College football 2015-16 bowl projections: Predicting the playoff, New Year's Six and at midseason

By Zac Ellis
October 19, 2015

It seems the Pac-12 could be headed for a similar fate as last season’s Big 12.

Just two teams—Stanford and Utah—remain unbeaten in Pac-12 play through seven weeks of football. In our projections, the Cardinal run the table and topple the Utes in the conference title game. But even with a Pac-12 championship in hand, Stanford might not have the résumé to reach the College Football Playoff. We project Baylor, Michigan State and Clemson to all finish as unbeaten conference champs. Meanwhile, SEC champ Alabama is projected to end the year with one loss, but that setback (a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss) will look better in the eyes of the committee committee than Stanford’s 16-6 loss to Northwestern.

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This season 40 bowls make up the 2015 postseason: the New Year’s Six Bowls, which include the two playoff semifinals, and 34 lower-tier bowls. Before moving forward, here’s a quick reminder on how this all works:

The selection committee fills the two semifinal bowls based on its final rankings. It then rounds out the four non-playoff New Year’s Six bowls while fulfilling certain contractual obligations, such as pitting the Big Ten against the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. The committee is required to place the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion in a New Year’s Six bowl. The remaining teams are then fed into each league’s contract bowls. If a league doesn’t produce enough bowl-eligible teams, bowls can invite replacement teams from other leagues.

The ACC, Big Ten and SEC each pool a select number of bowls together and decide where to place teams. While the Big 12 and Pac-12 use a straightforward method—the Pac-12’s No. 2 choice would go to the Alamo Bowl, the No. 3 to the Holiday Bowl, etc.—the process for the other three Power Five leagues is less structured. For instance, the ACC’s No. 2 choice will go to the Russell Athletic Bowl, but teams Nos. 3–6 can land anywhere among the Sun, Belk, Music City/Taxslayer or Pinstripe bowls.

Keep in mind, the Pac-12’s No. 2 bowl doesn't automatically take the conference’s second-place team. Fan travel, location and matchup considerations all factor into bowl selection as much as conference standings. Leagues aren't obligated to fill bowls based on records.

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Disclaimer: While our preseason bowl projections were based on predicted finishes in’s conference primers, midseason projections are based on the author’s personal assessment of current conference standings.

Orange Bowl (semifinal) Dec. 31 Miami Gardens, Fla. No. 1 vs. No. 4 Alabama vs. Clemson
Cotton Bowl (semifinal) Dec. 31 Arlington, Tex. No. 2 vs. No. 3 Baylor vs. Mich. St.
Peach Bowl Dec. 31 Atlanta, Ga. at-large vs. at-large Utah vs. Florida State
Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1 Glendale, Ariz. at-large vs. Group of Five Notre Dame vs. Memphis
Rose Bowl Jan. 1 Pasadena, Calif. Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Ohio St. vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl Jan. 1 New Orleans, La. SEC vs. Big 12 LSU vs. TCU
bowl date location matchup pick
New Orleans Bowl Dec. 19 New Orleans, La. Sun Belt vs. CUSA Ga. Southern vs. La. Tech
New Mexico Bowl Dec. 19 Albequerque, N.M. CUSA vs. MW MTSU vs. New Mex.
Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 19 Las Vegas MW/BYU vs. Pac-12 BYU vs. Arizona
Cure Bowl Dec. 19 Orlando, Fla. AAC vs. Sun Belt Tulsa vs. Ark. State
Camellia Bowl Dec. 19 Montgomery, Ala. MAC vs. Sun Belt Ohio vs. App. St.
Miami Beach Bowl Dec. 21 Miami, Fla. AAC vs. CUSA Cincinnati vs. West. Ky.
Idaho Potato Bowl Dec. 22 Boise, Idaho MAC vs. MW BGSU vs. Col. St.
Boca Raton Bowl Dec. 22 Boca Raton, Fla. AAC vs. MAC USF vs. West. Mich.
Poinsettia Bowl Dec. 23 San Diego, Calif. MW vs. Army SDSU vs. Central Mich.*
GoDaddy Bowl Dec. 23 Mobile, Ala. MAC vs. Sun Belt Toledo vs. South Ala.
Bahamas Bowl Dec. 24 Nassau, Bahamas CUSA vs. MAC Old Dominion vs. North. Ill.
Hawaii Bowl Dec. 24 Honolulu, Hawaii AAC vs. MW/BYU ECU vs. Boise St.
Heart of Dallas Bowl Dec. 26 Dallas, Tex. Big 12/Big Ten vs. CUSA Indiana vs. So. Miss.
St. Petersburg Bowl Dec. 26 St. Petersburg, Fla. AAC vs. CUSA Temple vs. Marshall
Sun Bowl Dec. 26 El Paso, Tex. ACC vs. Pac-12 Va. Tech vs. Oregon
Independence Bowl Dec. 26 Shreveport, La. ACC vs. SEC Louisville vs. Missouri
Foster Farms Bowl Dec. 26 Santa Clara, Calif. Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Nebraska vs. USC
Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 26 Bronx, N.Y. ACC vs. Big Ten Pitt vs. Northwestern
Quick Lane Bowl Dec. 28 Detroit, Mich. ACC vs. Big Ten Air Force* vs. Illinois
Military Bowl Dec. 28 Annapolis, Md. ACC vs. AAC NC State vs. Navy
Arizona Bowl Dec. 29 Tucson, Ariz MW vs. CUSA Nevada vs. Rice
Russell Athletic Bowl Dec. 29 Orlando, Fla. ACC vs. Big 12 Duke vs. West Va.
Texas Bowl Dec. 29 Houston, Tex. Big 12 vs. SEC Kan. St. vs. Tex. A&M
Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 29 Fort Worth, Tex. Big Ten/Big 12 vs. MW Wash. St.* vs. Utah St.
Music City Bowl Dec. 30 Nashville, Tenn. ACC vs. SEC Miami vs. Tennessee
Holiday Bowl Dec. 30 San Diego, Calif. Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Penn St. vs. UCLA
Belk Bowl Dec. 30 Charlotte, N.C. ACC vs. SEC UNC vs. Auburn
Birmingham Bowl Dec. 30 Birmingham, Ala. AAC vs. SEC Houston vs. Kentucky
Outback Bowl Jan. 1 Tampa, Fla. Big Ten vs. SEC Michigan vs. Ole Miss
Citrus Bowl Jan. 1 Orlando, Fla. Big Ten vs. SEC Iowa vs. Florida
Liberty Bowl Jan. 2 Memphis, Tenn. Big 12 vs. SEC Okla. St. vs. Miss. St.
TaxSlayer Bowl Jan. 2 Jacksonville, Fla. Big Ten vs. SEC Wisc. vs. Georgia
Alamo Bowl Jan. 2 San Antonio, Tex. Big 12 vs. Pac-12 Okla. vs. Ariz. St.
Cactus Bowl Jan. 2 Phoenix, Ariz. Big 12 vs. Pac-12 Tex. Tech vs. Cal

*Replacement team

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)