Post-Week 9 College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru, Ed Feng

Ed Feng@@thepowerrankAnalytics ExpertOctober 29, 2014

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After ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll on Tuesday, the question on everybody's minds was: What will the rankings look like when they matter on Dec. 7?

My algorithm projects just that.  Allow me to explain my rankings...

Why is Oregon No. 1?

While Oregon finds itself in the dreaded No. 5 position in the first committee rankings, our calculations give the Ducks the best odds to finish in the top four. 

In their remaining regular-season games, their lowest win probability is 68.2 percent against Stanford in Eugene this Saturday. The numbers would also heavily favor Oregon against any Pac-12 South opponent in the conference championship game. Oregon also features the top-ranked offense in the nation by yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule.

Mississippi State is No. 8? You must be kidding.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State have had a dream season. They have earned the committee's top spot with their unblemished record in the SEC West.  

However, according to my projections, the Bulldogs won't stay there for long; Mississippi State will likely finish the year with two losses and watch the playoff from home.

The losses will come Nov. 15 when it travels to Alabama (27 percent win probability) and Nov. 29 when it visits Mississippi (40 percent win probability). Overall, Mississippi State has a 22 percent chance to make the playoff, eighth best in our calculation.

No love for Florida State

Florida State has slipped significantly from last year's juggernaut. The Seminoles had to rally from a 17-point deficit to beat North Carolina State, went to overtime with Clemson and needed a late goal-line stand to defeat Notre Dame. Florida State is 20th in The Power Rank, a computer ranking that adjusts margin of victory for strength of schedule.

This hurts FSU in my algorithm. 

The main culprit in Florida State's decline is the defense. After two years as a top-five unit, Florida State has dropped to 60th in yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule. The gambling markets know this, as the Seminoles went from an 8.5- to a four-point favorite at Louisville on Thursday, per Odds Shark.

If it survives that game, Florida State should expect an even tougher test at Miami (37 percent win probability).

The curious case of the Big 12

The committee seems down on the Big 12, with TCU the conference's highest-ranked team at No. 7. However, the numbers suggest these teams will rise before Dec. 7.

TCU faces its toughest remaining competition at West Virginia (45 percent) and against Kansas State (61 percent) in its next two games.

If they win these games, the Horned Frogs should have a very good chance to finish in the top four, with Kansas, Texas and Iowa State ahead on the schedule and no championship game. 

Oklahoma resides in committee purgatory at No. 18  in the first rankings. However, the numbers give the Sooners a 65 percent win probability in their toughest remaining game, a home tilt against Baylor. Oklahoma, like TCU, also has the luxury of playing Kansas and Iowa State late in the season.  

Oklahoma may not make the playoff, but it will rise as other contenders fall. 

What to make of the Irish

The committee probably bickered the most over Notre Dame. On one hand, its only loss came in a close affair against Florida State. On the other, analytics despises the Fighting Irish. They have an average margin of victory of 14.3, only 23rd-best in the nation. After adjustments for schedule, computer rankings such as The Power Rank (27th) and Sagarin (14th) don't consider them a top 10 team.

The committee settled on No. 10 for Notre Dame, which seems like a fair balance between wins and analytics.

The simulation only gives the Fighting Irish the 14th-best odds to make the playoff (5.5 percent), as they face tough games at Arizona State (36.4 percent win probability) and against Louisville (54.5 percent win probability).

Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.


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