After nine weeks of action on the field, the College Football Playoff released its first rankings of the 2018-19 season Tuesday night, giving Florida Citrus Sports its best chance yet to project which teams could be visiting Orlando and Camping World Stadium for the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 and the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
With so much of the season left to play and so many conference races still up in the air, it’s nearly impossible to guess exactly how things might shake out come Selection Sunday, but here’s how things are looking as November gets underway:
Based on the Oct. 30 standings, No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame would meet in the Cotton Bowl semifinal, the most regionally appropriate game for the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish, whose most recent meeting came in the 2013 BCS Championship. That would leave No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 LSU to play in the other semifinal at the Orange Bowl — another rematch from the 2012-13 bowl season.
From there, the Rose and Sugar Bowls would fill their openings with traditional conference tie-ins. Based on today’s projections, that would pit No. 6 Georgia (the highest-ranked non-playoff SEC team) against No. 7 Oklahoma (the highest-ranked Big 12 team) in the Sugar Bowl, with No. 5 Michigan and No. 8 Washington State squaring off in the Rose Bowl, a rematch of the 1998 game.
With all the conference tie-ins accounted for, the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl matchups would be assigned using the top four at-large teams, inclusive of the Group of 5 champion. At this point, those teams would be No. 9 Kentucky, No. 10 Ohio State, No. 11 Florida and No. 12 UCF, with the only stipulation being that Florida and Kentucky, as members of the same conference, could not meet in a game.
So, what does that all mean for the Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl?
Starting on New Year’s Day, the Citrus Bowl gets the first pick from both the SEC and Big Ten after the New Year’s Six bowls, and at this point, No. 14 Penn State and No. 16 Iowa are the two highest-ranked Big Ten teams outside that CFP window.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a win over the Hawkeyes and face No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor this weekend, followed by a contest with Wisconsin at home on Nov. 10. For its part, Iowa still has tough matchups with Purdue and Northwestern on the docket between now and mid-October.
Shifting to the SEC, No. 18 Mississippi State currently represents the conference’s highest-ranked team outside the CFP series, with Texas A&M close behind at No. 20. However, the Bulldogs visit Alabama on Nov. 10, while the Aggies visit Auburn this weekend and host LSU on Nov. 24.
The Camping World Bowl, on the other hand, gets the first pick from the ACC after the New Year’s Six bowls, and at this point, No. 19 Syracuse is the highest-ranked ACC team (inclusive of Notre Dame) in that window. However, the CFP Top 25 also currently includes NC State at No. 21, Boston College at No. 22 and Virginia at No. 25.
Among those four teams, there is still a head-to-head matchup between Syracuse and Boston College left to play, and the Orange also have No. 4 Notre Dame remaining on the schedule. Boston College still faces No. 2 Clemson and 2017 Camping World Bowl participant Virginia Tech, which also still plays Virginia. That is all to say there is still plenty of opportunity for movement over the next several weeks.
In Big 12, the Camping World Bowl’s pick will be largely dependent on what the Alamo Bowl does with the first post-New Year’s Six pick from the conference.
Should the Alamo Bowl select No. 13 West Virginia, then No. 17 Texas and No. 24 Iowa State would be the next two teams up, based on the Oct. 30 rankings; if Texas were to end up in San Antonio, the Mountaineers and Cyclones would be the two highest-ranked teams available out of the Big 12.
Of course, while some combination of Syracuse, NC State, Boston College or Virginia against West Virginia, Texas or Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl and Penn State or Iowa against Mississippi State or Texas A&M in the Citrus Bowl look like strong possibilities today, there are plenty of ways this picture could — and almost certainly will — be turned on its head over the next five weeks.
For starters, there are two Top-10 matchups in the SEC this weekend, with Alabama visiting LSU and Georgia visiting Kentucky on Saturday. Additionally, there’s the aforementioned Penn State-Michigan game, while West Virginia and Texas meet head-to-head in Austin on Saturday — meaning the CFP poll will likely take on a very different shape next Tuesday and in the Tuesdays to come.
The next round of CFP rankings will be released on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at 9:30 p.m. ET. For a look at what members of the media are currently projecting for the Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl, check out our weekly projections roundups.