Post-Week 11 College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru Ed FengNovember 12, 2014
After ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll, the question on everybody's mind was: What will the rankings look like when they matter on Dec. 7?
My algorithm projects just that in the sortable table above. Now, allow me to explain my rankings...
Alabama Is Still Your SEC Favorite
For the second straight week, Alabama holds the dreaded fifth spot in the committee rankings. No. 4 TCU likely jumped ahead of the the Tide because the committee was more impressed with the Horned Frogs' decisive 41-20 victory over Kansas State than with Bama's 20-13 squeaker over a down LSU squad.
However, in the long run, the numbers still like Alabama's chances in the SEC. It has a 69 percent chance to beat top-ranked Mississippi State at home this weekend. And despite an upcoming game with Auburn, Alabama has a 54.9 percent chance to win the SEC West.
With the strength of the conference in the west, Alabama's road to the playoff gets easier in the SEC title game. It would have a 76 percent win probability against Georgia or 89.5 percent chance against Missouri.
Alabama most likely won't remain on the outside of the playoff for long.
Ohio State Shows the Power of the Upset
Last weekend, Ohio State traveled to Michigan State as the underdog. A defeat would have put the Buckeyes at two losses and officially ended their playoff hopes.
However, Urban Meyer's squad surprised the nation and pulled off the upset. The win elevated the Buckeyes' playoff probability from 4.5 percent last week to 22.0 percent this week. This shows the massive impact of turning a low-win-probability game into an actual victory.
But the Buckeyes still have some work to do. While Ohio State will almost certainly win the Big Ten East, the Buckeyes still would have to play Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The computers think it will be Wisconsin and give Ohio State a 54.8 percent chance to win this neutral-site contest.
Pool of Contenders Shrinking
As the number of games remaining continues to shrink, the number of opportunities for upsets dwindle, and we can be a more and more confident in our numbers.
Last week, only Oregon had a greater than 50 percent chance to make the playoff. This week, four teams have better than even odds to end the season in the Top Four.
This shift in probability toward the top teams means that the pool of contenders is getting smaller.
For example, consider Ole Miss. Despite a win, the Rebels' playoff chances dropped from 35.1 percent last week to 18.0 percent this week due to circumstances largely out of their control. Specifically, Alabama's critical win over LSU drastically boosted the Tide's SEC West title hopes and, in turn, dropped Ole Miss' chances.
Lack of Big 12 Championship Game a Huge Advantage
Big 12 titans TCU (62.3 percent) and Baylor (51.8 percent) have two of the top four playoff probabilities. It helps that both teams have already played their toughest opponents. Between the two, TCU has the toughest remaining game (at Texas, 56.7 percent win probability).
This is made possible by the fact that the 10-team Big 12 does not currently have a championship game.
Last week, TCU and Baylor won decisive games over ranked Kansas State and Oklahoma teams respectively. The committee recognized the strength in these wins, as both squads jumped SEC teams. TCU jumped ahead of Alabama while Baylor jumped Ole Miss.
If TCU was forced to play Baylor again in a conference title game, the Bears would have a 55.8 percent win probability. However, both teams would have much lower probabilities to make the playoff.
Last week, the committee played favorites with Arizona State. This week, another Pac-12 team, UCLA, got the special treatment. The Bruins jumped from 18th to 11th after their win over Washington, a team that hasn't impressed anyone this season.
Granted, most of UCLA's upward movement came at the expense of teams that lost. However, the Bruins jumped ahead of Nebraska, which had a bye.
Don't get too excited about UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12). It trails Arizona State (8-1, 5-1) in the Pac-12 South standings. UCLA has a 27.8 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South, while Arizona State has a 57.6 percent chance.
Even if the Bruins managed to emerge from the South they would only have a 27.2 percent chance to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. All of these factors combine to give UCLA a 3.7 percent chance to make the playoff.
Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.