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 more changes in Week 3. Expect this to happen more often early in the season as teams get upset and solidify their presence on the field of play. The schedules also need time to stabilize, too, and that factors into these rankings below as well.

Here is the way we see a 16-team Division I-A football championship tournament, right now after three weeks of regular-season action:

  1. Alabama (SEC auto)
  2. Clemson (ACC auto)
  3. Ohio State (B1G auto)
  4. Georgia (SEC at-large)
  5. Oregon (Pac-12 auto)
  6. Oklahoma (Big XII auto)
  7. Notre Dame (Independent auto)
  8. Wisconsin (B1G at-large)
  9. Texas (Big XII at-large)
  10. Central Florida (AAC auto)
  11. Miami-FL (ACC at-large)
  12. Boise State (MWC auto)
  13. Arizona State (Pac-12 at-large)
  14. Toledo (MAC auto)
  15. Appalachian State (Sun Belt auto)
  16. Marshall (C-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.

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 Appalachian State vs. No. 2 Clemson at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta
  • No. 14 Toledo vs. No. 3 Ohio State at the Outback Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 13 Arizona State vs. No. 4 Georgia at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 12 Boise State vs. No. 5 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 11 Miami-FL vs. No. 6 Oklahoma in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport
  • No. 10 Central Florida vs. No. 7 Notre Dame in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 9 Texas vs. No. 8 Wisconsin 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!