College Football Week 11 Playoff Probabilities

As we approach the end of the regular season, I decided to run some simulations on the rest of the season to determine the probabilities of each team making the playoff. I used my ratings to simulate the rest of the season 100,000 times, and I used a resume ranking system to determine which four teams made the playoff in each simulation. Here's the breakdown for each contender, in descending order of playoff probability:

Clemson: 92.8%

Despite being rated lower than Alabama, Clemson's easier schedule down the stretch gives them a slightly higher probability of winning the playoff. The Tigers have a 69% chance of going 13-0, in which case they're a sure-fire lock for the playoff. In 9% of scenarios, the Tigers lose to Boston College but still win the ACC. They make the playoff in roughly 85% of these scenarios- a 12-1 ACC champ will be very hard to leave out. In most of the scenarios where Clemson misses the playoff, they go 12-0 but then lose the ACC championship to the Coastal champ.

Alabama: 92.2%

Alabama comes in just a hair behind Clemson, mostly because of their impending matchup with Georgia. I project that a 12-1 Big 12 champ Oklahoma, or 12-1 Big Ten champ Michigan or Ohio State would likely get in over a 12-1 Alabama that loses to Georgia. These are most of the scenarios where the Tide misses out- they lose to Georgia, and the playoff is the Bulldogs and then 3 of Clemson/Notre Dame/Michigan/Oklahoma/Ohio State who win out. Those teams have enough stumbling blocks left that a 12-1 Alabama that loses the SEC championship game still makes the playoff in roughly 2/3 of scenarios.

Notre Dame: 70.0%

The simplest path to the playoff for the Irish is winning out. Should they beat Florida State, Syracuse and USC, the Irish will certainly be in. They do this in about 49% of scenarios. Should the Irish drop a game somewhere, an 11-1 Notre Dame team is likely to be right on the playoff bubble. I have a one-loss Notre Dame getting in in about 55% of scenarios- they'd be in over any two loss team or UCF, but probably behind any other 1-loss Power Five team.

Michigan: 53.5%

Michigan almost certainly controls its own destiny, and I give them a 44% chance of winning out and punching their ticket to the playoff the easy way. Their biggest remaining test is certainly the trip to Ohio State- they're massive favorites against Rutgers and Indiana, and will be substantial favorites in the Big Ten title game, especially if it's against Northwestern. However, the Wolverines still would have a shot if they win the Big Ten at 11-2. The likely scenario there is they lose to Ohio State, but Michigan State beats Ohio State and then Michigan wins the Big Ten title game. I think they make the playoff roughly 35% of the time as an 11-2 Big Ten champion.

Oklahoma: 43.5%

The Sooners are the first team on this list that do not control their own destiny. If Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame and the SEC champ all win out, OU will likely be on the outside looking in. This is pretty unlikely though- Notre Dame and Michigan are each slightly worse than a coin flip to win out, and Alabama or Clemson could fall as well. I have the Sooners winning out in 48% of scenarios, and when they win out, they make the playoff about 85% of the time. They also have about a 1 in 4 shot of making it if they finish as an 11-2 conference champ.

Georgia: 15.4%

Unlike Oklahoma, Georgia controls its own destiny for the playoff. Also unlike Oklahoma, Georgia has to face the steamroller that is Alabama. It's pretty simple for the Dawgs- win out and they're a lock, lose once and it's almost certainly over. I can't envision an 11-2 Georgia team that loses to Alabama making it, but there's some weird scenarios (about 1 in 300 simulations) where they lose to Auburn or Georgia Tech but beat Alabama and make the playoff.

Ohio State: 12.8%

Like Oklahoma, Ohio State does not control its own destiny, but is significantly more likely than not to make the playoff if they win out. Thanks to the blowout loss to Purdue the Buckeyes probably lie below 1-loss Oklahoma in the playoff pecking order, but the only way a 12-1 Big Ten champ Ohio State team misses the playoff is if Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and the SEC champ all win out. Thus, a 12-1 Ohio State makes the playoff about 85% of the time. The Buckeyes are almost certainly out with another loss.

UCF: 7.5%

The biggest surprise of this exercise for me was that UCF was this high. I thought they'd be under 5%, if not lower. I was pretty conservative in my assumptions about how the Knights could make the playoff- I said any 1 loss Power Five team would make it over them, and that a 2-loss Alabama, Georgia, Michigan or Oklahoma would make it over them. Still, the Knights go undefeated in 61% of scenarios, and in about one in ten of those enough chaos happens above them for them to sneak into the playoff.

Washington State 3.7%

The Cougars are still sitting outside my top 25, and are pretty likely to drop a regular season game somewhere. They're slim underdogs in the Apple Cup right now, and both Colorado and Arizona are good enough to give them a game. In roughly 9% of scenarios, Washington State wins out and wins the Pac-12 at 12-1. I think that they're a bit worse than 50/50 to make the playoff in that case- they'd probably be behind all other 1-loss Power Five teams except Notre Dame.

West Virginia: 2.9%

I barely have the Mountaineers in my top 25- they clock in at #20 this week. They need to beat Oklahoma at least once, probably twice, and also need to win a tough game at Oklahoma State to make the playoff. Even after all of that, they're still probably 50/50 or slightly better to make the playoff. Perhaps I'll be proven wrong about the Mountaineers once again but I just don't think they have much of a chance of making it through the Big 12 without another loss.

Boston College: 0.4%

The Eagles come in last on this list- they're still technically alive for the playoff but it's a long uphill climb from here. First, they need to beat #2 Clemson this week, then they have to beat Florida State and a good Syracuse team. If they do all that and then also beat the Coastal champion, they're still at the bottom of the 2-loss pecking order.


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