College Football Playoff (11/18/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing's Director of Research and Analytics, John Ewing, takes a look at what the College Football Playoffs could look like through 50,000 simulations of the most likely four-team playoff. Follow John on Twitter @JohnEwing for more notes from his analysis and to let him know what else you may like to see with these projections.

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 top teams in the College Football Playoff rankings remain unchanged, just as they do in the Football Four playoff projection. Clemson was the top vote getter, followed by Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

Chaos is inevitable, this is college football after all. With that in mind, what are 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.


Are the Tar Heels really a threat to Clemson? Yes. North Carolina might only be No. 17 in the College Football Playoff rankings but Marquise Williams and company have risen to No. 6 in our Power Rankings. If Clemson wins out, the Tigers are in. However, that task has gotten more difficult for Dabo Swinney's team. Clemson's odds of having a perfect record through the ACC title game have decreased from 63.5 percent (last week) to 55.8 percent. The Tigers' playoff probability has also declined from 67.0 percent to 61.3 percent.


The Tide have control of their own playoff fate. If Alabama wins out (62.9 percent chance) and captures a third SEC Championship in four years, they are in. Nick Saban's team has a 49.7 percent chance to reach the postseason.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes haven't passed the eye test all season but now they have an opportunity to impress. Starting this weekend, consecutive games against Michigan State, Michigan and likely Iowa will determine Ohio State's playoff future. The defending champs have a 51.1 percent chance to be included in the four-team playoff.

Notre Dame

We still do not believe in the Irish. Though Notre Dame is the fourth seed, we are projecting a road loss to Stanford at the end of the regular season. The Fighting Irish have a 47.8 percent chance to win out and remain in the hunt for title.


The playoff participants are the same as last week but will we get the same results?

Notre Dame lost a nail bitter earlier this year to Clemson and would likely suffer the same fate in the playoffs (just as we predicted a week ago). Clemson's defense is the difference maker in this matchup (6th in defensive passing efficiency and 18th in defensive rushing efficiency). The Tigers advance 63.5 percent of the time by an average score of 34-30.

Nothing changes in the second semifinal either. Ohio State is incredibly balanced, one of just two teams to rank in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (the other is Clemson). However, Alabama's defense is something special. In back-to-back weeks the Crimson Tide held Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette to 31 yards rushing and sacked last year's Heisman finalist Dak Prescott nine times. Alabama beats Ohio State 53.0 percent of the time by an average score of 26-25.

National Championship

Last week, Alabama was the better team but Clemson was the most likely champion due to seed and path to the title game. Even though the seeding didn't change, the results did.

After 50,000 simulations, the most likely National Champion is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Bama wins 33.0% of all the simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship game, Alabama defeats Clemson 53.0% of the time by an average score of 26-25.

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

#1 Clemson vs. #4 Notre Dame
Clemson wins 63.5% of the time by an average score of 34-30.

#2 Alabama vs. #3 Ohio State
Alabama wins 53.0% of the time by an average score of 26-25.

National Championship
#1 Clemson vs. #2 Alabama
Alabama wins 55.6% of the time by an average score of 24-22.

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

Team Semifinals Championship
Clemson 63.5% 28.5%
Notre Dame 36.5% 12.9%
Alabama 53.0% 33.0%
Ohio State 47.0% 25.6%