Lessons from the best (and worst) of Sporting News’ college football predictions since 2014

“Bowl projections are meaningless!”  

That’s the battle cry you’ll hear most when you release picks for 44 bowls this time of year. You should see the emails and tweets. I started doing bowl projections for Sporting News in 2014 — the first year of the College Football Playoff.  

I’ve learned the college football fans not only think bowl projections are meaningless — they also love to pick apart those projections apart on a weekly basis.  

I will hold myself accountable. Over the last six years, I hit on 13 of 24 playoff teams (54 percent) and seven of the 12 championship game participants (58 percent). So I’m a little more than half right on these things, which is fine.  

Admit it. Bowl projections are fun, even when you’re wrong. The playoff picks are the most important part, so I looked back at the last seven years to see just how meaningless those picks were. Enjoy.  

*Denotes picked to make championship game  

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2014  

SN playoff picks: Alabama vs. Oklahoma*, Florida State vs. Oregon*  

Who we got right: Alabama, Florida State, Oregon  

Who we missed: Ohio State  

Looking back: Not bad for the first year. Nailed the Florida State-Oregon semifinal and had the Ducks in the championship game. The problem is the Oklahoma pick. The Sooners lost five games that season, which led to the hiring of offensive coordinator and future coach Lincoln Riley.  

2015 

SN playoff picks: TCU vs. Ohio State*, Auburn vs. Oregon*  

Who we got right: None   

Who we missed: Alabama, Michigan State, Clemson, Oklahoma  

Looking back: This was the only year I didn’t get one playoff team right. We fell for the Jeremy Johnson hype on an Auburn team that lost six games. Oregon lost four games with Vernon Adams. Ohio State and TCU were legit playoff contenders, but this was a year we should have just bet on Bama.  

2016 

SN playoff picks: Alabama* vs. Ohio State, Clemson* vs. Oklahoma 

Who we got right: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson  

Who we missed: Washington  

Looking back: We were close to the clean sweep, but Oklahoma finished with two losses and ended up at No. 7 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. This is where the pick Alabama-Clemson every year trend started, but I messed that up the following year. 

2017 

SN playoff picks: USC* vs. Florida State, Alabama* vs. Ohio State 

Who we got right: Alabama  

Who we missed: Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma  

Looking back: We went all in on USC with Sam Darnold following their victory in the Rose Bowl against Penn State the previous season. The Trojans lost at Washington State and Notre Dame in the regular season. We missed Oklahoma again and didn’t account for the two-SEC team scenario. That’s hard to pick in a four-team playoff.  

2018 

SN playoff picks: Alabama* vs. Oklahoma, Clemson* vs. Ohio State  

Who we got right: Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma  

Who we missed: Notre Dame  

Looking back: Three of four again. We have picked the Buckeyes to make the Playoff every year since the first one, and the argument between Ohio State and Oklahoma for that final spot was intense. We didn’t account for Notre Dame breaking through with an undefeated regular season.  

2019 

SN playoff picks: Clemson* vs. Texas, Alabama* vs. Ohio State  

Who we got right: Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State  

Who we missed: Texas  

Looking back: We thought Texas was back. The Longhorns’ season fell apart after early-season losses to LSU – the eventual national champion; and Oklahoma – another playoff team. We don’t regret the pick given we got everything else right.  

2020 

SN playoff picks: Ohio State* vs. Oklahoma, Clemson* vs. Alabama  

What we’re counting on: More of the same. These schools have combined for 17 of the 24 CFP appearances, and we have already picked this combination in 2016 and 2018. Unless there are two SEC teams again, then it’s a good bet at least three of these teams make the playoff. Who else are you going to pick?

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