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2018 Roberts Poll: Initial Bowl Projections

We asked our computers to come up with some bowl projections while we digested some turkey. Here are the results.

NCAA Football: Miami at Toledo Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the second year of the Roberts Poll!

In case you weren’t here the first time, we at Hustle Belt (with the help of yours truly) came up with a formula to rank FBS teams. It basically comes down to a mathematical formula that takes the quality of a win or loss and combines it with margin of victory to assign a team points.

This year has a slight tweak over last year. The Mountain West Conference has been relegated to the third tier of conferences (along with the MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and independents). Taking their place is the American Athletic Conference. Conference relegation and promotion occurs annually based on cumulative scores for that conference each year.

You’ve seen the updates throughout the season. Now, we combine the results and predict who will play where for their bowl games. Of course, we have to add that these are not official pairings and are just projections as of the morning of Thanksgiving (November 22). Using the Roberts Poll, we also posted what we believe the spread will look like. Take a look and let us know what you think!

College Football Playoff

This year’s College Football Playoff (CFP) is projected to look very similar to last year’s. Alabama dominated most of the past two seasons in the Roberts Poll. Without much doubt, they will end up in the top position entering bowl season. Our fantasy football computer predicts the Crimson Tide finishing the season 13-0 with 1,314 Roberts Poll points and an Orange Bowl pairing with a controversial fourth place participant.

Second place is projected to be Clemson, who is also projected to finish 13-0. Due to playing in the weaker ACC, Clemson did not earn nearly as many points, but are expected to finish with 1,228 Roberts Poll points heading into the CFP. Clemson is also expected to win their initial Cotton Bowl matchup against the third-best team in the Roberts Poll nation, the Michigan Wolverines.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines were expected to finish third this year, earning a Cotton Bowl bid to take on Clemson, but a loss to Ohio State on Satiurday really mucks up what our computers predicted. Outside of this week’s performance, Michigan handily defeated most of their opponents and were a favorite to win the Big 10 throughout much of the year. Although we fully recognize that two other schools are expected to be undefeated, Michigan earned more Roberts Poll points.

Speaking of the undefeated schools, the fourth place team will be: Notre Dame. Hear me out: I believe that UCF has earned their berth into the playoff. I really do. Notre Dame simply earned more Roberts Poll points and therefore got the nod to go face Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame is expected to finish 12-0 with 1,060 points. Blame the computers, not me.

Alabama and Clemson are expected to beat their respective first round opponents to earn a berth to the CFP National Championship Game. Alabama is expected to beat Clemson by one score to earn yet another (shared) National Championship. In other National Championship news, UCF is expected to defeat Syracuse in the Fiesta bowl to be 14-0 again, or 28-0 across the past two seasons.

Mid-American Conference:

Now for the bowls that matter! The Roberts Poll predicted an exciting seven bowl-eligible teams, with all seven making it in. Buffalo, our predicted MAC champions, are predicted to face off in the Dollar General Bowl to take on Troy. Our Bulls are expected to defeat the Trojans by one score. Buffalo (11-2, projected) is the only MAC school projected to win their bowl game, unfortunately.

Northern Illinois, the confirmed MAC West champion, is expected to earn a special bid to the Quick Lane Bowl to take on Vanderbilt. The Huskies (7-6, projected) are expected to give Vanderbilt a run for their money and score about seven points fewer than their SEC foe.

Eastern Michigan is projected to face off against San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Eagles (7-5, projected) will play on the frozen blue turf and are projected to lose by only four points. My personal expectation is that Eastern Michigan takes the game into an overtime or two in another MACtion-filled thriller.

James H. Jimenez

Miami is projected to be the first participants of the Cactus Bowl since the recent rebranding to the Cheez-It Bowl. The RedHawks (6-6, actual) would be facing off against California, but ultimately losing by about 10 points.

Ohio earned yet another bowl game under Frank Solich. This time, the Bobcats (8-4, projected) are projected to attend the Camellia Bowl against Georgia Southern. The triple option rushing attack is projected to overwhelm Ohio by one score.

Toledo has finally earned their turn to attend the Bahamas Bowl, according to the Roberts Poll. When the Rockets (7-5, projected) line up against North Texas, we suggest cautious optimism, as the Mean Green are favored by two scores. (Editor’s note: Brett McMurphy of Stadium reported on Sunday afternoon Toledo will face the FIU Panthers in the Bahamas Bowl.)

Western Michigan returns to playing in bowl games after getting left out last year. The Broncos (7-5, actual) are projected to play in the DXL Frisco Bowl against former MAC member Temple. The Owls are expected to win by 17 points, but the Broncos did seem like a new team this week so who knows?

Below is a handy chart of all the MAC postseason projections:

Other Bowls:

Across 130 FBS schools, the race was on to fill 78 slots for bowls by earning six wins or more. The Roberts Poll predicts 82 schools earning six wins, forcing four teams to sit out. By eliminating the four lowest-scoring teams from the list of 82, we paired the remaining 78 slots according to actual bowl tie-ins, according to College Football News, Wikipedia (don’t you dare judge me), and SB Nation.

Who are the four teams left out? Do not fret, my fellow MAC fans. Wyoming, Louisiana-Monroe, Coastal Carolina, and Liberty were projected to sit out. If I am not mistaken, I do not believe Liberty would be granted a bowl game anyway, given that this is their first year in FBS.

Some games of note include the biggest projected blowout. That would be the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, between UAB and Tulane. The Blazers are expected to win by 28 points.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Idaho v Colorado State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

The closest games have a projected spread of one point, meaning they ought to be very well-matched teams. One of those games is the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl between Florida International and Duke. The Servpro First Responder Bowl (formerly the Heart of Dallas Bowl) between BYU and Southern Miss is also expected to be a one-point affair. Eighteen games are expected to be settled by one possession.

The Army Black Knights were projected to go to the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. I may have shoehorned in this selection because it made me laugh, but this is the Internet; fight me.

Another fun-named bowl game, the Redbox Bowl, will be the new name of the Foster Farms Bowl. We project Oregon defeating Purdue by a mere eight points.

More bowl projections can be found in the following spreadsheet, and all matchups are projected as of Nov. 22:

Conference Champions:

The Conference Championship week is bound to be full of fun, MACtion, and a surprise or two. Based on results as of Thanksgiving morning (November 22), we calculated the participants of each conference championship.

While we are projecting these teams to participate and win by these margins, anything can happen. “Life...uh, finds a way,” if I may quote Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. Particularly, I personally predict the MAC Championship game being much closer with the incredibly stout Northern Illinois defense.


Clemson (-36) over Pittsburgh


UCF (-16) over Houston (Editor’s note: Matchup is UCF vs. Memphis, spread is -7 UCF)

Big Ten:

Michigan (-32) over Northwestern (Editor’s note: matchup is Ohio State vs. Memphis, spread is -13 OSU)

Big XII:

Oklahoma (-10) over Texas

Conference USA:

UAB (-8) over Florida International (Editor’s note: matchup is UAB vs. Middle Tennessee,spread is -1.5 MTSU)


Buffalo (-20) over Northern Illinois

Mountain West:

Utah State (-6) over Fresno State (Editor’s note: matchup is Utah State vs. Boise State, spread is -2.5 Boise)


Washington State (-18) over Utah (Editor’s note: matchup is Washington vs. Utah, spread is -3.5 Washington)


Alabama (-11) over Georgia

Sun Belt:

Troy (-7) over Louisiana-Lafayette

(Editor’s note spreads are from by Bet Online as of Nov. 25.)

We will be doing another preview after the conference championship games to re-evaluate our pairings and spreads. Stay tuned for more Roberts Poll updates!