Bowl projections: Bama must stop Baylor O to reach national title

They said a playoff would kill off the bowl system. If these latest projections are any indication, the non-playoff bowls may actually produce more interesting matchups.

A few examples:

* UCLA-Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Obviously, Buckeyes fans are still hoping to make the top four, but if not, a Rose Bowl lite matchup with a possible 10-win Bruins team would be compelling New Year’s Eve television.

* Auburn-Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl. You read that right. The Irish are eligible for all ACC bowls but can only play in the Russell Athletic Bowl if within one win of the highest available team. A likely scenario right now has Duke going 10-3 and the Irish 8-4 or 7-5, bumping them to Charlotte.

* Penn State-Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl. Hello, ’87 Fiesta Bowl. The Big Ten and ACC are both making a big push in New York City and would love nothing more than having two of its marquee programs square off at Yankee Stadium.

* Florida-Texas in the Liberty Bowl. It’s Will Muschamp’s current team against his former team, only he won’t be in the building. Note there’s a budding sentiment for the ‘Horns and rival Texas A&M to meet either here or in Texas Bowl. Don’t count on it.

Finally, I’m currently projecting 80 eligible teams for 78 spots. The unlucky two left out this week: Temple (a ripple effect of East Carolina falling out of my New Year’s Six lineup and taking up one of the American’s five berths) and Texas State.


Dec. 31 Peach Atlanta Mississippi State (at-large) vs. Marshall (Group of 5)
Dec. 31 Fiesta Glendale, Arizona UCLA (at-large) vs. Ohio State (Big Ten champ)  
Dec. 31 Orange Miami Georgia Tech (ACC) vs. Ole Miss (SEC/B1G/ND)
Jan. 1 Cotton Arlington, Texas Michigan State (at-large) vs. TCU (at-large)
Jan. 1 Rose Pasadena, California Oregon (CFP No. 2) vs. Florida State (CFP No. 3)
Jan. 1 Sugar New Orleans Alabama (CFP No. 1) vs. Baylor (CFP No. 4)


Dec. 20 New Orleans New Orleans, La. Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt) vs. Air Force (MWC)
Dec. 20 New Mexico Albuquerque, N.M. Nevada (MWC) vs. UTEP (C-USA)
Dec. 20 Las Vegas Las Vegas, Nev. Boise State (MWC No. 1) vs. Stanford (Pac-12 No. 6) 
Dec. 20 Idaho Potato Boise, Idaho San Diego State (MWC) vs. Western Michigan (MAC)
Dec. 20 Camellia Montgomery, Ala. South Alabama (Sun Belt) vs. Toledo (MAC) 
Dec. 22 Miami Beach Miami, Fla. Memphis (American) vs. BYU (BYU)
Dec. 23 Boca Raton Boca Raton, Fla. Middle Tennessee (C-USA) vs. Northern Illinois (MAC)
Dec. 23 Poinsettia San Diego, Calif. Colorado State (MWC) vs. Navy (Navy)
Dec. 24 Bahamas Nassau, Bahamas Bowling Green (MAC) vs. Louisiana Tech (C-USA) 
Dec. 24 Hawaii Honolulu, Hawaii Utah State (MWC) vs. UAB (C-USA)
Dec. 26 Heart of Dallas Dallas, Texas Rutgers (B1G Nos. 8-9) vs. Rice (C-USA)
Dec. 26 Quick Lane Detroit, Mich. Michigan (B1G Nos. 8-9) vs. Virginia Tech (ACC Nos. 7-9)
Dec. 26 St. Petersburg St. Petersburg, Fla. UCF (American) vs. NC State (ACC No. 10)
Dec. 27 Military Annapolis, Md. Boston College (ACC Nos. 7-9) vs. East Carolina (American)
Dec. 27 Sun El Paso, Texas Louisville (ACC Nos. 3-6) vs. Utah (Pac-12 No. 5)
Dec. 27 Independence Shreveport, La. North Carolina (ACC Nos. 7-9) vs. Arkansas (SEC Nos. 9-10)
Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bronx, N.Y. Miami (ACC Nos. 3-6) vs. Penn State (B1G Nos. 5-7)
Dec. 27 Holiday San Diego, Calif. Arizona (Pac-12 No. 3) vs. Iowa (B1G Nos. 2-4)
Dec. 29 Liberty Memphis, Tenn. Florida (SEC Nos. 3-8) vs. Texas (Big 12 No. 5)
Dec. 29 Russell Athletic Orlando, Fla. Kansas State (Big 12 No. 3) vs. Clemson (ACC No. 2)
Dec. 29 Texas Houston, Texas Texas A&M (SEC Nos. 3-8) vs. West Virginia (Big 12 No. 4)
Dec. 30 Music City Nashville, Tenn. LSU (SEC Nos. 3-8) vs. Duke (ACC Nos. 3-6)
Dec. 30 Belk Charlotte, N.C. Auburn (SEC Nos. 3-8) vs. Notre Dame (ACC Nos. 3-6)
Dec. 30 Foster Farms Santa Clara, Calif. USC (Pac-12 No. 4) vs. Maryland (B1G Nos. 5-7)
Jan. 1 Citrus Orlando, Fla. Georgia (SEC No. 2) vs. Wisconsin (B1G Nos. 2-4)
Jan. 1 Outback Tampa, Fla. Nebraska (B1G Nos. 2-4) vs. Missouri (SEC Nos. 3-8) 
Jan. 2 Armed Forces Fort Worth, Texas Houston (American) vs. Cal* (Army/Big 12 No. 7)
Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Jacksonville, Fla. Tennessee (SEC Nos. 3-8) vs. Minnesota (B1G Nos. 5-7)
Jan. 2 Alamo San Antonio, Texas Oklahoma (Big 12 No. 2) vs. Arizona State (Pac-12 No. 2)
Jan. 2 Cactus Tempe, Ariz. Northwestern* (Big 12 No. 6) vs. Washington (Pac-12 No. 7)
Jan. 3 Birmingham Birmingham, Alab. Cincinnati (American) vs. South Carolina (SEC No. 9-10)
Jan. 4 GoDaddy Mobile, Alab. Central Michigan (MAC) vs. Arkansas State (Sun Belt)

Teams in bold have officially accepted a bid.

* — replacement for a conference without enough eligible teams

** — Notre Dame is eligible for any ACC bowl as long as it’s within one win of the highest available ACC team.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to