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Could Clemson and Louisville meet again in the College Football Playoff?
Will your team make the College Football Playoff?
Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn’t give you a yes or no answer. Instead, we use analytics and the committee rankings to assign your team a probability of making the playoff.
The interactive visual shows the results of 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season. You can find more information about the simulation methods at The Power Rank.
Ranking teams based on their playoff chances is different from what the playoff committee does. While the committee’s decisions are, at least in part, based on the eye test, my analytics look to predict the future based on the remaining schedule.
The strength of schedule rating considers only FBS opponents played so far—not a team’s entire schedule. It also accounts for whether a team faced an opponent at home or on the road.
Now, let’s look at some key talking points after the initial release of the College Football Playoff rankings.
Alabama at No. 1 surprised no one
The committee ranked Alabama first, and this top slot has its privileges. The Crimson Tide, who’ve proved to be the most dominant team in the country so far this season, could still survive losing a game, such as this week at LSU (64.3 percent win probability). If Alabama loses to the Tigers, it will most likely drop to fourth in the rankings.
Remember, in 2014, top-ranked Mississippi State made the same drop when the Bulldogs lost for the first time. With this high rank, the Crimson Tide would still have good odds to make the playoff—even with a loss.
Aggies in the Top 4, but for how long?
The committee surprised many by putting one-loss Texas A&M at No. 4 ahead of undefeated Washington. It rewarded the Aggies for having a more difficult schedule (14th by my numbers compared to 63rd for the Huskies). However, the numbers only give Texas A&M a 20 percent chance to make the playoff. The Aggies have a difficult path compared to other contenders, as they still have to square off against Ole Miss and LSU.
In addition, Texas A&M has struggled to defend the run, as it has allowed 4.9 yards per carry, 67th in the nation. (The Power Rank does not include sacks in its rushing numbers, unlike usual college football statistics.) This weakness could be particularly troubling against the nation’s leading rushing offense in the Tigers, who feature Leonard Fournette.
Washington still in control of its playoff chances
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The Huskies are most likely disappointed to be ranked fifth behind a one-loss Texas A&M team. My analytics, however, give Washington a healthy 38.5 percent probability—fourth-best in the country—to make the playoff.
The biggest threat to the Huskies’ playoff chances is the Apple Cup against Washington State. Washington has a 66.8 percent chance to win that annual rivalry game, but a loss might be devastating, as it could give the Pac-12 North to the Cougars. The Huskies would drop and have no chance to rise again without an appearance in their conference championship game.
Clemson in driver’s seat to return to playoff
The committee gave Clemson credit for its strength of schedule in ranking it over Michigan. My numbers rate the Tigers’ schedule as fourth-best in the nation compared with the Wolverines’ ranking of 59th.
Clemson’s strength of schedule, however, will rapidly decline through the remainder of the regular season, as my numbers give the Tigers better than a 90 percent win probability in each of their four remaining games.
Is Louisville still a threat?
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One might think Louisville’s playoff hopes diminished with their near-loss to Virginia on Saturday. The committee certainly wasn’t impressed, as it ranked the Cardinals seventh. But while Louisville nearly choked, statistically it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, as the Cardinals won the yardage battle 508-322.
Louisville has a weak remaining schedule, with a road trip to Houston as the only test. My numbers give the Cardinals a 62.3 percent chance to win their remaining four games and finish 11-1.
Clemson will almost certainly win the ACC Coastal (99 percent probability) over Louisville. But an 11-1 Cardinals team would be close to a playoff spot, and it would have no chance to stumble on championship week. Louisville could sneak into the playoff (56.6 percent chance) if one of the conference favorites slips up.
Which conference might open the door? It’s most likely the Pac-12, which gets shut out of the playoff in 56 percent of my simulations.
Big Ten on outside looking in?
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It might seem strange that neither Michigan nor Ohio State makes the playoff in this scenario. But their looming regular-season showdown at the end of the season will be huge, as the loser will most likely be eliminated from playoff contention.
While a Big Ten playoff representative would most likely be the Wolverines or Buckeyes, don’t count out a strong Wisconsin team that has a 59.4 percent chance to win the West and gave both Michigan State and Ohio State fits in the last month.
College football might seem quite orderly right now with four undefeated teams from the Power Five conferences. However, there are still four weeks remaining in the regular season plus championship week. Don’t underestimate the probability of chaos, as a two-loss team makes the playoff in 52.6 percent of simulations.
Ed Feng is Bleacher Report’s playoff probability guru and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. Stats provided by The Power Rank unless otherwise noted. You can find Ed on Twitter @thepowerrank.