College Football Playoff (11/25/15)

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

Oklahoma and Iowa join Clemson and Alabama in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, just as they did in the Football Four playoff projection. The regular season is coming to a close, which of these teams are most likely to 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 are still the most likely playoff team. Clemson has a 66 percent chance to be in the four-team postseason with games against South Carolina and North Carolina (ACC title game) remaining.


The Tide are the only other team that is more likely than not (52 percent chance) to play in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is a two touchdown favorite against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and will likely be heavy favorites in the SEC Championship game.


Oklahoma has one more game to impress the selection committee. Following up a win against TCU with a victory over Oklahoma State in Bedlam would make for a strong resume. The Sooners have a 40 percent chance to remain in the top four of the playoff rankings.


Iowa is still undefeated with a road game against Nebraska and the Big Ten title game standing in the way of potential playoff run. The Hawkeyes are 44 percent likely to make the playoff but only 36 percent likely to remain undefeated.


Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa, one of these teams is not like the others. The Hawkeyes are having a fantastic season and if they win out, Iowa deserves to be in the playoff. However, the seeding of Kirk Ferentz' squad will determine the winner because of the Hawkeyes relative weakness to the rest of the field.

As the playoff is current constructed, Clemson breezes to the championship. The Tigers are greater than 80 percent likely to beat Iowa. Clemson has played a tougher schedule and its offense and defense both rank in top ten of our Power Rankings. Iowa ranks 38th offensive and 11th defensively while playing against weaker competition. The Hawkeyes fall by double-digits on average in the semifinal.

Alabama has a defense that is the envy of college football. Nick Saban's group has allowed the third fewest points (14.5) and yards (243.9) per game. Oklahoma has an offense that can score on anyone. The Sooners are third in points per game (44.6) and sixth in average yards per game (528.9). In this matchup, offense trumps defense. Oklahoma wins on average 52.3 percent of the time by an average score of 26-25.

National Championship

After 50,000 simulations, the most likely National Champion is the Clemson Tigers. Dabo Swinney leads his team to the title 34.1% of the time. However, in the most likely National Championship game, Oklahoma would defeat Clemson 60.4% of the time by an average score of 31-27.

This is where Iowa comes in. The Hawkeyes are such an easy matchup that Clemson is an overwhelming favorite to reach the title game. Even though the Tigers would be projected underdogs against Oklahoma in a championship matchup, Clemson is still more likely to win it all because they are expected to reach the title game more often than any other team.

If the Hawkeyes were the No. 3 seed, instead of the No. 4 seed, Alabama would become the favorite to win it all (43.5 percent) because of an easier matchup. As it turns out, Iowa is not only a swing state in Presidential elections but also, at least for this year, in the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma has a championship caliber squad but because of its likely seed and path to the title game (it has to go through Clemson and Alabama), the Sooners will not be favorites to bring the title back to Stillwater.

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

#1 Clemson vs. #4 Iowa
Clemson wins 81.0% of the time by an average score of 29-19.

#2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma
Oklahoma wins 52.3% of the time by an average score of 26-25.

National Championship
#1 Clemson vs. #3 Oklahoma
Oklahoma wins 60.4% of the time by an average score of 31-27.

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

Team Semifinals Championship
Clemson 81.0% 34.1%
Iowa 19.0% 3.2%
Alabama 47.7% 29.2%
Oklahoma 52.3% 33.5%