16 Team Playoff (12/11/14)

By Paul Bessire
Would college football's Final Four feature Florida State, Oregon, Alabama and Ohio State if we had a larger College Football Playoff? Using PredictionMachine.com's Bracket Simulator we look at what 16-team playoff systems would look like.

A Conference Championship Week full of blowouts left the inaugural College Football Playoff committee with more options than spots in this year's first ever playoff. It is difficult to argue that Florida State, Oregon, Alabama and Ohio State are not deserving of playing for a National Championship, but there are more teams in that conversation as well. A larger playoff system could allow for more teams to be recognized for their strong seasons and we would get an on-field answer regarding truly the best teams in the FBS.

We are probably headed to an eight-team playoff and just five relevant conferences at a separate level from all other football teams in the not-too-distant future. For now though, 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 College Football Playoff Standings and our Power Rankings for teams outside the Top 25 to seed each team):

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Louisiana
  • No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
  • No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 12 Boise State
  • No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 13 Marshall
  • No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Kansas State
  • No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 UCF
  • No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Arizona
  • No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois

In this playoff, the entire Top 11 of the College Football Playoff rankings is included with only four teams (Louisiana, Northern Illinois, UCF and Marshall) ranking outside the Top 25. The SEC and Big 12 each have three teams.

The only real drawback to this format is some unfortunate, same conference, matchups in the first round. Kansas State plays TCU.

As is the case with March Madness, seed and path to the title game make all the difference. Alabama has a favorable route to the title which includes a Sweet 16 matchup against the weakest team in the field, Louisiana Lafayette which ranks 105th in our Power Rankings (Georgia Southern, which went undefeated in Sun Belt play and ranks #63 in our Power Rankings, is not postseason eligible this year). The Tide, however, has to play either our #4 team (Ole Miss) or #7 team (Michigan State) in the next round. TCU, the third best team in our rankings (a team that would be favored on a neutral field over Ohio State), only has to come out of a group that otherwise features our #15 (Florida State), #31 (UCF) and #20 (Kansas State) ranked teams.

After 50,000 simulations of the 16-team college football playoff, the most likely National Champion is the Alabama Crimson Tide winning 26.3% of all simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship Game, Alabama defeats Oregon 58.4% of the time by an average score of 34-30 (this happens to be our actual most likely National Championship Game as well).

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 Alabama. 94.0% 57.8% 40.3% 26.3%
16 UL-Laf 6.0% 0.3% 0.1% 0.0%
8 MSU 44.9% 18.3% 9.5% 4.8%
9 Ole Miss 55.1% 23.6% 13.8% 8.3%
5 Baylor 68.6% 36.9% 14.3% 7.4%
12 Boise 31.4% 11.1% 2.4% 0.9%
4 Ohio State 74.4% 43.5% 17.7% 9.7%
13 Marshall 25.6% 8.5% 2.0% 0.9%
6 TCU 61.5% 41.9% 21.9% 11.1%
11 Kansas St. 38.5% 20.5% 10.1% 4.1%
3 Florida St. 58.2% 24.4% 8.3% 2.7%
14 UCF 41.8% 13.2% 3.8% 1.4%
7 Miss. State 65.4% 31.0% 16.4% 6.9%
10 Arizona 34.6% 11.1% 4.0% 0.7%
2 Oregon 88.2% 56.4% 35.2% 14.7%
15 N. Illinois 11.8% 1.5% 0.3% 0.1%

As is customary in tournament play, upsets occur. In the first round of our 16-team tournament, No. 9 Ole Miss wins over No. 8 Michigan State, while Florida State is only about a three point favorite over UCF.

Another notable outcome of this tournament is that the SEC is just 41.5% likely to win the title, while the Big 12 is 22.6% likely to win it (as opposed to 44.5% and 0% likely respectively in the current format).

2013 Florida State vs. 2014 Florida State
Last year, when we conducted a similar analysis, Florida State was an even greater favorite than Alabama is now and we speculated that FSU would be at least a six point favorite on a neutral field over any team in the country. The Seminoles had one of the more dominant teams of the BCS era. And though they have not lost a game in two full seasons, this year's iteration is not even close to last year's. Simulating 2013 Florida State against 2014 Florida State, the 2013 version wins 71.3% of the time and by an average score of 44-27. They essentially played 17 points better on a "neutral" field than what we have seen from the Seminoles to-date this season.

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! And check out the actual College Football Playoff Preview as well as Bowl Picks and Predictions for every postseason college football game.