Week 5 bowl projections: Penn State looks College Football Playoff-bound, LSU falling fast

We’re five weeks into the 2017 college football season, and already the fans of some respected programs are ready to abandon ship (hello, Tennessee and LSU). USC fans shouldn’t fall into that boat, but after Friday night’s narrow loss at Washington State, the Trojans’ shot at the College Football Playoff seems much slimmer.

Beyond USC and the mess that is the middle-tier SEC, however, the rest of college football’s reigning powers took care of business. Alabama authored another blowout of epic proportions, Clemson vanquished Virginia Tech, and Washington and Penn State rolled to huge conference wins.

With all that action in the books, here’s how Diehards expects the College Football Playoff and other postseason matchups to shake out in this week’s bowl projections.

BOWL GAME TIE-INS
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, New Orleans) — CFP #1 Alabama #4 Washington Top 4, Playoff rankings
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, Pasadena) — CFP #2 Clemson #3 Penn State Top 4, Playoff rankings
Peach Bowl (Jan. 1, Atlanta) — NY6 Auburn UCF At-large vs. at-large
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6 Georgia Louisville SEC/Big Ten/ND vs. ACC #1
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 30, Glendale) — NY6 Ohio State USC At-large vs. at-large
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 29, Arlington) — NY6 Oklahoma Wisconsin At-large vs. at-large
Wild Wings Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando) Florida Miami SEC #2 vs. ACC/Big Ten
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, Tampa) Mississippi State Michigan SEC #3-8 vs. Big Ten #3-4
TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 30, Jacksonville) Texas A&M Virginia Tech SEC #3-8 vs. ACC/Big Ten
Liberty Bowl (Dec. 30, Memphis) South Carolina Texas SEC #3-8 vs. Big 12 #5
Music City Bowl (Dec. 29, Nashville) Vanderbilt Northwestern SEC #3-8 vs. ACC/Big Ten
Belk Bowl (Dec. 29, Charlotte) Kentucky Duke SEC #3-8 vs. ACC #4-7
Sun Bowl (Dec. 29, El Paso) Florida State Utah ACC #4-7 vs. Pac-12 #5
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28, San Antonio) TCU Washington St. Big 12 #2 vs. Pac-12 #2
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28, San Diego) Iowa Stanford Big Ten #3-4 vs. Pac-12 #3
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28, Orlando) N.C. State Kansas State ACC #3 vs. Big 12 #3
Military Bowl (Dec. 28, Annapolis) Georgia Tech Navy ACC #8-10 vs. American
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27, Houston) LSU Oklahoma St. SEC #3-8 vs. Big 12 #4
Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 27, Santa Clara) Michigan State Oregon Big Ten #5-7 vs. Pac-12 #4
Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27, New York) Notre Dame Minnesota ACC #4-7 vs. Big Ten #5-7
Independence Bowl (Dec. 27, Shreveport) UTSA Wake Forest SEC #10 vs. ACC #8-10
Cactus Bowl (Dec. 26, Tempe) West Virginia UCLA Big 12 #5 vs. Pac-12 #7
Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26, Detroit) Indiana Pittsburgh Big Ten #8-9 vs. ACC #8-10
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 26, Dallas) Texas Tech MTSU Big 12 #6 vs. C-USA
Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23, Fort Worth) Maryland Army Big Ten #8-9 vs. Army
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23, Birmingham) Tennessee Memphis SEC #9 vs. American
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 16, Las Vegas) Colorado Wyoming Pac-12 #6 vs. MWC

Notable changes this week:

  • Penn State ascends to the College Football Playoff; Oklahoma, following last week’s shaky performance against Baylor, slots into the Cotton Bowl.
  • USC remains pinned to the Fiesta Bowl, despite the loss at Washington State. The Trojans have the talent to finish the regular season 11-1.
  • UCF supplants South Florida as the Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl team. The Knights have hammered Maryland and Memphis in back-to-back weeks, and should be favored in every remaining game. San Diego State is the front-runner right now, but will the Aztecs stay undefeated?
  • The SEC undergoes some shuffling following awful performances by LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee. Florida now slots into the Wild Wings Bowl by virtue of a manageable SEC East schedule. LSU goes to the Texas Bowl, while Tennessee will have the awesome opportunity to take part in the first official Butch Jones B-Ham Bonanza.
  • N.C. State figures to be a more likely Camping World Bowl selection given FSU’s shaky play in recent weeks.
  • Maryland, Pittsburgh and UCLA are all sitting at a projected 6-6 in our books.

Week 5 scores that shaped the College Football Playoff race

  • Washington State 30, USC 27: The biggest result of the week happened on Friday night, when Trojans boy-wonder Sam Darnold struggled on the road in Pullman. USC can win the rest of its regular-season games, but Washington has the experience and coaching prowess to win the Pac-12 title game in December.
  • Clemson 31, Virginia Tech 17: The Tigers put together a workmanlike win in Blacksburg, Va., against a stout Justin Fuente-coached Virginia Tech team. Clemson is your clear No. 2 team at this point, with a trio of resounding top-25 wins already on its resume.
  • Georgia 41, Tennessee 0: Holy smokes, the Bulldogs absolutely obliterated Butch Jones’ life champions in their own house. Auburn and presumably Alabama remain on the schedule, but an elite defense could keep Georgia in the thick of things against both programs.
  • Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24: The Badgers win in a very Badgers-like way, despite quarterback Alex Hornibrook completing 11 of 20 passes and throwing 2 picks. Wisconsin averaged 2.9 yards per rush as a whole, but its Big Ten schedule is so soft that 12-0 remains within reach.
  • Auburn 49, Mississippi State 10: Either Mississippi State entered the season wildly overrated, or Auburn and Georgia are really good. Our guess: It’s the latter. The Gus Malzahn machine finally began chugging along Saturday night, as Kerryon Johnson romped for 116 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Jarrett Stidham enjoyed his best SEC performance yet (13 of 16, 264 yards, 2 touchdowns). A big step in the right direction for Auburn, now 4-1 with an 8-point Clemson road loss as the only blemish.
  • Miami 31, Duke 6: If anyone doubted whether Mark Richt’s Hurricanes were legit, a manhandling of previously 4-0 Duke on the road might convince them otherwise. Another big test comes next week at Florida State.
  • Troy 24, LSU 21: I don’t think anyone expected the Bayou Bengals to be a Playoff contender in their first season under Ed Orgeron, but wow, this certainly ends any shot they had at pretending to do so. LSU still needs a serious, serious offensive overhaul.

How other top contenders fared in Week 5

  • Alabama: As if a 59-0 drubbing of Vanderbilt wasn’t enough, the Crimson Tide went out and beat Ole Miss by  63 points. Jalen Hurts only had to attempt 19 passes thanks to a humming ground game and a defensive masterpiece — Levi Wallace nabbed 2 interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, while the team accounted for 5 sacks.
  • Penn State: Layed the boom on Indiana, 45-14. The Nittany Lions should give everyone else in the Big Ten trouble and squarely fall within the country’s elite. And if they can finish as undefeated conference champions, that will always give them the leg up over Oklahoma.
  • Washington: Knock the undefeated Huskies for another soft non-conference schedule if you want, but they haven’t lost a game by less than 16 points yet. Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis are all brilliantly fun to watch, and Petersen has a penchant for winning big games.
  • Ohio State: Demolished Rutgers, 56-0, and only needed to give JK Dobbins six carries in the process. Don’t forget about the Buckeyes just yet.

Games to watch: Week 6

*All times EST.

  • Louisville at N.C. State (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
  • Wake Forest at Clemson (Noon, ESPN2)
  • Penn State at Northwestern (Noon, ABC)
  • West Virginia at TCU (3:30 p.m., FS1)
  • Miami at Florida State (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
  • Alabama at Texas A&M (7:15 p.m., ESPN)
  • Michigan State at Michigan (7:30 p.m., ABC)
  • Wisconsin at Nebraska (8 p.m., Big Ten)
  • Cal at Washington (10:40 p.m., ESPN)

A nice slate of games to choose from next weekend, starting with what should be a fun Lamar Jackson-led ACC clash on Thursday night. I would suggest drinking every time the broadcasters mention Louisville basketball and/or Rick Pitino, except you wouldn’t make it through the night, would you?

TCU is quietly 4-0 following an impressive win at Oklahoma State, and the Horned Frogs have a fun matchup on their hands in Will Grier-led West Virginia. That’s a Big 12 offensive barn-burner to watch, for sure. Miami at Florida State should be a nice proving ground for the Hurricanes. And, for you East Coasters who don’t sleep on Saturday, Cal at Washington is as #Pac12AfterDark as you’re going to get.

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