The end of August has arrived, and we are just eight interminably long days away from the start of the strangest college football season any of us can remember. Maybe. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us in various ways, but in the college sports arena, it began with the cancellation of March Madness. We all hoped everything would be under control by now and college football would begin in earnest.
Instead, four FBS conferences and a handful of other schools -- 46 teams in total -- have either postponed football until the spring or canceled it entirely. We are now left with 76 teams attempting to play a mostly abbreviated schedule this fall.
That poses a problem for someone like me who does bowl projections, namely that we have 41 bowls still scheduled, which would require 82 teams to fill. The Redbox Bowl dropped out early because it does not have a location for a game this season; it was scheduled to be played with teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12, two of the leagues that have postponed their seasons, so it may not have been played anyway.
We will get into bowl eligibility and which games will be played in a moment, but let's start with the College Football Playoff. At the top, I am predicting No. 1 Clemson and Big 12 champion Oklahoma are joined by Alabama and Georgia, which I have meeting in the SEC Championship Game. I also have two AAC teams in the New Year's Six, each of which are projected to have one loss. If that happens, it will be the first time a Group of Five team receives an at-large berth to the New Year's Six.
College Football Playoff
|Date||Game / Loc.||Matchup||Prediction|
|Title game|| Semifinal winners|
New Year's Six bowl games
|Date||Bowl / Location||Matchup||Prediction|
ACC/ND vs. SEC/Big Ten
|North Carolina vs. Florida|
At-large vs. At-large
|Texas A&M vs. Cincinnati|
SEC vs. ACC
|Auburn vs. Memphis|
At-large vs. At-large
|Texas vs. Notre Dame|
In a normal season, the bowl eligibility standards of being .500 or better would only apply to 41 teams in my current projection. The usual backup plan is to allow 5-7 teams to fill the gap, but most teams are not playing 12 games. If you extend the list to include any team that is only one or two games below .500, I am projecting 48 teams meet that standard. That fills 24 games.
Realistically, it seems unlikely that all 41 games will be played. You have to wonder how many bowls will want teams with worse records than that. Some will have records significantly worse than two games below .500.
ESPN owns several of the games and televises most of them, so it figures that the network will have a significant role in determining which bowls are played. Regardless, those decisions do not need to be made quickly. If college football can manage to play this season safely, it could be early November before anyone starts thinking about which bowls to play. If college football cannot safely play its season, the bowls go away on their own.
Without knowing for sure which games (if any) may eventually go away, I improvised and attempted to fill out as many bowl games as possible.
First, I removed the four other games that were contracted between leagues not playing this fall: Quick Lane Bowl (Big Ten vs MAC), Potato Bowl (MWC vs. MAC), Arizona Bowl (MWC vs. MAC) and the new Los Angeles Bowl (Pac-12 vs MWC). The Rose Bowl, which usually features the Big Ten and Pac-12, is a College Football Playoff semifinal this season. As CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported Monday, the CFP intends to move ahead as scheduled with it in that position.
That leaves 74 spots for 76 teams. Only Arkansas and East Carolina, each of whom I project to be winless, miss out. Two other teams I project to be winless are Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, though they get spots due to the APR tiebreaker. I have those two facing each other in the Birmingham Bowl in a matchup that is sure to bring a smile to the face of Tom Fornelli, the proprietor of our weekly Bottom 25.
Should it be decided that only teams over or within two games of .500 are those considered bowl-eligible for the 2020 season, here's the programs I project to be available for bowls this fall.
FBS teams projected to be over/near .500
Clemson (12-0); Alabama, Oklahoma (11-0); BYU (6-0)
Appalachian State, UAB (11-1); Memphis (10-1); Cincinnati, Florida (9-1)
North Carolina, Southern Miss (10-2); Georgia, Louisville, Marshall, Texas (9-2); Auburn, Iowa State, Notre Dame (8-2)
FAU, UCF (7-2); SMU (9-3); Miami, Virginia Tech (8-3); Baylor, Texas A&M (7-3)
Arkansas State, Louisiana (8-4); Louisiana Tech (7-4); LSU, Western Kentucky (6-4)
Troy (7-5), Army (5-4); Florida State, Georgia Southern (6-5); Georgia State, Houston, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, TCU (5-5)
Charlotte, Navy, NC State, Tulane (5-6); Liberty, West Virginia (4-6); Rice (3-5)