Final College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru Ed Feng

Ed Feng@@thepowerrankAnalytics ExpertDecember 3, 2014

Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

Ever since ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll on Oct. 28, there has been just one question on everybody's mind: 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...

Why Florida State Fell to No. 4

Despite its undefeated record, Florida State dropped from third to fourth in the committee rankings. That is because the Seminoles are not winning games in a convincing fashion. This past week was a great example of that, as the 'Noles eked out a five-point win over a Florida team that fired its coach, Will Muschamp.

But shouldn't Florida State's undefeated, 12-0 record matter? Shouldn't winning percentage determine the four best teams?

We can test this hypothesis with data.

If record matters most, the team with the better regular-season win percentage should win a bowl game more often. However, since 2005, the team with the better win percentage has only won 50.4 percent of bowl games. According to this metric, win percentage is a moot point. 

In contrast, the team with a higher average margin of victory won 59.7 percent of bowl games. Margin of victory matters more in judging teams, and the committee intuitively understands this.

Florida State has struggled mostly because of its defense. Over the past two seasons, the Seminoles defense ranked in the top five in my yards-allowed-per-play-adjusted-for-strength-of-schedule metric. However, Florida State ranks 34th this season.

The Seminoles have failed to generate a consistent pass rush, and they have sacked the opposing quarterback on only 4.2 percent of pass attempts. This is much lower than the 6.0 percent FBS average.

All that said, Florida State should still make the playoff, as it has a 65.9 percent win probability over Georgia Tech in Saturday's ACC championship game. 

Welcome to the Playoff, TCU

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

This week, TCU took over as the team most likely to make the playoff, ahead of even Alabama and Oregon. The reason is simple: TCU has the easiest game this final weekend with a 92.5 percent win probability over Iowa State at home, and the committee gave it a buffer with the No. 3 ranking.

It would be very tough to see the Horned Frogs get jumped by two teams if they win. 

However, this TCU team might be overrated. It has enjoyed an incredible plus-18 turnover margin (takeaways minus giveaways) this season. Since turnovers are mostly random, TCU's success is less stable than some of the other teams at the top of the rankings.

Quantifying the Impact of J.T. Barrett's Injury

LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 15:  Trevone Boykin #2 of the TCU Horned Frogs drops back for a pass against the Kansas Jayhawks in first quarter at Memorial Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Just 4.6 percent. That is the impact of quarterback J.T. Barrett's injury as Ohio State's playoff chances only drop from 31.3 percent to 25.6 percent without him at the helm. 

Ohio State suffered a huge setback when Barrett broke his ankle against Michigan on Saturday. With Barrett under center, Ohio State had the third-ranked offense by my yards-per-play-adjusted-for-strength-of-schedule statistic.

The offense will most likely regress without him.

How can we account for his injury in the numbers? I consulted market data to make an estimate. One can use past point spreads to assign each team a rating, or an expected point spread against an average team. It's similar to how computer rankings use margin of victory to rank teams. These market rankings gave Ohio State and Wisconsin approximately the same rating.

With the Barrett injury, the markets favor Wisconsin by four points over Ohio State. So I adjusted Ohio State's rating four points to account for his absence. This decreases the Buckeyes' win probability from 55.3 percent to 43.4 percent over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.

Despite this reduced win probability against Wisconsin, Ohio State still has a 15.3 percent chance to make the playoff.

85 Percent Chance a Contending Team Loses

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  Quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is comforted by Jacoby Boren #50 of the Ohio State Buckeyes as Barrett is taken off the field after injuring his leg in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Championship week doesn't offer stiff competition for the top three teams in the committee rankings. Here are the win probabilities, according to my model:

1. Alabama 82.9 percent over Missouri
2. Oregon 85.0 percent over Arizona
3. TCU 92.5 percent over Iowa State

However, the next three teams face tougher games.

4. Florida State 65.9 percent over Georgia Tech
5. Ohio State 43.4 percent over Wisconsin
6. Baylor 52.4 percent over Kansas State

To determine the likelihood that all three teams win, you multiply their win probabilities together to obtain 15 percent. Then, 100 percent minus this probability, or 85 percent, results in the possibility of at least one of these three teams losing.

CORRECTION: There was an error in an earlier edition of this article that impacted Ohio State's playoff probability. This has been fixed. 

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


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