Bowl projections: How conferences can get two teams into College Football Playoff

This time of year typically brings about the question of whether a conference, usually the SEC, can put two teams into the College Football Playoff. The answer is, just as typically, "yes." There are at least three conferences in which a scenario exists that could land them two playoff teams.  In fact, I have one of those scenarios in my current bowl projections.  Here is a conference-by-conference look at the prospects for the playoff.

SEC: Alabama remains the most reliable program in college football.  The Crimson Tide are storming to another likely SEC championship and CFP berth.  Georgia is also undefeated coming off its bye week.  If both teams are still undefeated entering the SEC Championship Game, there is a very good chance both will be in the playoff regardless of the result. The chances are a little better if Georgia wins that game.  Both teams still have to play at Auburn, so be careful counting chickens.

Big Ten: This is where I have projected two teams into the playoff.  That projection is based on a win by Ohio State over Penn State next week at the Horseshoe and neither team losing again after that.  That leaves the Nittany Lions as a strong playoff candidate, even at 11-1.  Wisconsin also hasn't lost yet, but its schedule is so bad that only a 13-0 season makes it a playoff team. If the Badgers were to hand Penn State its first loss in the Big Ten Championship Game, both could be in the playoff.

ACC: The scenario for two playoff teams is less likely here, but it could happen. That would require Clemson winning out and beating a then-undefeated Miami for the ACC title. The problem is that Miami's schedule may not be good enough.  The Hurricanes would have wins at home over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but barring a resurgence by Florida State, not much else.

Big 12: The scenario for two Big 12 teams is similar to that of the ACC.  The winner of Bedlam would have to beat an undefeated TCU in the title game and not have lost again otherwise, leaving two 12-1 teams.  The problem for the Big 12 is that only Oklahoma did anything of note outside the league. A 12-1 TCU is the least playoff-worthy of the potential 12-1 teams we have talked about, except for Wisconsin.

Pac-12: The Pac-12 is out of undefeated teams and only the Apple Cup winner can finish 12-1.  Neither Washington nor Washington State is a great playoff contender, although the Cougars have a win over Boise State in nonconference play.  USC could still win the league, but 11-2 will not get the Trojans in the playoff. It is more likely than not that the league champion will be the only team represented in a New Year's Six game, even if it makes the playoff.

Notre Dame: Here is something I never thought I would write.  Notre Dame has been flying under the radar.  The radar is locked on now after a dominating win over USC on Saturday.  If the Irish finish 11-1 -- no sure thing with games against NC State, Miami and Stanford remaining -- they are a strong contender.  

AAC: South Florida and UCF are both undefeated and the leading contenders to represent the Group of Five in a New Year's Six game.  Neither did enough outside the league to be a playoff contender.

2018 College Football Playoff

DATEGAME / LOC.TIME / TVMATCHUPPREDICTION

Jan. 8

National Championship
Atlanta

8 p.m.
ESPN

Title game Semifinal winners

Jan. 1

Rose Bowl
Pasadena, Calif.

5 p.m.
ESPN

Semifinal

(2) Ohio State vs. (3) Penn State

Jan. 1

Sugar Bowl
New Orleans

8:45 p.m.
ESPN

Semifinal

(1) Alabama vs. (4) Clemson

But what about that seemingly magical "13th data point?"  First of all, since when did we start referring to games as "data points?"  But, I digress.  Let me be abundantly clear:  No team has been left out of the playoff because it did not have a 13th data point. I do not care what somebody told the Big 12.  It simply cannot be proven. Both TCU and Baylor were left out of the first playoff not so much because Ohio State played an extra game but because the Buckeyes won it by roughly 300 points.  If Ohio State beat Wisconsin by three, it might have been a different story.  If either the Frogs or Bears had played a good nonconference opponent, it might have been a different story.  If either had played and won a conference championship game, it might have been a different story.  There is no way to know for sure because the committee did not debate that scenario.  It did not exist.  It is, at best, highly speculative to say that a 13th data point would have definitely put a Big 12 team into that first playoff.

In Notre Dame's case, it would be judged by its record (11-1, hypothetically) and its schedule, which would include a home loss to Georgia and wins over USC, NC State and at Michigan State, Miami and Stanford.  The Irish would be a stronger contender than some of the potential 12-1 teams I have mentioned.

Selection committee bowl games

DATEGAME / LOC.TIME / TVMATCHUPPREDICTION

Jan. 1

Peach
Atlanta

12:30 p.m.
ESPN

At-large vs. At-large

TCU vs. South Florida

Dec. 30

Fiesta
Glendale, Ariz.

4 p.m.
ESPN

At-large vs. At-large

Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State

Dec. 30

Orange
Miami

8 p.m.
ESPN

ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND

Miami vs. Georgia

Dec. 29

Cotton
Arlington, Texas

8:30 p.m.
ESPN

At-large vs. At-large

Oklahoma vs. USC

Congratulations to Army, which became bowl eligible with a win over Temple on Saturday and the first team to accept a bowl invitation. The Black Knights will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23.

There are currently 28 bowl-eligible teams, and while several teams have seven losses, none are officially eliminated yet because of the potential need for some number of 5-7 teams to fill out the bowl games.

For the rest of my updated bowl projections after Week 8, please click here.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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