Playoff Simulation (11/04/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Playoff breakdown – if the college football postseason started today, which team would win?

The season's first College Football Playoff rankings were released last night. Undefeated Clemson, LSU and Ohio State all made the cut, crashing the party was one-loss Alabama. The Crimson Tide was given the fourth seed ahead of unbeaten Baylor, TCU and Michigan State.

If the College Football Playoff started today, which team would win?

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.


Alabama doesn't control its own destiny in the SEC and its loss to Ole Miss is looking worse as the Rebel second loss is to a non-Power Five team. Still, no one would want to face the Tide in the playoffs, including Clemson. The first semifinal is a showdown between two of the country's best defenses. Clemson has been fantastic on that side of the ball all year. The Tigers are fifth in yards allowed per game, second in defensive rushing efficiency and have the fourth best defense overall in our Power Rankings. Yet, Alabama's defense has been even better. In an expected slugfest, the Tide advance to the title game 62.3 percent of the time by an average score of 22-19.

When Leonard Fournette faced Florida and its 12th ranked run defense two weeks ago, all the Heisman hopeful did was drop 180 yards and two touchdowns on the Gators. Ohio State's 25th ranked defense against the run will be no match for the LSU running back. The Tigers top the Buckeyes 72.5 percent of the time by an average score of 32-25.

National Championship

Alabama got the best of LSU in the 2012 BCS National Championship game but history will not repeat itself. LSU has an improving passing game with quarterback Brandon Harris, a solid defense and perhaps the best player in the country, Leonard Fournette. Alabama is No. 1 in defensive rushing efficiency but Fournette is No. 1 in making people regret trying to tackle him.

After 50,000 simulations, the most likely National Champion is the LSU Tigers. LSU wins 44.3% of all the simulated tournaments. In the most likely National Championship game, LSU defeats Alabama 52.5% of the time by an average score of 27-26.

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

#1 Clemson vs. #4 Alabama
Alabama wins 62.3% of the time by an average score of 22-19.

#2 LSU vs. #3 Ohio State
LSU wins 72.5% of the time by an average score of 32-25.

National Championship
#2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama
LSU wins 52.5% of the time by an average score of 27-26.

Team Semifinals Championship
Clemson 37.7% 16.7%
Alabama 62.3% 31.7%
LSU 75.4% 44.3%
Ohio State 24.6% 7.3%

Winning Out

There are ten undefeated teams left in college football. Staying unbeaten and winning a conference championship would make a strong case for inclusion in the postseason. What are the chances that these teams win out?

Clemson, the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, has the best chance (39.2 percent) of the undefeated teams to win out through its conference title game.

The Big 12 was left out of the initial playoff. Two one-loss teams ranked ahead of Baylor, but in the end the Bears may have the last laugh. Baylor has a 1-in-4 chance of staying unbeaten. A perfect record and a Big 12 Championship would likely get the Bears in the College Football Playoff.

Memphis is the top team out of a non-Power Five conference. The Tigers would need to win all of their remaining games, the American championship (17.0 percent chance) and still need help from some other programs to sneak into the four-team playoff.

Bonus – Alabama isn't undefeated and has no room for error. The Tide have a 35.7 percent chance of winning out through the SEC Championship game.

Team Win Out through Conference Championship
Clemson 39.2%
Ohio State 31.5%
Baylor 25.2%
TCU 22.8%
Memphis 17.0%
Iowa 13.2%
LSU 7.3%
Houston 4.6%
Oklahoma State 2.9%
Michigan State 0.7%