bowl projections ANN ARBOR, MI – OCTOBER 22: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines leads the team onto the field to play the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 22, 2016 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Doing bowl projections, even with only one week remaining in the season, can lead to a few problems.

First of all, there is always an unfortunate need to prognosticate games. I’m not supposed to be here to guess who will win every game this coming week and assign bowl destinations accordingly. I’m here to tell you what the most likely bowl destinations are for all of the relevant teams. To that end, I always like to do my bowl projections “as teams stand now.” The season will change and teams will win or lose games unexpectedly. The best I can do is to tell where every team will end up if the status quo is kept.

Unfortunately, this leads to inaccuracies.

For example, right now Colorado is the No. 2-ranked team in the Pac 12. If I have Washington in the Playoff, then logic would dictate that Colorado gets the Rose Bowl slot. However, if Colorado loses to Washington, it becomes very likely that that USC, which beat Colorado earlier this year, would jump Colorado and end up in the Rose Bowl. Therefore, slotting Colorado into the Rose Bowl would be inaccurate (unless I am willing to predict that Colorado upsets Washington). So, even though I would like to make every prediction “as things stand now,” doing so would end up not being honest.

To counter this, I will tell you what assumptions I am forced to make and what the outcome will likely be if the games go the other way.

Another issue is the pool system some conferences now use.

Bowl committees no longer have a say in every bowl game. For example, the SEC can send any one of six teams to its six “pool” bowl games. That makes figuring out where teams will be sent much more difficult, especially as we really have no idea what will motivate conferences most. It could be anything from creating the better matchup for TV ratings, better proximity for fans, or even the matchup the selecting conference is most likely to win. Some matchups are easier to see coming than others, but sometimes it’s just impossible to tell.

Therefore, aside from making an official projection in the table, I will also point out which teams will be selected for each pool. That way, even if it is impossible to figure out exactly which individual bowl each team will go to, the other options will be much more limited.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 12:  Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes for a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL – NOVEMBER 12: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes for a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Bowl Projections:

College Football Playoff

Bowl City Date/Time (EST) Teams
Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl Atlanta, GA 12/31/2016 3 PM or 7 PM Alabama vs Washington
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Glendale, AZ 12/31/2016 3 PM or 7 PM Ohio State vs Clemson

I’m assuming that Alabama, Washington, and Clemson all win this week. Whoever wins the Big Ten Championship doesn’t matter. Ohio State is clearly the best team in the conference and one of the two best in the country, and the Buckeyes will get the No. 2 ranking in the final rankings. If Clemson or Washington loses, then the Big Ten champion will most likely move in as the next Playoff team. (Michigan’s argument, that it had beaten both Penn State and Wisconsin, would be fascinating, but I can’t get into too long of a discussion here.)

New Year’s Six Bowls

Bowl City Date/Time (EST) Teams
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Arlington, TX 1/2/17 1 PM  Western Michigan vs Penn State
Capital One Orange Bowl Miami, FL 12/30/16 8 PM  Louisville vs Michigan
Rose Bowl Game Pasadena, CA 1/2/17 5 PM  Wisconsin vs USC
Allstate Sugar Bowl New Orleans, LA 1/1/16 8:30 PM Oklahoma vs Florida

There is actually only one at-large bid this year, which will end up facing the best Group of 5 team in the Cotton Bowl. The Rose Bowl is the Big Ten against the Pac 12. Since I’m assuming that Washington beats Colorado and make the Playoff, the Buffalos will fall below USC for the Rose Bowl spot. If Penn State wins the Big Ten Championship Game, then the Nittany Lions will be in the Rose Bowl. And, if the Big Ten gets two teams in the Playoff, then Michigan will end up in the Rose Bowl, moving the Big Ten Championship Game loser to the Orange Bowl.

The committee has to choose between Louisville and Florida State for the Orange Bowl. Florida State probably has the better resume, but Louisville still has that 43-point head-to-head win, so I’ll side with Louisville getting the spot for now. If Virginia Tech wins the ACC Championship Game, then the Hokies will earn an auto-bid to the Orange Bowl and neither Florida State nor Louisville will play in a New Years’ Six Bowl. Clemson would play in the Cotton Bowl in that case.

The Sugar Bowl will take the Big 12 champion (unless it miraculously makes the Playoff) against the second-highest-ranked SEC team. I’m assuming that Oklahoma wins Bedlam, but if Oklahoma State wins that game then the Cowboys will be in the Sugar Bowl (again, assuming they don’t miraculously make the Playoff). Unless Florida gets blown out badly, I think the Gators will barely stay ahead of Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee. The Sugar Bowl berth really could go to any of those teams, though. If Florida wins the SEC Championship Game, then the Gators will automatically go to the Sugar Bowl, and Alabama will probably stay in the Playoff.

Right now, I’m assuming that a two-loss Navy won’t jump undefeated Western Michigan for the Cotton Bowl, but Navy played a singificantly harder schedule, so it’s possible the committee rewards the Midshipmen. Also, with the current other assumptions I’m going with here, Penn State will be the best remaining team and get a Cotton bowl berth. But if either Washington or Clemson is upset this week, that team will go to the Cotton Bowl.

lamar jackson
LOUISVILLE, KY – OCTOBER 24: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball against the Boston College Eagles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

All Other Bowl Games

Bowl City Date & Time (EST) Teams
Gildan New Mexico Bowl Albuquerque, NM 12/17/16 2 PM Middle Tennessee vs Air Force
Las Vegas Bowl Las Vegas, NV 12/17/16 3:30 PM San Diego State vs Louisiana-Lafayette*
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Montgomery, AL 12/17/16 5:30 PM Toledo vs Troy
AutoNation Cure Bowl Orlando, FL 12/17/16 5:30 PM South Alabama vs Miami (Oh)*
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl New Orleans, LA 12/17/16 9 PM Southern Mississippi vs Arkansas State
Miami Beach Bowl Miami, FL 12/19/16 2:30 PM Tulsa vs Central Michigan
Boca Raton Bowl Boca Raton, FL 12/20/16 7 PM Central Florida vs Old Dominion
San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl San Diego, CA 12/21/16 9 PM BYU vs New Mexico
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Boise, ID 12/22/16 7 PM Eastern Michigan vs Colorado State
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl Nassau, Bahamas 12/23/16 1 PM Western Kentucky vs Houston
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Fort Worth, TX 12/23/16 4:30 PM Navy vs Mississippi State*
Dollar General Bowl Mobile, AL 12/23/16 8 PM Ohio vs Appalachian State
Hawai’i Bowl Honolulu, HI 12/24/16 9 PM Louisiana Tech vs Hawaii
St. Petersburg Bowl St. Petersburg, FL 12/26/16 11 AM  South Florida vs North Texas
Quick Lane Bowl Detroit, MI 12/26/16 2:30 PM Boston College vs Indiana
Camping World Independence Bowl Shreveport, LA 12/26/16 5 PM N.C. State vs Vanderbilt
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Dallas, TX 12/27/16 12 PM UTSA vs Army*
Military Bowl Annapolis, MD 12/27/16 3:30 PM Temple vs Wake Forest
Holiday Bowl San Diego, CA 12/27/16 7 PM Iowa vs Washington State
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl Phoenix, AZ 12/27/16 10:15 PM Baylor vs Boise State
New Era Pinstripe Bowl New York, NY 12/28/16 2 PM Georgia Tech vs Maryland
Russell Athletic Bowl Orlando, FL 12/28/16 5:30 PM West Virginia vs Virginia Tech
Foster Farms Bowl Santa Clara, CA 12/28/16 8:30 PM Northwestern vs Stanford
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl Houston, TX 12/28/16 9 PM Kansas State vs Georgia
Birmingham Bowl Birmingham, AL 12/29/16 2 PM Memphis vs South Carolina
Belk Bowl Charlotte, NC 12/29/16 5:30 PM North Carolina vs LSU
Valero Alamo Bowl San Antonio, TX 12/29/16 9 PM Oklahoma State vs Colorado
Autozone Liberty Bowl Memphis, TN 12/30/16 12 PM TCU vs Kentucky
Hyundai Sun Bowl El Paso, TX 12/30/16 2 PM Pittsburgh vs Utah
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Nashville, TN 12/30/16 3:30 PM Minnesota vs Arkansas
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl Tucson, AZ 12/30/16 5:30 PM Wyoming vs Idaho
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Orlando, FL 12/31/16 11 AM Auburn vs Florida State
TaxSlayer Bowl Jacksonville, FL 12/31/16 11 AM Miami (Fl) vs Texas A&M
Outback Bowl Tampa, FL 1/2/17 12 PM Nebraska vs Tennessee

There are currently 74 bowl-eligible teams. Army is 6-5 but has two wins over FCS teams. Hawaii is 6-7. If we had 80 bowl-eligible teams, neither of those two would go bowling. However, since we will not reach 80, both of those get bids ahead of 5-7 teams. Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama are each 5-6 and can become bowl-eligible with a win this week. If they each win, that would bring us to 78 teams. At least two teams, North Texas and Mississippi State, will get bowl bids due to APR scores. If one of ULL and South Alabama lose, then Texas will get a bowl bid. If both lose, the final APR slot will go to Northern Illinois.

The bowl placement was relatively straightforward, but as always there’s no great way to gauge or guess replacement teams. I figured that the Armed Forces Bowl would do the best it could to get a P5 opponent for a ranked Navy squad, which meant Mississippi State. And because of the lack of eligible Pac 12 teams, I think it’s possible that the Mountain West would try to push down Boise State’s bowl selection to earn the Broncos a P5 opponent in the Cactus Bowl.

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 29:  Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC – OCTOBER 29: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Bowl Pools

Because a lot of this is guesswork, I’m going to offer up a quick explanation of how each conference’s bowl games are distributed.

Some conferences, like the Mountain West and Conference USA, don’t have any real selection order. They just work with their bowl partners at putting together the best matchups, taking into account such considerations as geography, television ratings potential, and potential ticket sales, among others. Other conferences, though, have a more streamlined process.

Therefore, the following is a list of all the bowl pools and which teams I think will fill those pools. Even if it is far more art than science predicting where each team will go within each pool, at least the options for shifting within each pool are limited.

American Athletic Conference
Bowls: Birmingham Bowl, St. Petersburg Bowl, Miami Beach Bowl, Military Bowl
Teams: Temple, South Florida, Memphis, Tulsa

Atlantic Coast Conference
Tier I Bowls: TaxSlayer Bowl, Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl
Teams: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fl)

Tier II Bowls: Military Bowl, Independence Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, St. Petersburg Bowl
N.C. State, Boston College, Wake Forest, (no fourth eligible team, so the ACC will be replaced in the St. Petersburg Bowl)

Big Ten

The Big Ten system is unique. Basically, the bowl picks a team that they want and asks the conference for that team. The Big Ten can then either agree or send a different team. Also, every Big Ten bowl will have five different teams over six years (the Pinstripe’s goal is to get eight different teams in eight years), so our best criteria is that no one will repeat bowls from where they were the last two years.


Conference-USA has no bowl order whatsoever. The champion gets to pick its bowl game, and after that the conference assigns teams as it sees fit.

Southeastern Conference

Bowls: Outback Bowl, TaxSlayer Bowl, Music City Bowl, Texas Bowl, Belk Bowl, Liberty Bowl
Teams: LSU, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee

About Yesh Ginsburg

Yesh has been a fan and student of college football since before he can remember. He spent years mastering the intricacies of the BCS and now keeps an eye on the national picture as teams jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.