College Football Playoff (12/02/15)

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 Football Four playoff projection accurately predicted the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings. Clemson remains the top squad just as it has each week in the selection committee's rankings. The Tigers are followed by Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa.

If Clemson and Alabama win their respective conference championships they are in. Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship and made a statement with an impressive 58-23 win over Oklahoma State last week. Already seeded at No. 3, it is hard to imagine two teams jumping the Sooners. Finally, the College Football Playoff rankings have set up the Big Ten title game as a quarterfinal matchup; the winner between Iowa and Michigan State gets a spot. Absent chaos, these teams will make up the final four. Who will win the College Football Playoff?


Despite its unblemished record, Iowa is the weakest member of the playoff. In a matchup against Clemson, which ranks in the top ten both offensively and defensively, the Hawkeyes would be projected to lose by a touchdown on average. A projected playoff team by the selection committee, Iowa ranks outside the top ten in our Power Rankings. To the victor go the spoils, by virtue of being the top seed Clemson gets an easy matchup in the semifinal that it can exploit. The Tigers are 72 percent likely to advance to the title game by an average projected score of 28-21.

In the second semifinal, it is offense vs. defense. Oklahoma averages 45.8 points per game (3rd in the FBS) and 528.2 yards (sixth most). Alabama's defense conceded just over two touchdowns a game, good for the third best mark in college football. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object? The Sooners have the top offense and Bama the best defense, so this game will be decided by the other units in this game. Oklahoma has a slightly better defense than Alabama has offense, edge Sooners. Oklahoma wins 59.7 percent of the time by an average score of 29-27.

National Championship

Oklahoma isn't playing this week so it might be easy to forget how good this team is. The Sooners are first in offensive passing efficiency, eighth in offensive rushing efficiency, fourth in defensive passing efficiency and top 25 against the run. Bob Stoops squad is the only team to rank in the top 25 in each of our efficiency categories.

After 50,000 simulations, the most likely National Champion is the Oklahoma Sooners. Bob “Big Game” Stoops leads his team to the title 46.6% of the time. In the most likely National Championship game, Oklahoma would defeat Clemson 71.7% of the time by an average score of 36-28.

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

#1 Clemson vs. #4 Iowa
Clemson wins 72.0% of the time by an average score of 28-21.

#2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma
Oklahoma wins 59.7% of the time by an average score of 29-27.

National Championship
#1 Clemson vs. #3 Oklahoma
Oklahoma wins 71.7% of the time by an average score of 36-28.

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

Team Semifinals Championship
Clemson 72.0% 22.2%
Iowa 28.0% 4.2%
Alabama 40.3% 27.0%
Oklahoma 59.7% 46.6%