College football playoff scenarios by the numbers

With two weeks to go, there are eight teams for four spots.

This is the very simplified version of the college football playoff scene right now, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. Of course, the positions of those eight teams differ greatly from one another, so we’ll rely on the predictor — who uses FPI’s predictions and anticipates the committee’s selection process based on their past behavior — to answer key questions about the playoff race as we approach the finish line.


Who enters if everyone wins?

Everyone, in this case, is: Georgia, Ohio State (after an 11-0 win over Michigan in Week 13), TCU, Clemson and USC.

This would make three undefeated slam dunks in the aforementioned first teams and result in a battle for last place between Michigan, USC and Clemson.

That’s close! And it would be a great decision for the committee. This is where predicting the playoffs lands:

Michigan: 52%
USC: 31%
Clemson: 23%

(Note: These numbers add up to more than 100% if the committee decides to exclude TCU.)

So why does the model tilt toward one-loss Michigan over the two losing conference champions? Two main factors: the resume and the quality of the team.

Outside of the conference tournament, we expect that 11-1 Michigan will actually have a slightly higher powerhouse record than 12-1 USC or 12-1 Clemson, even though they are exceptionally close to the Trojans and can turn around. Michigan is also, in the FPI’s opinion, the best team of the three – by far. The Wolverines are ranked 4th in the FPI, while Clemson and USC are ranked 9th and 14th, respectively.

So from a model perspective, it sees a team with a better FPI and SOR, and that’s usually the team that gets a better rating. But the conference championship is muddying the waters, which is why it’s not clear at all.

What if Michigan, rather than Ohio State, ends up 13-0 in the above scenario?

That sets up what should be a fairly easy selection process for the committee, with virtual locks in Georgia, Michigan, OSU and Ohio State as big favorites to land in that last spot.

Ohio State: 79%
USC: 16%
Clemson: 14%

The Buckeyes are the #2 ranked team in the FPI, and they’ll also have a slightly stronger 11-1 SOR than 11-1 Michigan, which means Ohio State will also be ahead of USC and Clemson on the resume metric.

What happens if Ohio State or Ohio State loses in the Big Ten championship game?

It’s very unlikely for us to do a full scenario, but I think we can get the general idea just by plugging in Ohio State’s loss in that game, for starters, against whatever opponent it might be (Iowa, Purdue and Illinois still have a shot at winning the Big Ten West tour) .

According to Predictor, the Buckeyes would still have a 94% chance of getting into the playoffs in this scenario. That might go down a bit if Clemson, TCU, and USC win, but it’s very likely Ohio State will go in.

For Michigan, it’s a very similar story: losing the Big Ten championship game—which the Wolverines can only get to by beating Ohio State first—still gives them an 86% chance of a playoff. Again, this will come down a bit if everything else is against them elsewhere, but they’ll probably still get in.

Did TCU end up losing one?

Not necessarily, especially if the loss is to Iowa, says the Predictor, and then TCU goes on to win the Big 12 championship. At that point, TCU will be a single-loss conference champion with an average strength of rank 2.7. This is the resume of the qualifying team! Regardless of results elsewhere, Predictor says TCU will have a 71% shot at the playoffs at this venue, which I think might be a little shocking.

That drops to 64% if Clemson and USC also win. But from a form standpoint, TCU will clearly have the best resume of those three teams at that point.

Is there any chance of an Alabama sneak?

*whispers* Yes, there is a chance.

We mentioned that there are eight teams that have a shot at the playoffs at the top and we’ve talked about six of them so far. Seventh is LSU, which can enter by winning. Eighth is Alabama. Consider this scenario:

• Georgia won the Securities and Exchange Commission

• Ohio wins

• Clemson, TCU and USC lose conference championship games

In this case, there are three teams that are certain to be in: Georgia, Ohio State, and Michigan. who else? The forecaster is tipping TCU over Alabama 46% to 39%, but it’s close! And if we lose TCU to Iowa as well, Alabama will be the favorite for that fourth spot.

Is the forecaster exaggerating Alabama’s chances of reaching the CFP at 12% right now? Maybe a little. But is it impossible to enter the Crimson Tide? Not.

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