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 latest release of the College Football Playoff rankings.
Sorting the contenders from the Big Ten East
Let me make this crystal clear: the absence of a Big Ten team from the top 4 in playoff probability doesn’t mean the conference will get shut out of the playoff.
Far from it. In 88 percent of the simulations, the Big Ten gets a team in the playoff. Michigan and Ohio State are the two primary contenders, and they play the last week of the regular season.
Both teams have dominated the majority of their competition this season, and my numbers rate the two teams very closely. Because of its home field advantage, Ohio State has a 57.3 percent chance to win this year’s edition of “The Game.”
Penn State is still in the Big Ten East picture as well. With only one conference loss, the Nittany Lions could end up in a three-way-tie with Michigan and Ohio State if they convert on their 35.5 percent chance to win all three of their remaining games.
However, even in that scenario, it seems like Penn State would lose out on the 5th tiebreaker, which gives the division to the team with the “the best overall winning percentage.” Penn State has a worse winning percentage than Michigan and Ohio State because of an early out-of-conference loss to Pittsburgh.
Wisconsin rises as the top 2-loss contender
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There’s another reason Michigan and Ohio State have lower playoff probabilities than the other top contenders. The winner of the Big Ten East most likely plays Wisconsin, which has a 83.6 percent chance to win the Big Ten West by my numbers.
Wisconsin is 13th in the rankings that drive these simulations, and this makes the Badgers the most difficult opponent any top team would face in a conference title game. These are the most likely opponents for the other top-ranked teams.
- SEC: Florida, 22nd to play Alabama.
- ACC: Virginia Tech, 21st to play Clemson.
- Pac-12: Colorado, 23rd to play Washington.
Wisconsin’s defense has allowed 4.7 yards per play, 13th best in the nation, and adjusting for strength of schedule would push the Badgers’ rank higher. This unit gives the Wisconsin a chance in any game, as both Michigan and Ohio State found out earlier this year.
My numbers give Wisconsin a 18.9 percent chance to make the playoff, the best among all two-loss teams.
Washington faces its toughest test yet against USC
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Washington got the fourth and final playoff spot in this week’s committee rankings. But the Huskies have no time to celebrate with a visit from USC this week.
USC has been a different team since Sam Darnold took over as the starting quarterback against Utah. In these last six games, the Trojans have gained more than seven yards per play in all but one game and scored an average of 37.8 points.
Washington has a stellar defense which should contain Darnold and the USC offense. The numbers give the Huskies a 73 percent chance to win this game. Washington has been the better football team, but it must continue its solid play against a USC program that consistently recruits at a top 10 level.
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.