16 Team College Playoff (12/10/2015)

By Paul Bessire CEO and GM @predictmachine
Would a college football postseason feature Oklahoma, Clemson Alabama and Michigan State as the last four teams if we had a larger College Football Playoff? Using PredictionMachine.com's Bracket Simulator (which can play 2 to 68 team custom tournaments for any sport) we look at a simulated 16-team playoff.

A Conference Championship Weekend in which betting favorites won every game did not leave the College Football Playoff committee with much to debate. Though not the four best teams in the country, it's very difficult to argue that Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma 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 a much better on-field answer regarding which teams are truly the best in FBS.

We are probably headed to an eight-team playoff in the not-too-distant future, which may also leave us with a clearer distinction between the Power Five conferences and everyone else. For now though, a 16-team playoff would better suit the current college football landscape at the FBS level. Most notable, expanding to 16 teams would include all conference champions. There are currently ten conferences recognized in the FBS. Just like the basketball tournament in March, all should be allowed to play for the title (the FCS has 24 teams for football and basketball has 68 - 16 is not a large number). 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. Additionally, six at-large bids can be awarded, guaranteeing that all elite teams in the country are alive in the postseason as well.

If we used this format for the 2015 season, 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 Clemson vs. No. 16 Arkansas State
  • No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Florida State
  • No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Houston
  • No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Bowling Green
  • No. 6 Stanford vs. No. 11 TCU
  • No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Western Kentucky
  • No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 North Carolina
  • No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 San Diego State

In this playoff, the entire Top 11 of the College Football Playoff rankings is included with only four teams (Arkansas State, #91; San Diego State, #69; Western Kentucky, #40; and Bowling Green, #30 in our Power Rankings) ranking outside the Top 25. The ACC and Big 10 each have three teams (four for the ACC if counting Notre Dame), while the SEC and Pac-12 only have one apiece in this format. In last year's playoff, the SEC and Big 12 would have each had three teams.

As is the case with March Madness, seed and path to the title game make a tangible difference. Oklahoma has a favorable route to the title which includes a Sweet 16 matchup against Bowling Green followed by a potential matchup with either our #12 ranked team (Iowa) or #25 team in Houston. Alabama, on the other hand, which is the second-best team in our Power Rankings as well as the CFP rankings, would be guaranteed to play one of the five best teams in the country after facing San Diego State as Ohio State and UNC rank fourth and fifth respectively in our final regular season Power Rankings.

After 50,000 simulations of the 16-team college football playoff, the most likely National Champion is Oklahoma winning 37.8% of all simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship Game, Oklahoma defeats Alabama 54.8% of the time by an average score of 29-28 (this happens to be our actual most likely National Championship Game in the non-hypothetical world as well). Alabama is the second favorite at 36.9%, with Clemson (13%) a distant third and no other team more than 3% likely to win the title. Further illustrating how top heavy this season looks now, in the same exercise last year, the most likely team to win the championship was just 26% likely to do so. Oklahoma, Alabama and Clemson are significantly better than anyone else in college football right now.

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 Clemson 98.9% 75.9% 28.2% 13.1%
16 Ark. State 1.1% 0.1% 0.0% 0.0%
8 Notre Dame 38.0% 6.6% 1.0% 0.1%
9 FSU 62.0% 17.5% 3.4% 0.7%
5 Iowa 72.8% 16.8% 6.8% 2.8%
12 Houston 27.2% 2.7% 1.1% 0.4%
4 Oklahoma 98.3% 80.2% 59.6% 37.8%
13 BGSU 1.7% 0.3% 0.1% 0.0%
6 Stanford 45.8% 29.9% 7.2% 1.8%
11 TCU 54.2% 38.3% 8.9% 1.9%
3 MSU 67.7% 25.6% 4.5% 0.9%
14 WKU 32.3% 6.3% 0.6% 0.0%
7 Ohio State 67.2% 18.6% 11.3% 3.3%
10 UNC 32.8% 5.0% 2.7% 0.6%
2 Alabama 93.3% 75.5% 64.9% 36.9%
15 SDSU 6.7% 1.0% 0.6% 0.0%

As is customary in tournament play, upsets occur. In the first round of our 16-team tournament, No. 9 Florida State is projected to be a three point favorite over No. 8 Notre Dame, while #11 TCU is an expected winner over #6 Stanford.

Another notable outcome of this tournament is conference chances to win. The Big 12 is 40% likely to win it after being shut out of the CFP last season. The SEC is 37% likely to win, with the ACC (14%), Big Ten (7%) and Pac-12 (2%) well behind.

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 free Bowl Picks and Predictions for every postseason college football game.