The committee could decide Michigan’s just straight up better on the year than Notre Dame, despite Week 1. It could also include the other criteria: strength of schedule, conference titles, and common opponents. The overall edge from that group would go to Michigan.

But I’m just making somewhat educated guesses here. We’ll see. If the Irish get back to crushing people, this could certainly change. It ain’t that serious.

Next: the rest of the New Year’s Six

  • Sugar (New Orleans): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
  • Rose (Pasadena, CA): Ohio State vs. Washington State
  • Peach (Atlanta): Florida vs. UCF
  • Fiesta (Glendale, AZ): LSU vs. Iowa

The Sugar remains the same for now, with OU also emerging as a potential First Team Out of the Playoff.

Compared to last week, the Rose adds a “State.” I have no idea what to make of anyone in the Pac-12, but I do know WSU is the only one-loss team left and hosts Washington, a team it’s kind of hard to be really impressed by. So sure, let’s keep the Pullman vibes rolling.

Florida’s probably a surprise in this group, but look at the schedule. 10-2 is well within range, and 10-2 SEC teams won’t tend to get left out. I’m certainly not assuming UCF is the automatic non-power autobid, but I am still guessing the Knights are the favorite. How could you not love this matchup, though? We’d have THE BATTLE FOR OCALA in a city full of memories for both teams, with extra in-state RESPECT SPITE piled on top of the usual load.

LSU’s looking like 9-3 or better, and against that schedule, that’d get it done. Iowa’s here for a second week, simply based on having a good chance at a lofty final win total.

And now, everything else

  • Citrus (Orlando): Penn State vs. Kentucky
  • Outback (Tampa): Michigan State vs. Texas A&M
  • Gator (Jacksonville): Purdue vs. Tennessee
  • Holiday (San Diego): Wisconsin vs. Utah
  • Liberty (Memphis): Oklahoma State vs. Memphis*
  • Military (Annapolis, MD): Cincinnati vs. Boston College
  • Sun (El Paso): Miami vs. Colorado
  • Belk (Charlotte): Virginia vs. Auburn
  • Alamo (San Antonio): Texas vs. Washington
  • Arizona (Tucson): San Diego State vs. ULM
  • Camping World (Orlando): NC State vs. West Virginia
  • Music City (Nashville): Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State
  • Texas (Houston): Texas Tech vs. Missouri
  • Pinstripe (New York City): Syracuse vs. Northwestern
  • Independence (Shreveport, LA): Baylor* vs. BYU*
  • Cheez-It (Phoenix): Iowa State vs. Stanford
  • Quick Lane (Detroit): Army* vs. WMU*
  • SERVPRO (Dallas): Arizona State vs. North Texas
  • Redbox (Santa Clara, CA): Minnesota vs. Oregon
  • Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Hawaii
  • Dollar General (Mobile): Akron vs. Georgia Southern
  • Armed Forces (Fort Worth): MTSU* vs. TCU
  • Birmingham: Houston vs. Buffalo*
  • Potato (Boise): Toledo vs. Boise State
  • Bahamas: FAU vs. NIU
  • Gasparilla (Tampa): USF vs. Duke
  • Frisco (TX): SMU vs. Ohio
  • Boca Raton: Temple vs. UAB
  • New Orleans: Louisiana Tech vs. Troy
  • Camellia (Montgomery, AL): EMU vs. Appalachian State
  • Las Vegas: Fresno State vs. USC
  • Cure (Orlando): FIU* vs. Arkansas State
  • New Mexico (Albuquerque): Marshall vs. Utah State

* = Taking another conference’s unfilled bid. I’m getting a little creative with a couple of those for now — for example, Buffalo way up in the Birmingham Bowl. Since so many non-power games are owned by ESPN, it’s feasible for the network to play matchmaker across usual conference ties on Selection Sunday. Since the MAC champ usually wins up in Alabama anyway, why not upgrade that game?

I have Northwestern in as a 5-7 APR team.

This week, the bowl ties I’m least happy with are the ACC’s. Getting the canceled NC State-West Virginia game back on the books would be fun, but then there’s nowhere great to put Miami.

As always, remember bowl bids are not strictly based on merit. A few conferences have rules that prevent bowls from taking teams with clearly lesser records over more deserving teams, but bowls mostly care about butts in seats. If you beat a bigger program that’s closer to a bowl both of you want, you’re not guaranteed to get it.