College Football Playoff (11/11/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
A look at what the College Football Playoffs could look like through 50,000 simulations of the most likely four-team playoff.

How this works
The Predictalator uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule and efficiency-adjusted team and player stats (weighted slightly more toward recent games), to play every game 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the College Football Playoffs.

Football Four Playoff Summary

The College Football Playoff selection committee ranked Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame as the top four teams in the land. This mirrored the Football Four playoff projection with the exception of the Irish taking the fourth seed from Oklahoma State.

With the rankings changing weekly, what is the chance that these teams will be included in the four-team playoff?

Note: the projected playoff percentage is our best approximation of a subjective process based on 50,000 simulations of the rest of the season factoring in strength-of-schedule, projected records, likelihood of winning each game through conference championship weekend and various power rankings.


The Tigers have three regular season games left against teams that are outside the top 50 in our Power Rankings. With a dual threat quarterback and a shutdown defense (top 15 in both defensive rushing and passing efficiency), Clemson has a 63.5 percent chance to win out through the ACC title game and a 67.0 percent chance to make the playoffs.


Shutting down Leonard Fournette was impressive. Bama has a 56.2 percent chance to win the SEC (key criteria for inclusion in the postseason), a 42.7 percent chance to win the best conference in college football without losing another game and a 38.7 percent chance to be included in the four-team field.

Ohio State

Back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan followed potentially by a matchup with undefeated Iowa for the Big Ten Championship has the Buckeyes' chances of going undefeated at 40.0 percent. Even if Ohio State slips up once in the regular season, there is a 50.6 percent chance Urban Meyer's team is given an opportunity to defend its title.

Notre Dame

We're not sure the Irish are long for the playoffs. Sure, Notre Dame's wins against USC and Navy look better and there is no shame in losing by two points on the road to Clemson but a few factors are working against the Golden Domers. The committee has set the precedent that conference championships matter, Notre Dame will not have one and the Irish are likely underdogs in the season finale at Stanford. With a projected late season loss to the Cardinal and no conference title, we give Notre Dame an 8.9 percent chance to reach the postseason.


Notre Dame lost a heartbreaker on the road (24-22) to Clemson earlier this year. In the playoff it would be more tears for the Irish. There is little that separates the offenses but Clemson's defense is by far the best unit in the game. The Tigers advance 68.0 percent of the time by an average score of 34-28.

The second semifinal is also a rematch but from last year's postseason. Ohio State got the best of Alabama in the inaugural playoff but the Tide are poised for revenge. Bama is No. 1 in both defensive rushing and passing efficiency. The front seven for Alabama is ferocious. After stopping Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and the nation's fifth best running game should be no problem. The Crimson Tide are 55.6 percent likely to advance to the title game by an average score of 26-24.

National Championship

After 50,000 simulations, the most likely National Champion is the Clemson Tigers. Clemson wins 34.2% of all the simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship game, Alabama defeats Clemson 51.0% of the time by an average score of 23-22.

You read that correctly. In this four-team tournament, Clemson is the projected champion. However, in the most likely title game, Alabama would defeat Dabo Swinney's team.

Path and seed in a tournament are critical. Clemson being the top team gets an easier matchup against Notre Dame in the semifinals. Thus the Tigers are more likely to advance to the championship game than Alabama and are more likely to win it all.

Clemson is the most likely champion but Alabama is the better team.

Based on the analysis, here is the projected College Football Playoff bracket.

#1 Clemson vs. #4 Notre Dame
Clemson wins 68.0% of the time by an average score of 34-28.

#2 Alabama vs. #3 Ohio State
Alabama wins 53.4% of the time by an average score of 26-24.

National Championship
#1 Clemson vs. #2 Alabama
Alabama wins 51.0% of the time by an average score of 23-22.

Odds for each team to advance to and win the championship.

Team Semifinals Championship
Clemson 67.6% 34.2%
Notre Dame 32.4% 11.4%
Alabama 55.6% 32.2%
Ohio State 44.4% 22.2%