College Football Playoff Eliminator: Week 1

The College Football Playoff (CFP) Eliminator is back for the 2022 season as we look to eliminate teams on a weekly basis from CFP contention.

Teams are eliminated based off their losses and path to the CFP. For Group of Five teams, that usually comes after their first loss of the season. For many teams, they simply do not boast the necessary strength of schedule to make a 4-team field regardless of their record. For the fun of the sport, we will be keeping teams that still have a shot at a New Years’ Six (NY6) bowl out of the eliminator – for now.

Let’s take a look at where every conference stands after Week 1 of the college season.

American Athletic Conference

Can the AAC push a team to the final four like they did in 2021? Not likely. But the conference has been the best of the Group of Five for most of the past decade. Right now, Houston has risen as the clear favorite after a triple-overtime win against UTSA. The Cougars avoid both Cincinnati and UCF in the regular season while playing future Big XII foes Texas Tech and Kansas before conference play begins.

Still in the hunt:

#25 Houston (1-0)
(RV) UCF (1-0)
SMU (1-0)
Tulane (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

(RV) Cincinnati (0-1): lost to Arkansas, 31-24 (Week 1)
East Carolina (0-1): lost to NC State, 21-20 (Week 1)
Memphis (0-1): lost to Mississippi State, 49-23 (Week 1)
Navy (0-1): lost to Delaware, 14-7 (Week 1)
South Florida (0-1): lost to BYU, 50-21 (Week 1)
Temple (0-1): lost to Duke, 30-0 (Week 1)
Tulsa (0-1): lost to Wyoming, 40-37 (2OT) (Week 1)

Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson has been the ACC’s best bet to make the CFP in recent years, claiming two national championships, but the offense still looked shaky behind QB DJ Uiagalelei before pulling away from Georgia Tech. NC State got lucky against East Carolina while Pittsburgh escaped the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, leaving the door wide open for ACC title contention and returning the ACC to the CFP.

Still in the hunt:

#5 Clemson (1-0)
#15 Miami (1-0)
#17 Pittsburgh (1-0)
#18 NC State (1-0)
#23 Wake Forest (1-0)
(RV) Florida State (2-0)
(RV) North Carolina (2-0)
Duke (1-0)
Syracuse (1-0)
Virginia (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Boston College (0-1): lost to Rutgers, 22-21 (Week 1)
Georgia Tech (0-1): lost to Clemson, 41-10 (Week 1)
Louisville (0-1): lost to Syracuse, 31-7 (Week 1)
Virginia Tech (0-1): lost to Old Dominion, 20-17 (Week 1)

Big Ten Conference

Michigan and Ohio State are poised to be the top of the class again this year, with the Wolverines coming off a conference title and CFP appearance last year. The Wild West Division is showing to be just that, with Minnesota and Wisconsin looking to be the strongest of the bunch this early in the season.

Still in the hunt:

#3 Ohio State (1-0)
#4 Michigan (1-0)
#14 Michigan State (1-0)
#19 Wisconsin (1-0)
(RV) Penn State (1-0)
(RV) Minnesota (1-0)
Indiana (1-0)
Iowa (1-0)
Maryland (1-0)
Northwestern (1-0)
Rutgers (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

(RV) Purdue (0-1): lost to Penn State, 35-31 (Week 1)
Illinois (1-1): lost to Indiana, 23-20 (Week 1)
Nebraska (1-1): lost to Northwestern, 31-28 (Week 0)

Big XII Conference

Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State look to be the clear frontrunners in the hectic Big XII round-robin tournament. Still, history has proven that anyone can win in this conference. With Alabama coming to visit Austin and QB Quinn Ewers this weekend, the road to the CFP could look a lot different for the conference that hasn’t placed a team in the past two cycles.

Still in the hunt:

#7 Oklahoma (1-0)
#9 Baylor (1-0)
#11 Oklahoma State (1-0)
(RV) Texas (1-0)
(RV) Kansas State (1-0)
Iowa State (1-0)
Kansas (1-0)
TCU (1-0)
Texas Tech (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

West Virginia (0-1): lost to Pittsburgh, 38-31 (Week 1)

Conference USA

2021 C-USA champion UTSA almost came away with a victory over Houston, which would have been a huge win for the program before they take on Army and Texas. As many members gear up for the exodus to the American after this season, the conference’s chances of of producing a ranked team – let alone a NY6 team – are slim.

Still in the hunt:

FIU (1-0)
UAB (1-0)
Western Kentucky (2-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Florida Atlantic (1-1): lost to Ohio, 41-38 (Week 1)
Louisiana Tech (0-1): lost to Missouri, 52-24 (Week 1)
Middle Tennessee (0-1): lost to James Madison, 44-7 (Week 1)
North Texas (1-1): lost to SMU, 48-10 (Week 1)
Rice (0-1): lost to USC, 66-14 (Week 1)
UTSA (0-1): lost to Houston, 37-35 (3OT) (Week 1)

Eliminated:

Charlotte: eliminated with loss to William & Mary, 41-24 (Week 1)
* Wild hypothetical: Charlotte wins out, beating Maryland and South Carolina, who both compete in the Big Ten and SEC. Would the 11-2 49ers get close to a NY6 bid?
UTEP: eliminated with loss to Oklahoma, 45-13 (Week 1)

FBS Independents

Notre Dame suffered a loss to Ohio State in Columbus, but managed to keep the Buckeye’s offense in check for most of the game. BYU demolished South Florida, making them the most likely viable Independent team that has a chance at crashing the NY6 party.

Still in the hunt:

#21 BYU (1-0)
Liberty (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Army (0-1): lost to Coastal Carolina, 38-28 (Week 1)
Notre Dame (0-1): lost to Ohio State, 21-10 (Week 1)
UConn (1-1): lost to Utah State (Week 0)
UMass (0-1): lost to Tulane, 42-10 (Week 1)

Eliminated:

New Mexico State: eliminated with loss to Minnesota, 38-0 (Week 1)
* Wild hypothetical: New Mexico State wins out, beating Wisconsin and Missouri, who both compete in the Big Ten and SEC. Would the 10-2 Aggies get close to a NY6 bid?

Mid-American Conference

The MAC has been a league of true parity, with six different conference champions since 2015. Although the difficulty of schedule is never enough to make a push for a CFP spot, a NY6 bid is not out of the question for a 12 or 13-win team. Even with Akron barely beating an FCS opponent, anything can happen once MAC play begins.

Still in the hunt:

Akron (1-0)
Eastern Michigan (1-0)
Northern Illinois (1-0)
Ohio (1-0)
Toledo (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Ball State (0-1): lost to Tennessee, 59-10 (Week 1)
Bowling Green (0-1): lost to UCLA, 45-17 (Week 1)
Buffalo (0-1): lost to Maryland, 31-10 (Week 1)
Central Michigan (0-1): lost to Oklahoma State, 58-44 (Week 1)
Kent State (0-1): lost to Washington, 45-20 (Week 1)
Miami (OH) (0-1): lost to Kentucky, 37-13 (Week 1)
Western Michigan (0-1): lost to Michigan State, 35-13 (Week 1)

Mountain West Conference

The Mountain West was a thorn in the Pac-12 Conference’s back last season, going 5-5 against the Power Five Conference that occupies the same region. With Air Force and Fresno State looking to be tough teams to beat, and chances to prove themselves against Pac-12 opponents (most notably, Fresno State’s trip to USC on September 17), the Mountain West could make some noise and push a few teams into a ranked position.

Still in the hunt:

(RV) Fresno State (1-0)
(RV) Air Force (1-0)
Nevada (2-0)
New Mexico (1-0)
San Jose State (1-0)
UNLV (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Boise State (0-1): lost to Oregon State, 34-17 (Week 1)
Colorado State (0-1): lost to Michigan, 51-7 (Week 1)
San Diego State (0-1): lost to Arizona, 38-20 (Week 1)
Utah State (1-1): lost to Alabama, 55-0 (Week 1)
Wyoming (1-1): lost to Tulsa, 40-37 (2OT) (Week 1)

Eliminated:

Hawai’i: eliminated with loss to Western Kentucky, 49-17 (Week 1)
* Wild hypothetical: Hawai’i wins out, beating Michigan and winning the Mountain West, with the Wolverines winning the Big Ten. Would the 11-2 Warriors get close to a NY6?

Pac-12 Conference

The Pac-12 has not had a CFP team since Washington made the field in 2016. Fast forward to today, and the conference is on the verge of losing its two most valuable members to the Big Ten. After Georgia’s demolition of Oregon and Utah’s loss at Florida, USC has become the slight frontrunner in the league.

Still in the hunt:

#10 USC (1-0)
(RV) Oregon State (1-0)
(RV) UCLA (1-0)
(RV) Arizona (1-0)
Arizona State (1-0)
California (1-0)
Stanford (1-0)
Washington (1-0)
Washington State (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

#13 Utah (0-1): lost to Florida, 29-26 (Week 1)
(RV) Oregon (0-1): lost to Georgia, 49-3 (Week 1)
Colorado (0-1): lost to TCU, 38-13 (Week 1)

Southeastern Conference

The nation’s top conference, which has sent Alabama and Georgia to the CFP two separate times, boasts a 14-1 overall record. The lone loss was LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly’s debut against Florida State. With a multitude of ranked teams and marquee wins out-of-conference, the SEC is poised to send a team to the CFP again – and possibly multiple.

Still in the hunt:

#1 Alabama (1-0)
#2 Georgia (1-0)
#6 Texas A&M (1-0)
#12 Florida (1-0)
#16 Arkansas (1-0)
#20 Kentucky (1-0)
#22 Ole Miss (1-0)
#24 Tennessee (1-0)
(RV) Auburn (1-0)
(RV) Mississippi State (1-0)
(RV) South Carolina (1-0)
Missouri (1-0)
Vanderbilt (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

LSU (0-1): lost to Florida State, 24-23 (Week 1)

Sun Belt Conference

Appalachian State suffered a home heartbreaker to North Carolina, 63-61, but gets another “prove-it” game as they travel to Texas A&M this weekend. Coastal Carolina got to business by beating Army, James Madison welcomed themselves to the FBS with a win over Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion took down Virginia Tech, giving the Sun Belt a strong start to their 2022 conference campaign.

Still in the hunt:

Arkansas State (1-0)
Coastal Carolina (1-0)
Georgia Southern (1-0)
James Madison (1-0)
Louisiana (1-0)
Marshall (1-0)
Old Dominion (1-0)
South Alabama (1-0)

Early-season strugglers:

Appalachian State (0-1): lost to North Carolina, 63-61 (Week 1)
Georgia State (0-1): lost to South Carolina, 35-14 (Week 1)
Louisiana-Monroe (0-1): lost to Texas, 52-10 (Week 1)
Southern Miss (0-1): lost to Liberty, 29-27 (4OT) (Week 1)
Texas State (0-1): lost to Nevada, 38-14 (Week 1)
Troy (0-1): lost to Ole Miss, 28-10 (Week 1)

ELIMINATED TEAMS

Week 1 (4 teams)

Charlotte: eliminated with loss to William & Mary, 41-24 (Week 1)
Hawai’i: eliminated with loss to Western Kentucky, 49-17 (Week 1)
New Mexico State: eliminated with loss to Minnesota, 38-0 (Week 1)
UTEP: eliminated with loss to Oklahoma, 45-13 (Week 1)

Team Previews: Big Ten Conference

The Big Ten has been top heavy throughout the College Football Playoff (CFP) era. The Big Ten East powers of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State have won every Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis since the East-West divisional format began in 2014.

With Michigan taking down Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and making the CFP for the first time, along with Penn State and Michigan State extending their head coaches, the trust for future success is all in the East. The West is again wide open with Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin all being the heavier favorites and vying for the top spot.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at each team’s projected SP+ rankings and Returning Production Percentage to analyze their recent recruiting, returning production, and overall program health heading into the 2022 season. We’ll also have conference predictions and early game-by-game picks.

Illinois Fighting Illini

2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 51%
SP+ Ranking: -3.2 (13th Big Ten, 82nd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Wyoming
L @ Indiana
L vs Virginia
W vs Chattanooga
L @ Wisconsin
L vs Iowa
L vs Minnesota
L @ Nebraska
L vs Michigan State
W vs Purdue
L @ Michigan
W @ Northwestern

Record Prediction: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten)

Illinois brings in Syracuse transfer QB Tommy Devito to compete with Artur Sitkowski, but there will be growing pains under new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. (UTSA’s OC in 2021). An out of conference visit from Virginia and drawing Michigan and Michigan State in cross-divisional play certainly bolsters the schedule.

Indiana Hoosiers

2021 Record: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 67%
SP+ Ranking: -0.4 (11th Big Ten, 72nd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Illinois
W vs Idaho
W vs Western Kentucky
L @ Cincinnati
L @ Nebraska
L vs Michigan
L vs Maryland
L @ Rutgers
L vs Penn State
L @ Ohio State
L @ Michigan State
L vs Purdue

Record Prediction: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

The Hoosier offense was the worst in the conference in 2021 and with an overhaul at most of the skill positions, there isn’t much optimism for a rebound this season. Transfers Connor Bazelak (QB, Missouri), Shaun Shivers (RB, Auburn), and Emery Simmons (WR, UNC) all have a chance to earn playing time, but the defense needs to come up with more stops and turnovers if they want to be competitive.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2021 Record: 10-4 (7-2 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Citrus Bowl vs #22 Kentucky (L, 20-17)
Returning Production: 76%
SP+ Ranking: 12.5 (7th Big Ten, 27th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs South Dakota State
W vs Iowa State
W vs Nevada
W @ Rutgers
L vs Michigan
W @ Illinois
L @ Ohio State
W vs Northwestern
L @ Purdue
W vs Wisconsin
L @ Minnesota
W vs Nebraska

Record Prediction: 8-4 (5-4 Big Ten)

It’s expected that Iowa will have one of the nation’s best defenses again in 2022. They also return two-year starting QB Spencer Petras, but Alex Padilla is still in the competition. Iowa has a tough opening to the season with FCS power South Dakota State and Iowa State, but they should be in contention to win the West again.

Maryland Terrapins

2021 Record: 7-6 (3-6 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Pinstripe Bowl vs Virginia Tech (W, 54-10)
Returning Production: 70%
SP+ Ranking: 7.5 (10th Big Ten, 47th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Buffalo
W @ Charlotte
L vs SMU
L @ Michigan
W vs Michigan State
L vs Purdue
W @ Indiana
W vs Northwestern
L @ Wisconsin
L @ Penn State
L vs Ohio State
W vs Rutgers

Record Prediction: 6-6 (4-5 Big Ten)

Maryland is one of the few college football programs that have the luxury of having an established returning QB in Taulia Tagovailoa. With a talented and veteran receiving corps, the goal for the Terrapins should be to score more in Big Ten contests. Maryland was able to handle out-of-conference foes pretty handily, but struggled mightily against the four East Division powers and will need to be more competitive in those matchups.

Michigan Wolverines

2021 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: CFP Semifinal: Capital One Orange Bowl vs #3 Georgia (L, 34-11)
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: 20.6 (2nd Big Ten, 4th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Colorado State
W vs Hawai’i
W vs UConn
W vs Maryland
W @ Iowa
W @ Indiana
L vs Penn State
W vs Michigan State
W @ Rutgers
W vs Nebraska
W vs Illinois
L @ Ohio State

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

RB Blake Corum is one of the nation’s best returning backs; he’ll lead the offense alongside either Cade McNamara or J.J. McCarthy at QB. They’ll have to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo on defense, but returners at other positions will be a positive. The nonconference schedule is weak, but the usual Big Ten East Division suspects all bring back talented rosters as well. Michigan should be competing for the conference well into November.

Michigan State Spartans

2021 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Peach Bowl vs #12 Pittsburgh (W, 31-21)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 15.1 (5th Big Ten, 16th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Western Michigan
W vs Akron
W @ Washington
W vs Minnesota
L @ Maryland
L vs Ohio State
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Michigan
W @ Illinois
W vs Rutgers
W vs Indiana
L @ Penn State

Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-5 Big Ten)

Sparty returns QB Payton Thorne but needs to replace the electric Kenneth Walker III at RB and WR Jalen Nailor. The Big Ten East will have an abundance of returning QBs and will look to take advantage of a Michigan State passing defense that struggled in 2021. The roster is talented enough to compete for the Big Ten again, but the returners of other conference foes makes for a lot of toss-up games.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs West Virginia (W, 18-6)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 14.2 (6th Big Ten, 21st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs New Mexico State
W vs Western Illinois
W vs Colorado
L @ Michigan State
L vs Purdue
W @ Illinois
L @ Penn State
W vs Rutgers
W @ Nebraska
W vs Northwestern
W vs Iowa
W @ Wisconsin

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-3 Big Ten)

Minnesota has been on the cusp of playing for a Big Ten title for years now under head coach P.J. Fleck, but they have yet to make the trip to Indianapolis. QB Tanner Morgan returns for his fifth season, and he gets the luxury of RB Mohamad Ibrahim returning in the backfield. With quality transfers like Darnell Jefferies (DL, Clemson) and offensive linemen Quinn Carroll (Notre Dame) and Chuck Filiaga (Michigan), there are reasons for optimism surrounding a Golden Gopher West Division title run.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 57%
SP+ Ranking: 12.3 (8th Big Ten, 29th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Northwestern (Aviva Stadium: Dublin, Ireland)
W vs North Dakota
W vs Georgia Southern
W vs Oklahoma
W vs Indiana
W @ Rutgers
L @ Purdue
W vs Illinois
L vs Minnesota
L @ Michigan
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Iowa

Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-5 Big Ten)

Nebraska is coming off a season in which they lost a lot of close games. QB Casey Thompson comes in from Texas and should provide a boost to an offense that couldn’t score in necessary situations. Nebraska should be able to match their 2021 win total early in the season, and it should be expected that they compete in most games in the even playing field that is the Big Ten West.

Northwestern Wildcats

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: -4.5 (14th Big Ten, 85th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs Nebraska (Aviva Stadium: Dublin, Ireland)
W vs Duke
W vs Southern Illinois
W vs Miami (OH)
L @ Penn State
L vs Wisconsin
L @ Maryland
L @ Iowa
L vs Ohio State
L @ Minnesota
L @ Purdue
L vs Illinois

Record Prediction: 3-9 (0-9 Big Ten)

Pat Fitzgerald is known to do more with less at Northwestern, particularly in even-numbered years (his Wildcats advanced to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2018 and 2020). QB Ryan Hilinski returns, along with RB Evan Hull and WR Malik Washington. The Wildcats draw Maryland, Ohio State, and Penn State out of the East this season and will need to rebuild their defense to keep up with the returning production of many of the Big Ten quarterbacks they’ll face.

Ohio State Buckeyes

2021 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Rose Bowl vs #11 Utah (W, 48-45)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 29.9 (1st Big Ten, 1st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Notre Dame
W vs Arkansas State
W vs Toledo
W vs Wisconsin
W vs Rutgers
W @ Michigan State
W vs Iowa
W @ Penn State
W @ Northwestern
W vs Indiana
W @ Maryland
W vs Michigan

Record Prediction: 12-0 (9-0 Big Ten)

Ohio State returns QB CJ Stroud, who is an early Heisman favorite, along with star RB TreVeyon Henderson and breakout WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The offense will be one of the best in the country and will put up a lot of points. The defense will be led by Jim Knowles, who held the DC role at Oklahoma State. He’ll have the chance to lead a loaded and young defensive unit that struggled at times in 2021. The Buckeyes should be early favorites for not only the Big Ten title, but also the CFP.

Penn State Nittany Lions

2021 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Outback Bowl vs #21 Arkansas (L, 24-10)
Returning Production: 65%
SP+ Ranking: 16.3 (4th Big Ten, 13th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Purdue
W vs Ohio
W @ Auburn
W vs Central Michigan
W vs Northwestern
W @ Michigan
W vs Minnesota
L vs Ohio State
W @ Indiana
W vs Maryland
W @ Rutgers
W vs Michigan State

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

QB Sean Clifford should be the expected week one starter for the Nittany Lions. Newcomer RB Nick Singleton will look to improve the rushing attack while WR Parker Washington and transfer WR Mitchell Tinsley (Western Kentucky) add some assistance for Clifford. The defense should be strong behind field safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who was tied for the FBS lead in interceptions with six. Competing for the Big Ten East should be within reason in 2022.

Purdue Boilermakers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Music City Bowl vs Tennessee (W, 48-45 / OT)
Returning Production: 67%
SP+ Ranking: 10.6 (9th Big Ten, 36th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Penn State
W vs Indiana State
W @ Syracuse
W vs Florida Atlantic
W @ Minnesota
W @ Maryland
W vs Nebraska
L @ Wisconsin
W vs Iowa
L @ Illinois
W vs Northwestern
W @ Indiana

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

Aidan O’Connell returns at QB for Purdue, who secured a nine-win season after an overtime bowl victory over Tennessee. Their out of conference schedule is manageable, as well as their cross-divisional games with Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana. WR Milton Wright looks to be the next star catcher for coach Jeff Brohm, who brings in some new coordinators. The schedule looks to be favorable for what should be a wild West Division season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2021 Record: 5-8 (2-7 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Gator Bowl vs #17 Wake Forest (L, 38-10)
Returning Production: 66%
SP+ Ranking: -1.4 (12th Big Ten, 78th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Boston College
W vs Wagner
W @ Temple
L vs Iowa
L @ Ohio State
L vs Nebraska
W vs Indiana
L @ Minnesota
L vs Michigan
L @ Michigan State
L vs Penn State
L @ Maryland

Record Prediction: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

Rutgers struggled to score against Big Ten foes in 2021, and much of the East Division returns an abundance of offensive production. There is some talent on defense with S Christian Izien and CB Avery Young, which could alleviate some of the blows. Transfer WR Taj Harris (Syracuse) comes in with over 2,000 receiving yards under his belt, which is good news for returning QB Noah Vedral if he can win the starting job again.

Wisconsin Badgers

2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
Bowl Result: Las Vegas Bowl vs Arizona State (W, 20-13)
Returning Production: 62%
SP+ Ranking: 18.2 (3rd Big Ten, 10th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Illinois State
W vs Washington State
W vs New Mexico State
L @ Ohio State
W vs Illinois
W @ Northwestern
W @ Michigan State
W vs Purdue
W vs Maryland
L @ Iowa
W @ Nebraska
L vs Minnesota

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-3 Big Ten)

QB Graham Mertz is the current starter for the Badgers. The offense needs to do a better job of capitalizing in the red zone, which will include finding a go-to receiver. RB Braelon Allen will look to have a successful season and receive a bulk of the carries as well. Wisconsin is another team that should be competing for the division well into November.

Conference Standings Prediction

EASTTEAMRECORD
1Ohio State Buckeyes12-0 (9-0)
2Penn State Nittany Lions10-2 (7-2)
3Michigan Wolverines10-2 (7-2)
4Maryland Terrapins6-6 (4-5)
5Michigan State Spartans7-5 (4-5)
6Rutgers Scarlet Knights3-9 (1-8)
7Indiana Hoosiers3-9 (1-8)
WESTTEAMRECORD
1Purdue Boilermakers10-2 (7-2)
2Minnesota Golden Gophers9-3 (6-3)
3Wisconsin Badgers9-3 (6-3)
4Iowa Hawkeyes8-4 (5-4)
5Nebraska Cornhuskers7-5 (4-5)
6Illinois Illini4-8 (2-7)
7Northwestern Wildcats3-9 (0-9)

Conference Championship Game:
Ohio State: 42
Purdue: 17

Team Previews: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

The ACC spent last season on the outside of the College Football Playoff (CFP) after a few Clemson stumbles and two-loss Pitt taking the conference crown. Clemson is the clear favorite to recapture the title this season, but the Tigers have shown their vulnerability in what could be another exciting conference race.

NC State is returning QB Devin Leary, along with most of the defense, while Wake Forest returns Heisman hopeful QB Sam Hartman. Clemson brings back an elite defensive front and will be looking to be a lot more potent on offense this year, even though they will have to replace coordinators on both sides of the ball.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at each team’s projected SP+ rankings and Returning Production Percentage to analyze their recent recruiting, returning production, and overall program health heading into the 2022 season. We’ll also have conference predictions and early game-by-game picks.

Boston College Eagles

2021 Record: 6-6 (2-6 ACC)
Bowl Result: Military Bowl vs East Carolina (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 60%
SP+ Ranking: -0.9 (12th ACC, 76th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Rutgers
W @ Virginia Tech
W vs Maine
L @ Florida State
L vs Louisville
L vs Clemson
L @ Wake Forest
W @ UConn
W vs Duke
L @ NC State
L @ Notre Dame
W vs Syracuse

Record Prediction: 6-6 (3-5 ACC)

The Eagles return QB Phil Jurkovec after an early-season injury derailed the team last season. Unfortunately for Boston College, they play a difficult schedule that includes Florida State, Louisville, Clemson, and Wake Forest in a four-game stretch. With road trips at NC State and Notre Dame in the tail end of the season, they’ll have to steal a game or two to get to a decent bowl game.

Clemson Tigers

2021 Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Bowl Result: Cheez-It Bowl vs Iowa State (W, 20-13)
Returning Production: 72%
SP+ Ranking: 20.3 (1st ACC, 6th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ Georgia Tech
W vs Fordham
W vs Louisiana Tech
W @ Wake Forest
W vs NC State
W @ Boston College
L @ Florida State
W vs Syracuse
L @ Notre Dame
W vs Louisville
W vs Miami
W vs South Carolina

Record Prediction: 10-2 (7-1 ACC)

Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei will face competition from freshman Cade Klubnik ahead of the season. The questions surrounding the offense remain, but the defense bolsters one of the best fronts in college football. Much of the ACC improved from last year to this year, which will be an impending challenge along with the trip to South Bend.

Duke Blue Devils

2021 Record: 3-9 (0-8 ACC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 49%
SP+ Ranking: -14.3 (14th ACC, 119th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Temple
L @ Northwestern
W vs NC A&T
L @ Kansas
L vs Virginia
L @ Georgia Tech
L vs North Carolina
L @ Miami
L @ Boston College
L vs Virginia Tech
L @ Pittsburgh
L vs Wake Forest

Record Prediction: 2-10 (0-8 ACC)

Duke struggled to put points on the scoreboard last season, something that new head coach Mike Elko, the former defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, would like to change. For a team that was last in the country in total defense, along with a lack of returning talent, 2022 could be another long season in Durham.

Florida State Seminoles

2021 Record: 5-7 (4-4 ACC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 78%
SP+ Ranking: 12.4 (5th ACC, 28th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Duquesne
W vs LSU (Caesar’s Superdome: New Orleans, LA)
L @ Louisville
W vs Boston College
L vs Wake Forest
L @ NC State
W vs Clemson
W vs Georgia Tech
L @ Miami
L @ Syracuse
W vs Louisiana
W vs Florida

Record Prediction: 7-5 (3-5 ACC)

QB Jordan Travis is returning after a promising 2021 season. Even though the Seminoles finished with a losing record, they were still competitive in many games. With a lot of returning offensive production, along with WR transfers Mycah Pittman (Oregon) and Johnny Wilson (Arizona State), there are reasons to be optimistic. A winning season should be the bare minimum of expectation.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2021 Record: 3-9 (2-6 ACC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 49%
SP+ Ranking: -5.3 (13th ACC, 90th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs Clemson
W vs Western Carolina
L vs Ole Miss
L @ UCF
L @ Pittsburgh
W vs Duke
L vs Virginia
L @ Florida State
L @ Virginia Tech
L vs Miami
L @ North Carolina
L @ Georgia

Record Prediction: 2-10 (1-7 ACC)

QB Jeff Sims is one of the bright spots for the Yellow Jackets. WR Malachi Carter is expected to be utilized more this season, but that will be dependent on how much offensive line transfers Pierce Quick (Alabama), Paul Tchio (Clemson), and RJ Adams (Kentucky) can add to the front line. The pass defense needs to improve drastically in the “conference of quarterbacks” if Georgia Tech wants to compete for more victories.

Louisville Cardinals

2021 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Bowl Result: SERVPRO First Responder Bowl vs Air Force (L, 31-28)
Returning Production: 79%
SP+ Ranking: 12.3 (6th ACC, 30th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ Syracuse
W @ UCF
W vs Florida State
W vs South Florida
W @ Boston College
L @ Virginia
W vs Pittsburgh
W vs Wake Forest
W vs James Madison
L @ Clemson
L vs NC State
L @ Kentucky

Record Prediction: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)

The offense is built around QB Malik Cunningham, who will have to be great if Louisville wants to compete for a conference title. Central Arkansas transfer WR Tyler Hudson (ASUN Player of the Year) adds some much needed help at the receiver spot for an offense that should be pretty explosive in 2022. Tough road contests at UCF, Virginia, Clemson, and Kentucky will be the bigger tests on the Cardinal’s schedule.

Miami Hurricanes

2021 Record: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)
Bowl Result: Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl vs Washington State (Miami Cancelation)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 15.6 (2nd ACC, 14th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Bethune-Cookman
W vs Southern Miss
L @ Texas A&M
W vs Middle Tennessee
W vs North Carolina
W @ Virginia Tech
W vs Duke
L @ Virginia
W vs Florida State
W @ Georgia Tech
L @ Clemson
L vs Pittsburgh

Record Prediction: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)

New head coach Mario Cristobal will be relying heavily on QB Tyler Van Dyke, who is returning after a strong finish to his 2021 campaign. Cristobal took two guards with him from Oregon in transfers Jonathan Denis and Logan Sagapolu to boost the offensive line, but some difficult defensive tests are on slate with Texas A&M, Clemson, and Pitt.

North Carolina Tar Heels

2021 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Bowl Result: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs South Carolina (L, 38-21)
Returning Production: 64%
SP+ Ranking: 10.7 (7th ACC, 34th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Florida A&M
L @ Appalachian State
W @ Georgia Tech
L vs Notre Dame
W vs Virginia Tech
L @ Miami
W @ Duke
L vs Pittsburgh
W @ Virginia
L @ Wake Forest
W vs Georgia Tech
W vs NC State

Record Prediction: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)

UNC will need to replace QB Sam Howell, but viable options exist in Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell. WR Josh Downs, who broke the receptions (101) and receiving yards (1,335) school records in 2021, will be target number one for whoever is throwing him the ball. An experienced offensive line unit returns, but the front on both sides will have to improve if they want to compete for the conference.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

2021 Record: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)
Bowl Result: Holiday Bowl vs UCLA (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 82%
SP+ Ranking: 14.9 (3rd ACC, 18th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ East Carolina
W vs Charleston Southern
W vs Texas Tech
W vs UConn
L @ Clemson
W vs Florida State
W @ Syracuse
W vs Virginia Tech
W vs Wake Forest
W vs Boston College
W @ Louisville
L @ North Carolina

Record Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 ACC)

The Wolfpack return an abundance of production from a team that won nine games a season ago. With QB Devin Leary returning after a stellar 2021 (3,433 yards, 35 TD, 5 INT), the main offensive question mark will be who is getting the majority of the handoffs at running back. The defense was riddled with injuries last season, but many players are utilizing their Covid year and returning to the Wolfpack.

Pittsburgh Panthers

2021 Record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)
Bowl Result: Peach Bowl vs #10 Michigan State (L, 31-21)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 14.8 (4th ACC, 19th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs West Virginia
L vs Tennessee
W @ Western Michigan
W vs Rhode Island
W vs Georgia Tech
W vs Virginia Tech
L @ Louisville
W @ UNC
W vs Syracuse
L @ Virginia
W vs Duke
W @ Miami

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)

Pitt will need to figure out how to replace not only Heisman Finalist QB Kenny Pickett, but also Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC. Pitt was able to secure transfer QB Kedon Slovis from USC and the offense should still be strong behind an offensive line that returns all five starters.

Virginia Cavaliers

2021 Record: 6-6 (4-4 ACC)
Bowl Result: Wasabi Fenway Bowl vs SMU (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 53%
SP+ Ranking: 4.7 (9th ACC, 55th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Richmond
W @ Illinois
W vs Old Dominion
L @ Syracuse
W @ Duke
W vs Louisville
W @ Georgia Tech
W vs Miami
L vs UNC
W vs Pitt
L vs Coastal Carolina
L @ Virginia Tech

Record Prediction: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)

UVA returns a lot of offensive production but needs to improve a defense that allowed points left and right. QB Brennan Armstrong is one of the more experienced and quality returners in not only the ACC, but all of college football. He’ll need a revamped offensive line to protect him better in 2022.

Virginia Tech Hokies

2021 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Bowl Result: Pinstripe Bowl vs Maryland (L, 54-10)
Returning Production: 64%
SP+ Ranking: 3.9 (11th ACC, 61st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ Old Dominion
L vs Boston College
W vs Wofford
W vs West Virginia
L @ UNC
L @ Pitt
L vs Miami
L @ NC State
W vs Georgia Tech
W @ Duke
W @ Liberty
W vs Virginia

Record Prediction: 7-5 (3-5 ACC)

Questions at the QB position remain for the Hokies, who bring in transfers Jason Brown (South Carolina) and Grant Wells (Marshall). Wells comes in with two years as a starter under his belt, but receivers will need to step up regardless of who is taking snaps.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2021 Record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)
Bowl Result: Gator Bowl vs Rutgers (W, 38-10)
Returning Production: 70%
SP+ Ranking: 6.4 (8th ACC, 49th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs VMI
W @ Vanderbilt
W vs Liberty
L vs Clemson
W @ Florida State
W vs Army
W vs Boston College
L @ Louisville
L @ NC State
W vs UNC
W vs Syracuse
W @ Duke

Record Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)

QB Sam Hartman returns to an offense that will again be looking to compete for an ACC Atlantic title. The RB position looks solid with Justice Ellison and Christian Turner. Much of the defensive secondary is gone for a unit that allowed a lot of points last season, but Rondell Bothroyd returns on the edge after a strong campaign in 2021 conference play.

Syracuse Orange

2021 Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 80%
SP+ Ranking: 4.5 (10th ACC, 57th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs Louisville
W @ UConn
L vs Purdue
W vs Virginia
W vs Wagner
L vs NC State
L @ Clemson
L vs Notre Dame
L @ Pitt
W vs Florida State
L @ Wake Forest
L @ Boston College

Record Prediction: 4-8 (2-6 ACC)

Syracuse returns QB Garrett Shrader, who will be battling for the week one starting job. Out of conference games against Purdue and Notre Dame don’t make things easier for the Orangemen, who have to compete with an improved ACC Atlantic Division. The ceiling on this team is much higher than four wins if they can compete with some of the offenses they face this fall.

Conference Standings Prediction

ATLANTICTEAMRECORD
1Clemson Tigers10-2 (7-1)
2NC State Wolfpack10-2 (6-2)
3Louisville Cardinals8-4 (5-3)
4Wake Forest Demon Deacons9-3 (5-3)
5Florida State Seminoles7-5 (3-5)
6Boston College Eagles6-6 (3-5)
7Syracuse Orange4-8 (2-6)
COASTALTEAMRECORD
1Pittsburgh Panthers9-3 (6-2)
T-2Miami Hurricanes8-4 (5-3)
T-2North Carolina Tar Heels7-5 (5-3)
T-2Virginia Cavaliers8-4 (5-3)
5Virginia Tech Hokies7-5 (3-5)
6Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets2-10 (1-7)
7Duke Blue Devils2-10 (0-8)

Conference Championship Game:
Clemson: 35
Pittsburgh: 24

Team Previews: American Athletic Conference (AAC)

The American has been the leader of the Group of Five for the majority of the College Football Playoff (CFP) era, and with Cincinnati cracking the glass ceiling to reach the national semifinal, that point was only further proven.

With UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston leaving for the Big XII next season, the American will lose a lot of its luster and have to compete with the growing Sun Belt as well as the Mountain West for Group of Five superiority.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at each team’s projected SP+ rankings and Returning Production Percentage to analyze their recent recruiting, returning production, and overall program health heading into the 2022 season. We’ll also have conference predictions and early game-by-game picks.

UCF Knights

2021 Record: 9-4 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Gasparillo Bowl vs Florida (W, 29-17)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 9.5 (3rd AAC, 39th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs South Carolina State
L vs Louisville
W @ FAU
W vs Georgia Tech
L vs SMU
W vs Temple
W @ East Carolina
L vs Cincinnati
W @ Memphis
W @ Tulane
W vs Navy
W @ South Florida

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 AAC)

UCF returns a decent amount of defensive talent and was able to land Ole Miss transfer QB John Rhys Plumlee, who will be continuing his football AND baseball careers for the Knights. The early season home game against Louisville will be a telling sign for how this team will fare in conference play.

Cincinnati Bearcats

2021 Record: 13-1 (8-0 AAC)
Bowl Result: CFP Semifinal: Cotton Bowl Classic vs #1 Alabama (L, 27-6)
Returning Production: 60%
SP+ Ranking: 16.8 (1st AAC, 11th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Arkansas
W vs Kennesaw State
W vs Miami (OH) (Paul Brown Stadium: Cincinnati, OH)
W vs Indiana
W @ Tulsa
W vs South Florida
W @ SMU
W @ UCF
W vs Navy
W vs East Carolina
W @ Temple
W vs Tulane

Record Prediction: 11-1 (8-0 AAC)

The Bearcats lose a ton of talent at key positions with QB Desmond Ridder, RB Jerome Ford, WR Alec Pierce, and star CBs Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner all hoping to make an NFL impact. Much of the offensive and defensive front lines are returning with a bulk of the load being placed on QB Evan Prater, who may assume the starting role.

East Carolina Pirates

2021 Record: 7-5 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Military Bowl vs Boston College (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 71%
SP+ Ranking: -2.2 (8th AAC, 81st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs NC State
W vs Old Dominion
W vs Campbell
W vs Navy
L @ South Florida
W @ Tulane
W vs Memphis
L vs UCF
L @ BYU
L @ Cincinnati
L vs Houston
W @ Temple

Record Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 AAC)

Even the games that the Pirates lost last year, they managed to hang around for a while. A lot of that offensive production was lost after the season, which concluded with a Military Bowl cancelation. The Pirates have a tough test against ACC upstart NC State at home and a rough stretch of games towards the end of the season with UCF, BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston (all of whom will be in the Big XII in 2023).

Houston Cougars

2021 Record: 12-2 (8-0 AAC)
Bowl Result: Birmingham Bowl vs Auburn (W, 17-13)
Returning Production: 64%
SP+ Ranking: 8.2 (4th AAC, 44th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ UTSA
W @ Texas Tech
W vs Kansas
W vs Rice
W vs Tulane
W @ Memphis
W @ Navy
W vs South Florida
L @ SMU
W vs Temple
W @ East Carolina
W vs Tulsa

Record Prediction: 11-1 (7-1 AAC)

The Cougars are coming off a conference championship game appearance and are looking to take advantage of the holes in Cincinnati’s lost star power to possibly win the conference this season. Luckily for Houston, they avoid Cincinnati again in the regular season and return fifth-year QB Clayton Tune.

Memphis Tigers

2021 Record: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)
Bowl Result: Hawai’i Bowl vs Hawai’i (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 4.0 (5th AAC, 59th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Mississippi State
W @ Navy
W vs Arkansas State
W vs North Texas
W vs Temple
L vs Houston
L @ East Carolina
L @ Tulane
L vs UCF
W vs Tulsa
W vs North Alabama
L @ SMU

Record Prediction: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)

After the disappointing cancelation of last year’s Hawai’i Bowl, the Tigers will be looking to build on a mediocre season in a top-heavy American. The stability of the team is there with four starters returning on the offensive line, but Memphis needs to find some weapons to compete with the other offenses in the league.

Navy Midshipmen

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-5 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 53%
SP+ Ranking: -12.2 (10th AAC, 113th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Delaware
L vs Memphis
L @ East Carolina
L @ Air Force
W vs Tulsa
L @ SMU
L vs Houston
W vs Temple
L @ Cincinnati
L vs Notre Dame (M&T Bank Stadium: Baltimore, MD)
L @ UCF
L vs Army (Lincoln Financial Field: Philadelphia, PA)

Record Prediction: 3-9 (2-6)

Navy has the ultimate offense to keep any game close, as they showed in 2021. They controlled the clock well and made few mistakes. An abundance of close losses doomed the Midshipmen, but a season-ending victory over Army was a good consolation prize.

SMU Mustangs

2021 Record: 8-4 (4-4)
Bowl Result: Wasabi Bowl vs Virginia (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 10.9 (2nd AAC, 33rd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ North Texas
W vs Lamar
W @ Maryland
L vs TCU
W @ UCF
W vs Navy
L vs Cincinnati
W @ Tulsa
W vs Houston
W @ South Florida
W @ Tulane
W vs Memphis

Record Prediction: 10-2 (7-1 AAC)

SMU returns QB Tanner Mordecai and has the 17th offensive production ranking in the nation, which is tops in the American. Out-of-conference games against Maryland and cross-town rival TCU will be pivotal to SMU’s season. SMU has to go through the top of the conference against Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF in order to have a shot at the conference title.

South Florida Bulls

2021 Record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 85%
SP+ Ranking: -5.2 (9th AAC, 89th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs BYU
W vs Howard
L @ Florida
L @ Louisville
W vs East Carolina
L @ Cincinnati
W vs Tulane
L @ Houston
W @ Temple
L vs SMU
L @ Tulsa
L vs UCF

Record Prediction: 4-8 (3-5 AAC)

The Bulls have a rough nonconference slate of games between BYU, Florida, and Louisville, leaving little room for confidence boosting heading into conference play. They also draw the entire top half of the conference with Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, and UCF. With the second most returning production in the country, a push for a bowl game is still possible.

Temple Owls

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 66%
SP+ Ranking: -14.2 (11th AAC, 118th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Duke
W vs Lafayette
L vs Rutgers
W vs UMass
L @ Memphis
L @ UCF
L vs Tulsa
L @ Navy
L vs South Florida
L @ Houston
L vs Cincinnati
L vs East Carolina

Record Prediction: 2-10 (0-8 AAC)

Temple was dead last in the conference last season and had one of the worst offenses in college football. With minimal returners, a new HC in Stan Drayton, and a difficult conference slate, it could be another rough season for the Owls.

Tulane Green Wave

2021 Record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 71%
SP+ Ranking: 0.2 (6th AAC, 71st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ UMass
W vs Alcorn State
L @ Kansas State
W vs Southern Miss
L @ Houston
L vs East Carolina
L @ South Florida
W vs Memphis
L @ Tulsa
L vs UCF
L vs SMU
L @ Cincinnati

Record Prediction: 4-8 (1-7 AAC)

Getting into bowl eligibility this season would be a massive upgrade from a team who finished with two wins in 2021. With a young backfield returning to an offense that ranks 41st in SP+, there could be signs of further improvement down the road.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

2021 Record: 7-6 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Myrtle Beach Bowl vs Old Dominion (W, 30-17)
Returning Production: 57%
SP+ Ranking: -1.5 (7th AAC, 79th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ Wyoming
L vs Northern Illinois
W vs Jacksonville State
L @ Ole Miss
L vs Cincinnati
L @ Navy
W @ Temple
L vs SMU
W vs Tulane
L @ Memphis
W vs South Florida
L @ Houston

Record Prediction: 5-7 (3-5 AAC)

Tulsa was a pesky team in 2021. After their opening loss to FCS UC Davis, they took Oklahoma State and Ohio State to the fourth quarter in both of their next two games. Notably, they nearly forced an overtime against Cincinnati on the road, which certainly would have derailed the Bearcats’ playoff chances. With a lot of production now gone, Tulsa could fall behind in the top-heavy American.

Conference Standings Prediction

RANKTEAMRECORD
1Cincinnati Bearcats11-1 (8-0)
2SMU Mustangs10-2 (7-1)
3Houston Cougars11-1 (7-1)
4UCF Knights9-3 (6-2)
5East Carolina Pirates6-6 (4-4)
6Memphis Tigers6-6 (3-5)
7Tulsa Golden Hurricane5-7 (3-5)
8South Florida Bulls4-8 (3-5)
9Navy Midshipmen3-9 (2-6)
10Tulane Green Wave4-8 (1-7)
11Temple Owls2-10 (0-8)

Conference Championship Game:
Cincinnati: 52
SMU: 42

Grading the Winners & Losers of the 2021 Conference Realignment Saga

Nearly a year ago, the news that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving the Big XII for the SEC broke out and shook the college football world. The impending dominoes that fell as a result were pivotal to how the sport’s landscape was going to change.

College athletics, especially college football, are about to change forever as these new conferences form. Here’s how we got here:

Big XII —> SEC
Texas & Oklahoma

The Longhorns and Sooners made a big splash last summer when news leaked of their impending plans to ditch many of their longstanding conference foes. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey can be given much of the credit, as the invites for Oklahoma and Texas were kept mostly under wraps for the duration of the talks.

American —> Big XII
Cincinnati, Houston, & UCF

The initial response of news media across the country was centered around how the Big XII was going to be broken up. Who was the Big Ten going to poach? What about the Pac-12 and ACC? By most accounts, the disbanding of the Big XII was a done deal. Credit Big XII Commissioner Bob Bowlsby for maintaining the ship and grabbing some high profile teams.

Cincinnati, who made the College Football Playoff (CFP) months after announcing their impending move, was a huge PR win for the Big XII, who failed to qualify a team for the second straight year. Houston, who has been long overdue for a Power Five invite, has also shared success in major sports such as football and basketball. UCF, one of the more polarizing teams in college football, has arguably had the most success (along with Cincinnati) from a Group of Five standpoint over the past five seasons.

FBS Independence —> Big XII
BYU

Stints in the old WAC and Mountain West conferences have been successful for the Cougars, who now bring their independent success, fanbase, and location back to conference affiliation.

Conference USA —> American
UAB, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, & UTSA

The American was formed out of the ruins of the Big East during the conference realignment period of the early-2010s. The conference has been ahead of the pack in the Group of Five, mainly thanks to the locations of their affiliates. Large metropolitan areas have been the focus for new additions, and the six new members from Conference USA will keep up with just that.

Conference USA —> Sun Belt
Marshall, Old Dominion, & Southern Miss

Conference USA struggled the most after the American poached six members to recoup their losses. The Sun Belt made their move as well, taking three other members who will fit nicely into the expanding Sun Belt.

Colonial Athletic Conference (FCS) —> Sun Belt
James Madison

The addition of FCS powerhouse James Madison, who won an FCS title in 2016, a women’s lacrosse title in 2018, and advanced to the College Softball World Series last season was a huge victory for the Sun Belt. The James Madison FCS to FBS jump brought the conference to 14 teams.

FBS Independence —> Conference USA
Liberty & New Mexico State

Conference USA was nearly out of options after the loss of nine conference members. So, Commissioner Judy MacLeod looked toward independent FBS members. Liberty has had some success in recent years while New Mexico State has been one of the worst teams in the FBS.

ASUN & WAC (FCS)—> Conference USA
Jacksonville State (ASUN) & Sam Houston State (WAC)

The move to add two prominent FCS schools in Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, who won an FCS title in 2020, was the best that Conference USA could do as the realignment dust began to settle.

Conference Realignment Grades:

SEC: A+

Whenever conference realignment is discussed, usually one domino has to fall first – that happened to be the Oklahoma and Texas departures to the SEC. The move solidified the SEC as the powerhouse of FBS football and will probably bolster the conference over the Big Ten in terms of gross revenue once the Longhorns and Sooners venture east.

The Oklahoma and Texas news was a shock to most, which could propel future blockbuster moves in the future.

Sun Belt: A

Throughout all the chaos occurring everywhere else in their region, the Sun Belt managed to lose zero football affiliates while also adding in three Conference USA members and one of the more successful, and FBS-eligible, FCS programs in James Madison.

On top of all that, all four new members will begin Sun Belt Conference football this upcoming fall. The Sun Belt will become a 14-team league and one of the premier Group of Five conferences.

Big Ten: A-

Nothing lost, nothing gained. For the conference that rakes in the most money annually, the Big Ten may not even be looking to expand. The 2011 addition of Nebraska brought in the nation’s most loyal fanbase, and additions of Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 brought in the New York and Washington, D.C. markets. As far as Midwest expansion goes, there may not be many opportunities left.

An interesting look for the Big Ten could be to reach into the ACC or Big XII, which would be hard to deny for any university that may be getting the opportunity. One thing is for certain, and that is that the Big Ten is secure in its current members.

Big XII B-

The Big XII lost its two most prominent universities and fanbases. But what the Big XII lost in college football staples, it gained in college football up-and-comers. Cincinnati’s CFP bid was a massive victory for the Big XII in 2021, as was Houston’s Birmingham Bowl win over Auburn and UCF’s Gasparillo Bowl win over Florida. The addition of BYU is also looking to be a success, as the Cougars went 5-0 against the Pac-12 this past season.

The Big XII’s four additions will bring the conference to an even twelve teams, but with Oklahoma and Texas’ departure on a slight hold, the 2023 and 2024 seasons could include 14 teams competing in the conference. The Big XII should be weary of possible Big Ten expansion west, with Kansas being a rumored target.

ACC: B-

The ACC also lost and gained nothing through this conference realignment period. An Eastern Standard Time war between the Big Ten and SEC could become problematic down the road, but the Big Ten has luckily remained quiet.

A media rights deal that has ACC teams locked in until 2035 probably kept them out of this round of realignment, and the odds of snatching up Notre Dame once and for all are looking slim for the time being.

American: C+

The American lost three of their staple programs in Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Memphis looks to be the most likely future exit if the ACC or Big XII look to grow. Luckily for the American, they remain the most lucrative of the Group of Five suitors and were able to poach six Conference USA teams.

The conference’s landscape is vast, so a push for future expansion could be an option. However, the Sun Belt’s university retention and expansion to 14 teams – many of which are in the same region as some of the AAC teams – could become problematic.

MAC: C

The MAC has been the least talked about conference in terms of expanding and disbanding. The conference shares an almost entirely different landscape than the shared regions where the American, Conference USA, and Sun Belt operate. Outside of Cincinnati in Ohio (who is moving to the Big XII anyway), the MAC schools share no common state with teams from another Group of Five conference.

With most schools sharing similar budgets and structures, along with Commissioner Joe Steinbrecher reiterating that the conference is not looking to expand, the MAC seems to be in a secure position despite missing out, or at the very least delaying, any word of expansion.

Mountain West: C

The Mountain West, surprisingly, was left untouched despite the Big XII and American needing a boost of membership. Air Force and Colorado State could still be on the board for either one of those conferences, but the most likely departure could be from Boise State.

If the Pac-12 looks to expand locally, San Diego State and other Mountain West teams could be future targets. In the future, a North Dakota State / South Dakota State jump from the FCS could become a possibility, but geography continues to be a roadblock. Geography is also a roadblock for the current Mountain West members, who are separated much more than their eastern Group of Five counterparts.

Pac-12: C-

Like the ACC and Big Ten, the Pac-12 also lost and gained no members. The window is still open for speculated teams like Boise State or other Mountain West affiliates, but unfortunately conference realignment couldn’t have came at a worse time for the Pac-12. The conference’s media rights deals with ESPN and Fox are set to expire in 2024, which could be the final year of Oklahoma and Texas Big XII football, which could prompt the Big XII to make another move.

With Boise State announcing their Athletics Master Village, their move to a Power Five conference looks imminent. Memphis is also being eyed as a future Power Five member, most likely joining their American Conference partners in a future move to the Big XII.

Conference USA: D-

Nobody came out of the current realignment period more dismantled than Conference USA. With nine teams leaving for the American or the Sun Belt, the additions of two FBS independents (Liberty and New Mexico State) and two FCS teams (Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State) will unlikely make up the financial ground.

It’s important to note that Conference USA-loyalists Middle Tennessee, FIU, and Western Kentucky all left the Sun Belt in 2013 and 2014 to join Conference USA.

If 2017 Had a 12-Team Playoff

The College Football Playoff in 2017 featured Clemson (12-1), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, Oklahoma (12-1), winners of the Big XII, Georgia (12-1), winners of the SEC, and Alabama (12-1), SEC West runner-ups.

In its fourth season, the top four teams were pretty clear-cut. Ohio State, winners of the Big Ten, was ranked fifth due to their two losses to Oklahoma (the famous Baker Mayfield flag-planting game, 31-16) and Iowa (a massive road upset, 55-24).

#6 Wisconsin lost their only game to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, pushing them out of the fourth spot. Auburn, who finished ranked #7 at 10-3, had wins over Alabama (the Crimson Tide’s only loss) and Georgia, but lost the rematch to the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. #8 USC won the Pac-12, but also had two losses.

For this hypothetical, we’ll give the top six conference champions the top six seeds, with six at-larges being the seven through 12 seeds. We’ll also add in a re-seeding process after each round, just like the NFL playoffs.

Playoff Teams:

#1 Clemson (ACC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oklahoma (Big XII Champ, 12-1)
#3 Georgia (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 11-2)
#5 USC (Pac-12 Champ, 11-2)
#6 UCF (American Conference Champ, 12-0)
#7 Alabama (SEC At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Wisconsin (Big Ten At-Large, 12-1)
#9 Auburn (SEC At-Large, 10-3)
#10 Penn State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Miami (ACC At-Large, 10-2)
#12 Washington (Pac-12 At-Large, 10-2)

Number of Teams by Conference:

Big Ten: 3
SEC: 3
ACC: 2
Pac-12: 2
American: 1
Big XII: 1

Debate Rundown:

The debate for the final spots was between Miami, Stanford, TCU, and Washington.

Stanford had the head-to-head over Washington, but also suffered four losses (two to USC). Three of those losses were by three points, whereas Washington only had two losses and capped off their season by beating a ranked Washington State, 41-14. TCU was also a strong candidate because of their win over Oklahoma State, who finished with 10 wins. TCU suffered losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma (twice). If they would’ve kept the Big XII Championship Game closer, they would’ve stood a better chance.

Miami started off the year 10-0 before losing a close game in Pittsburgh and getting throttled by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Washington didn’t play for the Pac-12 title due to their two close losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Their Apple Cup victory over 9-2 Washington State to end the regular season is what gives them the bid.

UCF was the lone undefeated team and was ranked 12th in the final CFP rankings, giving them the sixth automatic bid as a conference champion. Boise State (10-3) had a strong season as well, losing a triple OT game to Washington State while also falling to Virginia and Fresno State. They would avenge their loss to Fresno the following week in the Mountain West Championship Game.

First Round Rundown:

#12 Washington @ #5 USC
Los Angeles, California
USC and Washington never met in Pac-12 play this season, so this would have been a must watch classic and probably the night game for the first round. USC was playing as well as anybody toward the end of the season behind QB Sam Darnold. The Trojans would have likely taken this Pac-12 battle.

#11 Miami @ #6 UCF
Orlando, Florida
This would have made for a fun in-state matchup in the first round. With Miami skidding off the path of their unbeaten season late in 2017, UCF was riding high. The Knights had one of the best offenses in the country and arguably would have been favored in this hypothetical matchup.

#10 Penn State @ #7 Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The Nittany Lions were fantastic in 2017, only losing to Ohio State by one and Michigan State by three in back-to-back games. Alabama’s defense against RB Saquon Barkley would’ve been an interesting storyline.

#9 Auburn @ #8 Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
The Badgers and Tigers were both losers of their conference championship games. While the SEC West was better than the Big Ten West, both teams posted stout defenses in 2017. A northern winter game would’ve benefited Wisconsin in this defensive showdown.

Quarterfinals Rundown:

#8 Wisconsin @ #1 Clemson
Clemson, South Carolina
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and his offensive line would’ve been an awesome battle to watch against Clemson’s young, up and coming defensive front. The dynamic of this game would’ve pushed the needle to either side, especially with the strength of both defenses.

#7 Alabama @ #2 Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma
QB Baker Mayfield’s 2017 Oklahoma team was the best shot that the Sooners had at winning a national title. A double overtime thriller against Georgia in the CFP semifinals showed just how competitive this offense was. Alabama, on the other hand, won the national championship over Georgia in overtime. Those three teams were probably the closest in talent that CFP teams have ever been, and a hypothetical home game for the Sooners could’ve given them a victory.

#6 UCF @ #3 Georgia
Athens, Georgia
UCF capped off the actual 2017 season with a victory over Auburn, a team that Georgia was able to take out in the SEC title game after losing to them handily just three weeks prior. The Bulldogs and their trio of RBs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift would’ve been favored over the upset-seeking Knights.

#5 USC @ #4 Ohio State
Columbus, Ohio
The Trojans and Buckeyes met in the actual Rose Bowl this season; Ohio State won that game handily, 24-7. OSU and QB J.T. Barrett would’ve clinched a semifinal berth in their home stadium.

Semifinals Rundown:

#8 Wisconsin vs #2 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
In a matchup that hasn’t been seen since 1970, the Sooners and Badgers would’ve met in a potential Rose Bowl matchup. Oklahoma would’ve been the favorite as they emerged as one of the more efficient all-around offenses in the country.

#4 Ohio State vs #3 Georgia
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s hard to imagine that this game would’ve been close for the Buckeyes, who struggled at various times throughout the season. The Georgia offense would’ve been the best that Ohio State has seen since Oklahoma’s in their week two loss.

CFP National Championship:

#3 Georgia vs #2 Oklahoma
Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Atlanta, Georgia
The Bulldogs won an instant classic in the actual 2017 Rose Bowl against the Sooners, which is one of the greatest semifinal games of the CFP era. In this hypothetical scenario, Georgia and Oklahoma meet again in Atlanta for the national championship.

CFP National Champions: Georgia Bulldogs


If 2014 Had a 12-Team Playoff

The inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 featured Alabama (12-1), winners of the SEC, Oregon (12-1), winners of the Pac-12, Florida State (13-0), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, and Ohio State (12-1), winners of the Big Ten.

In its first season, there were already debates as to who should be the four teams in the playoff. A lot of the debate centered around Ohio State, who had a bad loss to Virginia Tech early in the year, getting in the playoff over one-loss Big XII co-champs Baylor and TCU.

Even though Baylor beat TCU in the regular season, the Big XII gave both teams a share of the league title (The Big XII did not have a conference championship game from 2011 to 2016). The move by the Big XII certainly didn’t help the conference’s playoff chances, but fortunately for the playoff committee, the four-seed Ohio State Buckeyes won the whole thing.

For this hypothetical, we’ll give the top six conference champions the top six seeds, with six at-larges being the seven through 12 seeds. We’ll also add in a re-seeding process after each round, just like the NFL playoffs.

Playoff Teams:

#1 Alabama (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oregon (Pac-12 Champ, 12-1)
#3 Florida State (ACC Champ, 13-0)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 12-1)
#5 Baylor (Big XII Champ, 11-1)
#6 Marshall (Conference USA Champ, 12-1)
#7 TCU (Big XII At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Michigan State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#9 Ole Miss (SEC At-Large, 9-3)
#10 Mississippi State (SEC At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Georgia Tech (ACC At-Large, 10-3)
#12 Kansas State (Big XII At-Large, 9-3)

Number of Teams by Conference:

Big XII: 3
SEC: 3
ACC: 2
Big Ten: 2
Conference USA: 1
Pac-12: 1

Debate Rundown:

The debate for the final spots was between Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and UCLA.

Arizona and UCLA both had three losses, with the Bruins winning the head-to-head contest during the season. Neither team finished the season strong as UCLA lost to Stanford by three touchdowns to prevent them from playing in the conference championship game while Arizona got pummeled by Oregon in their place.

Georgia Tech had a memorable season and almost pulled off the upset over undefeated Florida State for the ACC title. Kansas State only lost to Baylor, TCU, and Auburn, but played all of them tough. For those reasons, Georgia Tech and Kansas State received the final two bids.

Boise State finished ahead of Marshall in the final CFP rankings in 2014, but the Broncos had two losses (to playoff bound Ole Miss and an Air Force team that finished 10-3). Marshall’s lone loss was a 67-66 overtime classic against Western Kentucky.

First Round Rundown:

#12 Kansas State @ #5 Baylor
Waco, Texas
The first round consisted of a rematch between Kansas State and Baylor, which gives the Bears the head-to-head edge based on the regular season result.

#11 Georgia Tech @ #6 Marshall
Huntington, West Virginia
Georgia Tech played all of their ACC opponents tough in 2014, giving them the edge over Conference USA’s Marshall in Huntington.

#10 Mississippi State @ #7 TCU
Fort Worth, Texas
QB Treyvon Boykin’s TCU offense was simply too prolific for Mississippi State and QB Dak Prescott, who began to slip at the tail end of the season after being the first top-ranked team in the CFP’s initial rankings; granted, the Bulldogs played a monstrous schedule.

#9 Ole Miss @ #8 Michigan State
East Lansing, Michigan
In the final first round game, Ole Miss and Michigan State would meet in a tossup that favors the Spartans, whose two losses came at the hands of Oregon and Ohio State – both played in the actual CFP final that year.

Quarterfinals Rundown:

#11 Georgia Tech @ #1 Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
After the reseeding, Georgia Tech would run into the buzz saw that was Alabama’s offense. With NFL talents in WR Amari Cooper and RB Derrick Henry, the Yellow Jackets would not be favored to win.

#8 Michigan State @ #2 Oregon
Eugene, Oregon
Michigan State would rematch with QB Marcus Mariota’s Oregon, but would have a difficult time overcoming the 19-point defeat they suffered in early September.

#7 TCU @ #3 Florida State
Tallahassee, Florida
TCU was on fire in 2014 while Florida State won four straight one-possession games to close their season. Despite the Seminoles’ unblemished record, TCU would have the advantage in a hypothetical quarterfinal.

#5 Baylor @ #4 Ohio State
Columbus, Ohio
Baylor and Ohio State would be an interesting matchup, but RB Ezekiel Elliot finished the actual 2014 season with 200+ yard rushing performances against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon. The mid-2000s was the peak of the Big XII stereotype that the conference played bad defense. This Baylor team was no exception.

Semifinals Rundown:

#7 TCU vs #1 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
TCU didn’t have the defense that Alabama had, so they would’ve had to rely on a shootout to get the win over the Crimson Tide. This game has the hypothetical logic of being close, but the odds go in favor of number one.

#4 Ohio State vs #2 Oregon
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
Ohio State played Oregon in the first ever CFP national championship, winning 42-20. The head-to-head matchup that occurred in the postseason is valid information to use for a potential semifinal match, which would have been a perfect Big Ten / Pac-12 Rose Bowl.

CFP National Championship:

#4 Ohio State vs #1 Alabama
AT&T Stadium: Arlington, Texas
The Buckeyes rallied to come back from 15 points down in the 2014 semifinal Sugar Bowl against Alabama behind RB Ezekiel Elliot and an efficient Cardale Jones at QB. The dynamic of winning two playoff games before the national championship certainly could’ve altered that result, but Ohio State was too much for Alabama in the second half in 2014.

CFP National Champions: Ohio State Buckeyes




Predicting the 2022 College GameDay Locations

College GameDay predictions for the 2022 season:

Week 0: Northwestern vs Nebraska (Dublin, Ireland)

The Week 0 schedule is predictably slim. This matchup in Ireland, if it takes place under the state of the current pandemic, is the only one between two Power Five schools. Nebraska and Northwestern both finished 3-9 last season (1-8 Big Ten), with Nebraska winning the home contest between the two, 56-7.

Runner-Up: Vanderbilt @ Hawai’i
3rd: Florida A&M @ North Carolina
4th: Wyoming @ Illinois
5th: Duquesne @ Florida State

Week 1: Notre Dame @ Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)

Former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman will be starting his first full season as the Notre Dame Head Coach, making this the most intriguing matchup in Week 1. Both teams finished in the top ten of the final AP poll last year as Ohio State won the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Runner-Up: Oregon vs Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia)
3rd: Utah @ Florida
4th: Cincinnati @ Arkansas
5th: Memphis @ Mississippi State

Week 2: Alabama @ Texas (Austin, Texas)

This matchup between two future SEC opponents will be the most intriguing, especially with Texas’ QB situation. Hudson Card will try to hold off Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers for the job as reigning Heisman Trophy winning QB Bryce Young will be leading the Tide.

Runner-Up: Iowa State @ Iowa
3rd: Baylor @ BYU
4th: South Carolina @ Arkansas
5th: Kentucky @ Florida

Week 3: Miami @ Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)

With Miami revamping their program and landing Mario Cristobal as their new head coach, they’ll head to College Station to take on the Aggies. Like Kirby Smart’s Georgia team from last year, Jimbo Fisher will have his hands full with the preseason hype surrounding his recent recruiting success.

Runner-Up: Mississippi State @ LSU
3rd: Oklahoma @ Nebraska
4th: Penn State @ Auburn
5th: Georgia @ South Carolina

Week 4: Clemson @ Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Both of these teams have a high chance of entering this game 3-0. With Clemson wanting to compete for a playoff spot after a down year in which they finished 10-3, they’ll have a chance to prove themselves against returning Demon Deacons QB Sam Hartman.

Runner-Up: Wisconsin @ Ohio State
3rd: Indiana @ Cincinnati
4th: Kansas State @ Oklahoma
5th: Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Week 5: Michigan @ Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)

A rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, this will be an early-season test for both programs that could set the tone for the entire conference. Oklahoma State also travels to Baylor for a rematch of last year’s Big XII Championship Game. Iowa State could play spoiler to either Iowa or Baylor’s GameDay-hosting chances, as the Cyclones play both of them in the first four weeks of the season.

Runner-Up: Oklahoma State @ Baylor
3rd: Kentucky @ Ole Miss
4th: Alabama @ Arkansas
5th: Texas A&M @ Mississippi State

Week 6: Texas vs Oklahoma (Dallas, Texas)

Oklahoma defeated Texas in last year’s classic Red River showdown

Last year’s epic Red River Rivalry did not disappoint and depending on how each team is doing, this will be the likely spot GameDay returns to in 2022. Texas A&M also travels to Alabama to try and go back-to-back on the Tide in division play.

Runner-Up: Texas A&M @ Alabama
3rd: Notre Dame vs BYU (Las Vegas, Nevada)
4th: Ohio State @ Michigan State
5th: Tennessee @ LSU

Week 7: USC @ Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)

With major Pac-12 South implications on the line, reigning conference champion Utah welcomes Lincoln Riley’s USC to Salt Lake City. With QB Caleb Williams also making the move from Norman to Los Angeles, this should be a classic high-scoring Pac-12 matchup.

Runner-Up: Penn State @ Michigan
3rd: Alabama @ Tennessee
4th: LSU @ Florida
5th: Auburn @ Ole Miss

Week 8: Ole Miss @ LSU (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin will look to build on last year’s success as he takes on new LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly, who made the move from Notre Dame last season.

Runner-Up: Cincinnati @ SMU
3rd: Texas A&M @ South Carolina
4th: Iowa @ Ohio State
5th: Texas @ Oklahoma State

Week 9: Ohio State @ Penn State (State College, Pennsylvania)

Week 9 has major Big Ten East implications as the Buckeyes travel to State College and Michigan State travels to Michigan. The GameDay crew will probably travel to Pennsylvania for the annual white-out game depending on how the division is shaking out.

Runner-Up: Michigan State @ Michigan
3rd: Florida vs Georgia (Jacksonville, Florida)
4th: Ole Miss @ Texas A&M
5th: Kentucky @ Tennessee

Week 10: Clemson @ Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)

Notre Dame brings Clemson into South Bend the same weekend as Nick Saban travels to Baton Rouge to take on former Irish coach Brian Kelly. Depending on how these teams are doing will determine who starts hosting a lot of these late-season matchups.

Runner-Up: Alabama @ LSU
3rd: Houston @ SMU
4th: Baylor @ Oklahoma
5th: Tennessee @ Georgia

Week 11: Alabama @ Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi)

Week 11 has the potential to not see a lot of ranked matchups as the top teams rise and prepare for the end-of-season rivalries, possibly paving the way for an FCS GameDay location. Either way, ESPN has been a fan of traveling to Oxford for the GameDay atmosphere.

Runner-Up: Wisconsin @ Iowa
3rd: Harvard @ Penn
4th: Eastern Washington @ Montana
5th: Pittsburgh @ Virginia

Week 12: Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma)

The Pokes’ victory over the Sooners last season was their first since 2014 en route to a Big XII title game spot. This game will likely be a conference championship game eliminator.

Runner-Up: Utah @ Oregon
3rd: USC @ UCLA
4th: Georgia @ Kentucky
5th: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Week 13: Michigan @ Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)

Last year was Michigan’s first win over Ohio State since 2011 as the Wolverines claimed the Big Ten and made their first College Football Playoff. The game in Columbus should be another one with extreme postseason buildup as both the Buckeyes and Wolverines return a lot of offensive pieces.

Runner-Up: Auburn @ Alabama
3rd: LSU @ Texas A&M
4th: Notre Dame @ USC
5th: Louisville @ Kentucky

Week 14: SEC Championship Game (Atlanta, Georgia)

The SEC has gotten two of the four playoff bids twice (2017 & 2021), which has made their conference championship game the most impactful of them all. The ACC is the only other conference to send two teams to the playoff in a single season; they did so in 2020 thanks to Notre Dame playing an ACC schedule.

Runner-Up: Big Ten Championship Game
3rd: Big XII Championship Game
4th: ACC Championship Game
5th: Pac-12 Championship Game

Week 15: Army vs Navy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

College GameDay makes a point of going to Army and Navy at the end of the regular season. It’s historically a low-scoring, run-heavy matchup that features some of the best uniform combinations of the season.

Let us know what you think!

Reclaiming & Disputing College Football National Champions: The 1890s

The 1890s was a transformative decade of college athletics as colleges and universities began to move towards organized league play. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association consisted of teams now in the SEC and ACC, while states like Colorado and Indiana formed their own associations of schools. Perhaps the most organized of these leagues was the Western Conference, which would later be known as the Big Ten.

While the Ivy League independents were still established as the top contenders, the age of playing organized conference schedules was growing across the rest of the country.

1890

Claimed Champions: Harvard

Contenders:
Harvard (11-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado Mines (6-0), Furman (2-0), Harvard (11-0), Nebraska (2-0), Vanderbilt (1-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0), & Williams College (5-0)

Harvard’s first national title claim did not come easy, as their season finale against Yale was a 12-6 bloodbath. In front of a crowd of 17,000, the Crimson knocked off the Bulldog dynasty for the first time in eleven attempts.

New Champions: Harvard

1891

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Duke (3-0), Ohio Wesleyan (4-0), Purdue (4-0), Wake Forest (1-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale shut out every single one of their opponents in 1891, but what was even more impressive was how they capped off their season.

On November 21, the Bulldogs took down undefeated reigning national champs Harvard by a score of 10-0. Five days later, they beat another undefeated opponent in Princeton. The game against the Tigers presumably took place in front of a whopping 40,000 people at Manhattan Field in New York.

New Champions: Yale

1892

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Biddle (Johnson C. Smith University) (1-0), Case (Case Western Reserve) (3-0), Centre College (6-0), Colgate (3-0), Furman (1-0), Mercer (1-0), Minnesota (5-0), North Carolina (1-0), Oberlin (7-0), Purdue (8-0), Saint Mary’s (1-0), Utah Agricultural (Utah State) (1-0), Washington & Jefferson (4-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale continued their winning streak under Coach Walter Camp, again not allowing a single point to be scored on them. They capped their season off by beating undefeated Harvard for the second year in a row before beating one-loss Princeton.

The 1892 season was also the beginning of the Utah and Utah State rivalry, with Utah State winning the inaugural contest.

New Champions: Yale

1893

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (11-0)
Yale (10-1)
– Loss: vs Princeton (6-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Case Western Reserve (4-0), Central University (Eastern Kentucky) (2-0), Fordham (4-0), Gonzaga (1-0), Howard (2-0), Maryland (6-0), Miami (OH) (3-0), Minnesota (6-0), North Carolina A&M (2-0), Princeton (11-0), Saint Mary’s (1-0), Texas (4-0), Washburn (1-0), & Wyoming (1-0)

Before a crowd of roughly 40,000 people at Polo Grounds in New York, Princeton took down the mighty Yale Bulldogs to end their astonishing 37-game winning streak (1890-1893). The final score was 6-0 as Yale was unable to stop Princeton’s double wingback formation offense.

The Thanksgiving Day contest was scolded by the New York Herald for its prominence on the national holiday: “The kicker is now king and people bow down to him. The gory nose tackler, hero of a hundred scrimmages and half as many wedges, is the idol of the hour,” the review of the game wrote.

Nevertheless, Yale claims the 1893 title despite the season finale loss to an undefeated Princeton squad.

New Champions: Princeton

1894

Claimed Champions: Penn, Princeton, & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (12-0)
Princeton (8-2)
– Losses: vs Penn (12-0), vs Yale (24-0)
Yale (16-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Baldwin Wallace (1-0), Buchtel (Akron) (1-0), Case Western Reserve (7-0), Hampden-Sydney (1-0), North Dakota Agricultural (North Dakota State) (2-0), Penn (12-0), USC (1-0), Villanova (1-0), VMI (6-0), Wyoming (3-0), & Yale (16-0)

Princeton claims a national title in 1894 despite getting shutout by unbeaten Penn and unbeaten Yale. This is an obvious dispute for the program that claims the most national titles in all of college football.

Penn finished the year undefeated and never met Yale, resulting in a split title. Yale’s 16-0 record would not be matched by another college football team until 2019, when North Dakota State would win the FCS title with the same record.

Ironically enough, the 1894 season was North Dakota State’s first as a program. They finished 2-0 by beating current conference foe North Dakota twice.

New Champions: Penn & Yale

1895

Claimed Champions: Penn & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (14-0)
Yale (13-0-2)
– Ties: vs Boston Athletic Association (0-0), at Brown (6-6)

Unblemished Recognition: Arkansas (1-0), Carthage College (2-0), Henry Kendall College (Tulsa) (1-0), LSU (3-0), Miami (OH) (3-0), New Mexico A&M (New Mexico State) (2-0), Occidental College (5-0), Oregon (4-0), Penn (14-0), Texas (5-0), Washington Agricultural (Washington State) (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0), & Wyoming (1-0)

Penn capped off a second straight undefeated season and yet again avoided Princeton and Yale on their schedule. Nevertheless, they outscored their opponents 480 to 24.

Yale was not as dominant on the offensive side of the ball as Penn was. Yale ties against the Boston Athletic Association and Brown, who they beat earlier in the year, are what disputes them from claiming this championship.

Despite Yale’s 20-10 season-ending victory over Princeton, Penn is able to claim this title outright.

New Champions: Penn

1896

Claimed Champions: Lafayette & Princeton

Contenders:
Lafayette (11-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)
Princeton (10-0-1)
– Tie: at Lafayette (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Carthage College (4-0), Colorado (5-0), Fordham (1-0), Georgia (4-0), LSU (6-0), North Carolina A&M (1-0), Oklahoma (2-0), & Wyoming (2-0)

The story of the year wasn’t the Princeton and Lafayette tie in early October, but the Lafayette victory over Penn in Philadelphia. The win marked the first time that a “smaller” institution beat out one of the Big Four (Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale). This would be Penn’s lone loss on the season.

After Lafayette won three straight games against West Virginia, they enrolled one of West Virginia’s own players – tackle Fielding Yost, who played for them for the remainder of the season. George Barclay, inventor of the football helmet who also played professional baseball the previous summer, also suited up for Lafayette.

Due to obvious eligibility concerns, Lehigh canceled the annual rivalry matchups between the two schools. Eligibility requirements and transfer rules, along with the first non-Big Four champion, represented major changes that were arriving in the sport.

New Champions: Lafayette & Princeton

1897

Claimed Champions: Penn & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (15-0)
Yale (9-0-2)
– Ties: at Army (6-6), at Harvard (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Alabama (1-0), Buffalo (7-0), Butler (3-0), Fairmont (Wichita State) (1-0), Oklahoma (2-0), Oregon Agricultural (Oregon State) (5-0), Penn (15-0), Washington State (2-0), & Wyoming (2-0)

Multiple players from this Penn team were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, including Head Coach George Washington Woodruff. The 15 wins that Penn raked in would be the most by any team until the 2018 Clemson Tigers.

Yale, who tied at Army and Harvard, also claims a title for this season despite their obvious setbacks.

New Champions: Penn

1898

Claimed Champions: Harvard & Princeton

Contenders:
Harvard (11-0)
Michigan (10-0)
Princeton (11-0-1)
– Tie: at Army (5-5)

Unblemished Recognition: Carthage College (3-0), Colorado Mines (8-0), Detroit College (Detroit) (5-0), Drexel (7-0), Harvard (11-0), Kentucky State College (Kentucky), LSU (1-0), Michigan (10-0), North Carolina (9-0), Sewanee (4-0), & Washington University (Saint Louis) (6-0)

Michigan’s 10-0 season was the first undefeated double-digit win season for a team outside of the Big Four. That is not why we put them in our list of contenders for the national title, but rather because of their Western Conference championship in the league’s third season.

Harvard was equally as dominant as the Wolverines and both teams allowed less than 26 total points throughout the regular season. The two played zero common opponents.

Princeton only allowed five points all season long and they were all to Army, who was part of the derailing of Yale’s national title claim season the year prior.

New Champions: Harvard & Michigan

1899

Claimed Champions: Harvard & Princeton

Contenders:
Harvard (10-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Princeton (12-1)
– Loss: at Cornell (5-0)
Sewanee (12-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Arizona Normal (Arizona State) (3-0), Buffalo (6-0), Detroit (5-0), Kansas (10-0), Montana Agricultural (Montana State) (3-0), New Mexico State (1-0), North Dakota (6-0), Sewanee (12-0), Utah State (1-0), & VMI (1-0)

Harvard’s lone blemish came at the end of the season against Yale, 0-0. Princeton was able to beat that Yale team, but also suffered a loss to Cornell. Without going too deep into how the Ivy League powers were losing their unanimous national edge in the sport, that Cornell team lost to Chicago – winners of the Western Conference.

Sewanee demolished nearly every major program in the southeastern United States as they won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Only Auburn, under Head Coach John Heisman, was able to score points on them in a thrilling 11-10 victory. The team was known as the “Iron Men” after pitching five shutout wins over Texas A&M, Texas, Tulane, LSU, and Ole Miss in a matter of a six-day period.

This is another season where a national champion was difficult to predict due to the lack of uniformity the sport had on a national level. The 1900s, with the establishment of postseason games such as the Rose Bowl, were the first true identifier of how certain leagues stacked up against others.

New Champions: Harvard & Sewanee

1890 – 1899

YearChampions
1890Harvard
1891Yale
1892Yale
1893Princeton
1894Penn & Yale
1895Penn
1896Lafayette & Princeton
1897Penn
1898Harvard & Michigan
1899Harvard & Sewanee
New CFB National Champions by Year, 1890 – 1899

Team Totals (up to 1899)

TeamChampionshipsYears
Yale151872, 1874, 1876,
1877, 1880, 1881,
1882, 1883, 1884,
1886, 1887, 1888,
1891, 1892, 1894
Princeton141869, 1870, 1872,
1873, 1874, 1875,
1877, 1878, 1879,
1880, 1885, 1889,
1893, 1896
Harvard31890, 1898, 1899
Lafayette11896
Michigan11898
Rutgers11869
Sewanee11899
New CFB National Champions by Team, 1869 – 1899

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Reclaiming & Disputing College Football National Champions: The 1880s

The second decade of college football re-established what was already known – Princeton and Yale were still king. As college football grew and expanded the length of the country, game scheduling and rule changes became necessary components. Yale graduate Walter Camp became the national leader of the sport as new, universal sets of rules were put in place to appease the needs of the new era.

1880

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (4-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (4-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton

Unblemished Recognition: Kentucky University (Transylvania) (2-0) & Michigan (1-0)

The 1880 season was capped off the same way as it was in 1879, with Princeton and Yale battling to a 0-0 tie on a neutral site. This time, the two squads met in New York City for their contest, rather than the usual neutral site location of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Transylvania beat Centre College two times in a cow pasture and Michigan defeated the University of Toronto across nation’s borders to finish 2-0 and 1-0, respectively.

The Sun described an 1880 matchup between Harvard and Princeton as “a series of wrestling encounters for possession of a large leather globe” – which is essentially the same sport being played today.

New Champions: Princeton & Yale

1881

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (7-0-2)
– Ties: vs Harvard (0-0), vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (5-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Georgetown (1-0), Penn State (1-0), & Richmond (1-0)

Princeton was granted the 1879 title on our scale due to only tying Yale, while Yale also had a tie against Harvard that year. 1881 was the exact opposite of that season, with Yale only having the single tie against Princeton and the victory over Harvard.

For the third consecutive year, Princeton and Yale capped off their seasons with a 0-0 tie at a neutral site. Despite the teams tying each other, Yale was able to take down Harvard during the season as Princeton drew the Crimson to a 0-0 tie.

Richmond took down Randolph-Macon College twice and Penn State defeated Lewisburg (Bucknell), 9-0. However, Bucknell denies the game between the two schools ever happened even though it was reported by newspapers in both State College and Lewisburg.

New Champions: Yale

1882

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (8-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado College (1-0), Navy (1-0), Richmond (1-0), & Yale (8-0)

The early days of college football were obviously dominated by the Ivy League schools, and the 1880s saw the rise of the Yale Bulldogs. They smoked their competition throughout the season, compiling an 8-0 record that included seven shutouts and a season-capping victory over Princeton, 2-1.

New Champions: Yale

1883

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Carleton (1-0), Gallaudet (2-0), John Hopkins (1-0), & Yale (9-0)

Yale graduate and former player Walter Camp, who is known as the Father of American Football, altered the rules of the game many times before settling on four points for a touchdown, two points for kicks after the touchdowns, two points for safeties, and five points for field goals before the start of the season.

Once again, Yale secured an undefeated season as they plowed their way to a 9-0 record. They closed the year out against Harvard at Polo Grounds in New York, where they won by a score of 23-2; the two points given up were the only points scored on them that season.

New Champions: Yale

1884

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (9-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (8-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Michigan (2-0), Navy (1-0), Wabash (1-0), & Williams College (2-0)

Princeton and Yale dominated much of their respective schedules in 1884 before meeting in the season finale, again held at Polo Grounds.

Both teams entered the game undefeated, and 15,000 spectators came to see the match. The game itself was riddled with injuries and questionable scoring results. Yale was up 6-4 before the game was stopped due to darkness.

The referee who stopped the game stated that “Properly speaking Yale won the game, but on a mere technicality I was forced to call the contest a draw. The rule calls for two full three-quarter-hour innings to be played.”

New Champions: Yale

1885

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado College (1-0), Michigan (3-0), & Princeton (9-0)

For the first time since 1878, Princeton was able to take down Yale by a score of 6-5. They would crush Penn five days later to secure the outright national championship as well.

The game versus Yale was defined by Princeton’s Henry “Tillie” Lamar returning a punt 90 yards in the closing minutes of the game to secure the win.

New Champions: Princeton

1886

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (7-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (9-0-1)
– Tie: at Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Cincinnati (2-0) & Michigan (2-0)

One of the most controversial games of the century was Princeton and Yale’s 0-0 “tie” on Thanksgiving Day. The game, which retroactively was the national championship game, was indeed not a tie at all.

A referee arriving late, heavy rain, and eventual darkness prevented the game from ever being finished. With Yale leading 4-0 in the waning minutes, the game had to be declared a “no contest” and resulted in a 0-0 draw.

The Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) held a special meeting to discuss the Princeton and Yale game, where they agreed that the Bulldogs should have been declared the winner. However, under existing rules at the time, the IFA stated that they did not have the authority to award a winner of the game.

It is impossible to say what would have concluded at the end of the match, as the previous year featured a Princeton game-winning punt return in the final minutes. The 1884 and 1886 seasons are both widely disputed for Princeton’s national title claims in favor of Yale, who was leading in both contests before the games were called off.

New Champions: Yale

1887

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Butler (3-0), California (4-0), Cincinnati (1-0), Michigan (5-0), Minnesota (2-0), Penn State (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (1-0), & Yale (9-0)

Yale was on fire again in 1887. They beat Wesleyan by a score of 38-0 and then again, ten days later, by a score of 106-0.

They took out their two toughest opponents, Princeton and Harvard, in a five-day span. Their season finale victory over previously unbeaten Harvard was played in front of 15,000 people in New York, securing a second straight national championship for the Bulldogs.

New Champions: Yale

1888

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Notre Dame (1-0), USC (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (1-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale was the only viable option for a national title claim in 1888. The Bulldogs allowed zero points to be scored on them and took out undefeated Princeton in the season finale.

Harvard and Yale did not meet this season, with the Crimson’s lone loss coming at Princeton, 8-6.

New Champions: Yale

1889

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (10-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Butler (2-0), Iowa College (Grinnell) (1-0), Lake Forest College (1-0), Miami (OH) (4-0), Notre Dame (1-0), Princeton (10-0), Trinity College (Duke) (2-0), USC (2-0), & Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0)

Princeton reestablished themselves as champions of college football after taking down Yale, who was certainly the team of the decade. Five Tigers players were selected to the All-American team, which was a new concept that honored the nation’s best. In 1889, the All-American team consisted only of players from the Big Three schools (Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

Five of the 11 All-Americans were Tigers players, including Edgar Allan Poe, second cousin to the famous writer of the same name.

New Champions: Princeton

1880 – 1889

YearChampions
1880Princeton & Yale
1881Yale
1882Yale
1883Yale
1884Yale
1885Princeton
1886Yale
1887Yale
1888Yale
1889Princeton
New CFB National Champions by Year, 1880 – 1889

Team Totals (up to 1889)

TeamChampionshipsYears
Princeton121869, 1870, 1872,
1873, 1874, 1875,
1877, 1878, 1879,
1880, 1885, 1889
Yale121872, 1874, 1876,
1877, 1880, 1881,
1882, 1883, 1884,
1886, 1887, 1888
Rutgers11869
New CFB National Champions by Team, 1869 – 1889

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