With two weeks left, there’s eight teams for four spots.
That’s the overly simplified version of the College Football Playoff landscape right now, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. Of course, the positions of those eight teams are wildly different from one another, so that’s where we’re going to rely on the Predictor — which uses FPI projections and predicts the committee’s selection process based on its past behavior — to answer key questions about the playoff race as we near the finish line.
Who gets in if everyone wins out?
That would make three undefeated slam dunks in the first teams listed above and result in a battle for the final spot between Michigan, USC and Clemson.
This is close! And it would be a fascinating decision for the committee. Here’s where the Playoff Predictor lands:
(Note: those numbers add up to more than 100% on the off-chance the committee decides to leave out TCU).
So why does the model lean toward one-loss Michigan over the two one-loss conference champs? Two key factors: résumé and team quality.
Outside of the conference championship, we project that an 11-1 Michigan would actually have a slightly superior Strength of Record than a 12-1 USC or 12-1 Clemson, though it is exceptionally close with the Trojans and could flip. Michigan is also, in FPI’s mind, the best team of the three — by a lot. The Wolverines are ranked No. 4 in FPI, while Clemson and USC trail at Nos. 9 and 14, respectively.
So from the model’s perspective it sees a team with the better FPI and SOR, and that’s usually the team that gets the better ranking. But the conference championship muddies the waters, which is why this isn’t clear at all.
What if Michigan, instead of Ohio State, ends up 13-0 in the above scenario?
That sets up what should be a fairly easy selection process for the committee, with Georgia, Michigan and TCU virtual locks and Ohio State as a heavy favorite to land that last place.
Ohio State: 79%
The Buckeyes are the No. 2 ranked team in FPI and also would have a slightly stronger 11-1 SOR than an 11-1 Michigan, meaning Ohio State would also be ahead of USC and Clemson in the résumé metric.
What happens if Michigan or Ohio State lose in the Big Ten championship game?
This is too unlikely for us to do a full-blown scenario, but I think we can get the general idea by just plugging in, for starters, an Ohio State loss in that game — against whoever the opponent may be (Iowa, Purdue and Illinois all still have a chance to win the Big Ten West).
According to the Predictor, the Buckeyes would still have a 94% chance to get into the playoff in this scenario. That would drop a little bit if Clemson, TCU and USC all won out, but it still would be awfully likely Ohio State gets in.
For Michigan, it’s a pretty similar story: A loss in the Big Ten championship game — which the Wolverines can only get to by beating Ohio State first — still gives them an 86% chance at the playoff. Again, that would drop a little bit if everything else went against them elsewhere, but they’d probably still get in.
Is a one-loss TCU finished?
The Predictor says: not necessarily, particularly if the loss is to Iowa State, and then TCU goes on to win the Big 12 championship. At that point, TCU would be a one-loss conference champion with an average strength of record rank of 2.7. That’s the résumé of a playoff team! Independent of results elsewhere, the Predictor says TCU would have a 71% shot at the playoff in this spot, which I think might be a bit of a shock.
This drops to 64% if Clemson and USC also win out. But from the model’s perspective, TCU would have clearly the best résumé of those three teams at that point.
Is there any chance Alabama sneaks in?
*Whispers* Yes, there’s a chance.
We mentioned there are eight teams with a shot at the playoff at the top and have talked about six of them thus far. The seventh is LSU, which can get in by winning out. The eighth is Alabama. Consider this scenario:
• Georgia wins the SEC
• Ohio State wins out
• Clemson, TCU and USC all lose in conference championship games
In this situation there are three teams virtually certain to get in: Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan. Who else? The Predictor leans TCU over Alabama 46% to 39%, but it’s close! And if we give TCU a loss against Iowa State, too, then Alabama would be the favorite for that fourth spot.
Is the Predictor overrating Alabama’s chances to reach the CFP at 12% right now? Probably by a little bit. But is it impossible the Crimson Tide get in? It is not.