College Football Playoffs (12/10/13)

John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
Would college football's National Championship game feature Florida State and Auburn if we had a playoff? Using PredictionMachine.com's Bracket Simulator we look at what a 16-team playoff would look like.



Conference Championship Week has brought clarity to a wild college football season. The BCS system seems to have picked the two most deserving teams to play in the title game. But do you feel satisfied that the winner of the BCS National Championship game is truly the best team in the country?
 
The four-team College Football Playoff begins in 2014 but if we are going to have a playoff, shouldn’t we have a playoff?
 
A 16-team playoff would fulfill all of our needs. First, it would include all conference champions. At the beginning of the season every team in the FBS would have a clear path to the national title, win your conference and you are in the hunt. Second, six at-large bids would be awarded guaranteeing that the truly elite teams in the country are in the postseason.
 
If we used this format we would get the following 16-team playoff:
Note: We used the current BCS Standings to seed each team
  • No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 16 UL-Lafayette
  • No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 South Carolina
  • No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 12 Central Florida
  • No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Fresno State
  • No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
  • No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Bowling Green
  • No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Oregon
  • No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 15 Rice
In this playoff, the entire top 10 of the BCS is included with only three teams (Bowling Green, Rice, and UL-Lafayette) ranking outside the BCS top 25. The SEC has four representatives, the most of any conference.
 
The only real drawback to this format is some unfortunate, same conference, matchups in the first round. Missouri plays South Carolina and Baylor faces off against Oklahoma.
 
As is the case with March Madness, seed and path to the title game make all the difference. Florida State has a favorable route to the title which includes a Sweet 16 matchup against the weakest team in the field, Louisiana Lafayette which ranks 95th in our Power Rankings. The Seminoles also will not face one of our top four teams until the championship game. As a result, Florida State is the only team with a greater than 50% chance to reach the Final Four and is more likely to win it all than the next top three seeds combined.
 
After 50,000 simulations of the 16-team college football playoff, the most likely National Champion is the Florida State Seminoles winning 29.1% of all simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship game, Florida State defeats Alabama 62.8% of the time by an average score of 31-23.
 
Odds for each team to advance to and win the championship based on 50,000 simulations of a 16-team college football playoff tournament (all games played on a neutral field). 

Seed Team Elite 8 Final 4 Title Game Championship
1 Florida St. 92.8% 66.6% 44.9% 29.1%
16 UL-Laf 7.2% 0.5% 0.1% 0.0%
8 Mizzou 54.2% 18.8% 9.3% 4.7%
9 SC 45.8% 14.1% 6.4% 2.7%
5 Stanford 68.2% 41.5% 19.2% 10.5%
12 UCF 31.8% 13.1% 3.5% 1.5%
4 MSU 74.0% 37.5% 15.2% 7.5%
13 Fresno St. 26.0% 7.9% 1.4% 0.3%
6 Baylor 62.6% 34.4% 19.2% 9.0%
11 Oklahoma 37.4% 15.5% 7.1% 2.4%
3 Alabama 72.4% 40.5% 22.0% 10.2%
14 BGSU 27.6% 9.6% 3.2% 0.8%
7 Ohio St. 46.8% 24.1% 12.2% 5.1%
10 Oregon 53.2% 30.8% 16.1% 7.1%
2 Auburn 73.8% 38.4% 18.3% 8.7%
15 Rice 26.2% 6.7% 1.9% 0.4%

As is customary in tournament play, upsets occur. In the first round of our 16-team tournament, No. 10 Oregon defeats No. 7 Ohio State. Styles make fights and Oregon’s up-tempo offense would prove too much for the Buckeyes (Ducks win 55% of the time 40-36).
 
Another notable outcome of this tournament would occur in the Final Four. One semifinal would be a rematch of the Iron Bowl but this time Alabama would be projected to best Auburn 53% of the time by an average score of 36-34.
 
What do you think the College Football Playoff would look like? Are you curious what a 4, 8, 16, 32, or 64 team tournament would look like? PredictionMachine.com’s Bracket Simulator gives you the power to simulate the postseason for any sport, not just college football. Try it out!
 

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