This weekly exercise is explained here, and from now on, it will be a “quicker” version each week. Things will change, as teams will rise and fall, and this means the first-round “bowl” matchups will change, too (see below).

There were a lot of changes in Week 2, as some projected auto-bid teams changed (B1G and Pac-12, for example), and many of the at-large bids changed, as well. Here is the way we see a 16-team Division I-A football championship tournament, right now after two weeks of regular-season action:

  1. Alabama (SEC auto)
  2. Clemson (ACC auto)
  3. Wisconsin (B1G auto)
  4. Ohio State (B1G at-large bid)
  5. Oklahoma (Big XII auto)
  6. Central Florida (AAC auto)
  7. Baylor (Big XII at-large bid)
  8. Notre Dame (Independent auto)
  9. Washington State (Pac-12 auto)
  10. Florida (SEC at-large bid)
  11. Virginia (ACC at-large bid)
  12. Southern California (Pac-12 at-large bid)
  13. Boise State (MWC auto)
  14. Toledo (MAC auto)
  15. Arkansas State (Sun Belt auto)
  16. Marshall (USA auto)

Remember, we aim for balance in the at-large slots, so each Power 5 conference gets a second bid from the opposite division as the projected champion (except in the Big XII, which has no divisions). You have to at least win a conference division here in order to make the Big Dance.

We also worked with the seedings a little more stringently this week, to account for schedule strength, power index, and overall quality. This makes the seeding a little more accurate, although winning your conference for the automatic bid does not guarantee you a high(er) seed.

Thus, the preliminary first-round matchups would take place at mid-tier bowl games as follows, to be played on December 21, a full two weeks after the conference title matches:

  • No. 16 Marshall vs. No. 1 Alabama at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis
  • No. 15 Arkansas State vs. No. 2 Clemson at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta
  • No. 14 Toledo vs. No. 3 Wisconsin at the Outback Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 13 Boise State vs. No. 4 Ohio State at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 12 Southern California vs. No. 5 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 11 Virginia vs. No. 6 Central Florida in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport
  • No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Baylor in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 9 Washington State vs. No. 8 Notre Dame in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego

The second round/quarterfinals will require just four bowl sites, so we choose the next four oldest bowls to host them on December 28:

  • Liberty winner vs. Holiday winner at the Sun Bowl in El Paso
  • Peach winner vs. Cheez-It winner at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas
  • Outback winner vs. Independence winner at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville
  • Camping World winner vs. Fiesta winner at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando

The semifinals celebrate the traditions of two major bowls, second only to the Rose, and these games would be played on January 4:

  • Sun winner vs. Citrus winner at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
  • Cotton winner vs. Gator winner at the Orange Bowl in Miami

The final will be played on January 11 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. All the other superfluous bowls could continue if they choose to by inviting non-playoff teams, and college football could have the best of both worlds.

Check back every Wednesday for new CFP analysis and projections this season!