We’re a week away from finding out which four teams will make the College Football Playoff. Unlike all other major American sports, this determination will be made by a committee rather than decided on the field. This makes it decidedly harder to project what teams will end up making the cut. Predicting human decisions is a fickle process but I’m going to give it a shot.
There are essentially three games that matter this weekend; the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten Championship games. With two teams in each game, that means there are eight possible combinations of outcomes among the three games. I’ll go through each one starting with the most likely and ending with the least likely.
Scenario 1: Alabama, Clemson, & Michigan State win: 35%
Not surprisingly, the most likely result is that the three favorites win on Saturday. Note that even though it’s the most likely, there is a 65% chance that one of these three gets tripped up and we see an upset this weekend.
Who’s in: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan State
Scenario 2: Alabama, Clemson, & Iowa win: 22%
The second-most likely result is that Alabama and Clemson win but Iowa takes down the Big Ten title. Combining these first two scenarios, there is a 57% chance that the committee doesn’t really have a decision to make.
Who’s in: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa
Scenario 3: Alabama, North Carolina, & Michigan State win: 18%
Now the fun begins. In this scenario, the fourth playoff spot is actually a discussion for the committee. Now you would have Clemson, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio State all with one loss. With North Carolina ranked 10th in the latest committee rankings, I’ll eliminate them from contention because I can’t see them jumping from 10th to 4th. Now Iowa and Ohio State would have both lost to Michigan State while Clemson’s one loss is to North Carolina. A loss to Michigan State would be the better loss and Ohio State would have the better overall résumé compared to the Hawkeyes.
Who’s in: Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Ohio State
Scenario 4: Alabama, North Carolina, & Iowa win: 11%
Again, I’ll eliminate North Carolina even though they would be the ACC Champion. This one comes down to Clemson’s one loss against North Carolina against Ohio State’s one loss against Michigan State. Michigan State would now have two losses, making Ohio State’s loss appear worse to the committee (This isn’t my dumb logic, this is me trying to predict the committee’s dumb logic). In this scenario, I think Clemson hangs on for the fourth spot despite losing their final game.
Who’s in: Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa, Clemson
Scenario 5: Florida, Clemson, & Michigan State win: 5%
If Alabama loses to Florida, the SEC is going to get shutout from the playoff. The final spot in this scenario would be between Iowa and Ohio State both with a loss to Michigan State. Once again, I think the entire season for Ohio State would get them in over Iowa. Also, if it’s really close between Ohio State and Iowa, money and politics are going to be involved and Ohio State would get the nod.
Who’s in: Clemson, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Ohio State
Scenario 6: Florida, Clemson, & Iowa win: 3%
This is the basically the same scenario as Scenario 5 except now you are comparing a 1-loss Ohio State to a 2-loss Michigan State which would go to Ohio State. If the committee really, really values conference titles, this might be the one scenario where Stanford could sneak in if they win the Pac-12 but I’ll still pencil in Ohio State for now.
Who’s in: Clemson, Oklahoma, Iowa, Ohio State
Scenario 7: Florida, North Carolina, & Michigan State win: 3%
Oklahoma and Michigan State are in. That leaves two spots for three teams: Clemson, Iowa, and Ohio State. I don’t think the committee would take three Big Ten teams, so I think Clemson gets one of the two spots. Once again, I think the committee will favor Ohio State over Iowa when they have the same loss, giving the Buckeyes the final spot.
Who’s in: Oklahoma, Michigan State, Clemson, Ohio State
Scenario 8: Florida, North Carolina, & Iowa win: 2%
This time Oklahoma and Iowa are in and Michigan State is eliminated from contention. Using the same deduction from the previous scenario, I’ll put Clemson and Ohio State in as the last two teams and North Carolina would come up just short and finish 5th in the rankings.
Who’s in: Oklahoma, Iowa, Clemson, Ohio State
We can tally up each of the scenarios and how often each team made it to get a rough percentage of how often each team gets in. Once again, this isn’t a science as I’m predicting how the committee will react. Also, there are varying degrees of wins. If North Carolina beats Clemson by 30, the scenario is much different than if the Tar Heels win on a last-second field goal.
Again, the committee could highly value conference championships and North Carolina and/or Stanford could sneak their way in. But for the time being, it looks like there are six teams remaining in the hunt for four playoff spots.