SEC bowl projections, Week 13: Is Bama back in CFP?
Who knew a game in Tempe, Ariz., could have such an impact in SEC territory?
But when Oregon lost a shocker at Arizona State, it set the wheels in motion for another shakeup in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Without even rising a spot in the rankings, and without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s Playoff hopes suddenly got a whole lot better.
We’re projecting that, despite their slipup in the desert, the two-loss Ducks are still going to beat one-loss Utah in the Pac-12 title game. That leaves the Pac-12 out of the CFP.
We’re assuming three other title games on Dec. 7 go as expected: LSU beats Georgia in the SEC Championship, Ohio State tops either Minnesota or Wisconsin for the Big Ten title and Clemson pounds whichever jabroni comes out of the Coastal Division to capture the ACC crown.
That leaves a heck of a tussle for the No. 4 spot in the CFP.
Will the CFP voters leapfrog Oklahoma — and former Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts — over Alabama if the Sooners win the Big 12 title? Maybe. But beating Baylor at Baylor barely moved the needle last week in the rankings (Oklahoma rose one spot), and OU barely beat TCU on Saturday, so the Sooners are not exactly stockpiling style points. Would beating Baylor a second time be enough?
So for now, we are moving Alabama back into the CFP semifinals in our projections. This is predicated on the Crimson Tide beating Auburn soundly. Here’s a thought: Auburn lost to Florida by 11, to LSU by 3 and to Georgia by 7. What if Bama wins — at Jordan-Hare, mind you — by about 20? Without Tagovailoa? The CFP has to take that into account, right?
We will delve into this more with our CFP analysis on Monday.
In the meantime, we welcome Kentucky and Tennessee into the bowl-eligible column. The Vols travel extremely well and are on a hot streak, two attributes bowl poobahs love to see (mostly the first part). We think Tennessee will close with a comprehensive win over Vanderbilt and book a nice trip to Florida for a bowl destination. The Wildcats, meanwhile, could perhaps improve their stock by defeating bowl-bound in-state rival Louisville on Saturday.
Finally, we bring up another topic that we have not addressed here all season: Academic Progress Rate scores. If there are more bowl spots (78 this year) than there are teams with a .500 record or better, APR scores determine which team or teams with a 5-7 record get to fill a vacant bowl berth.
More to the point, what if Ole Miss beats Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night? Both teams would wind up 5-7. Could either one make a bowl game based on their APR scores? And how likely is it that there will be a vacant spot to fill?
Ole Miss carries an APR score of 978, MSU has a score of 976. So if the Rebels beat the Bulldogs, Ole Miss will take priority based on APR ranking. And there are not a ton of teams ahead of the two Mississippi schools who would need APR scores to get into a bowl.
But just a couple might be a couple too many. We are projecting that exactly 78 teams will be bowl-eligible, leaving no spots for any 5-7 teams. We could be wrong, of course. Going into Week 14, there are 73 teams with six or more wins. Some 5-6 teams could stumble and fail to reach bowl eligibility, which could open the door for Ole Miss — or even both Egg Bowl participants.
But it’s unlikely. So we take a final look at the SEC bubble and — APR possibilities and sudden Missouri bowl ban reversal aside — there is only one team left now that Tennessee and Kentucky are in:
Mississippi State (5-6 overall, 2-5 SEC): The Bulldogs did what they needed to do against FCS opponent Abilene Christian on Saturday, getting to the precipice of bowl eligibility. As we have been saying for weeks, the Egg Bowl will decide the Bulldogs’ postseason fate, or lack thereof. We think what we have thought for weeks, that the rivalry game against Ole Miss is a coin flip. We give MSU the edge because the game is in Starkville. Chances of bowling: 55%
Now, on to our bowl projections: