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Re-projecting the College Football Playoff race using advanced stats

This week, the winners of TCU-Kansas State and Ohio State-Michigan State will put themselves in great position, both in terms of Playoff committee ranking and win probabilities.

This week provided us with a different kind of look at the College Football Playoff committee's leanings. Last week, the committee was reacting to nine weeks at once. This time, with only one week of games since the last polls, we got to find out how it would react on the fly.

Peter Berkes has already covered most of what we learned from Tuesday night's rankings. I will add one other thing:

We will only have a two-loss participant if there are no other options. Last Saturday, Ole Miss (No. 4 in the committee rankings) lost to No. 3 Auburn by the most excruciating margin and did so with help from a key injury. The Rebels fell seven spots and now rank ahead of only three one-loss teams. Two of those three (Baylor and Ohio State) will either a) become two-loss teams this weekend, or b) almost certainly move ahead of Ole Miss with big road wins this weekend.

If ever there were an occasion for the committee to avoid docking a one-loss team for becoming a two-loss team, it would have been following Ole Miss' loss. That didn't happen. So as we search for precedent each week for this unknown process, add "No two-loss teams" to the list. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing.)

Rankings and win projections

Below are picks generated from the F/+ win probabilities I post weekly at Football Study Hall. They are above 50 percent against the spread. Teams given a 90-99 percent chance of winning are currently winning 95 percent of the time, teams at 80-89 percent are winning 84 percent of the time, 70-79 are at 78 percent, 60-69 are at 59 percent, and 50-59 are at 47 percent. The tossup games have been tossups, but F/+ has done a nice job of nailing the likely wins. (And yes, there are always exceptions.)

Let's use 10.5 projected wins as a Playoff baseline. Until there aren't four zero- or one-loss teams to select for the Playoff, we can assume that only zero- or one-loss teams will be selected. And since 10.5 projected wins rounds to 11-1, we'll view that as a cutoff.



CFP rank

AP rank

F/+ rank

Proj. wins

With a Week 11 win...

With a Week 11 loss...

Mississippi State 8-0 1 1 3 10.73 10.75 9.75
Florida State 8-0 2 2 8 11.09 11.16 10.16
Auburn 7-1 3 3 1 10.34 10.36 9.36
Oregon 8-1 4 5 2 10.85 10.97 9.97
Alabama 7-1 5 4 5 9.63 10.03 9.03
TCU 7-1 6 6 10 10.59 10.90 9.90
Kansas State 7-1 7 9 15 9.33 10.03 9.03
Michigan State 7-1 8 7 11 10.19 10.62 9.62
Arizona State 7-1 9 11 21 10.10 10.45 9.45
Notre Dame 7-1 10 8 22 9.30 9.94 8.94
Ole Miss 7-2 11 12 4 9.51 9.52 8.52
Baylor 7-1 12 10 18 9.66 10.47 9.47
Nebraska 8-1 13 15 14 10.29 Idle Idle
Ohio State 7-1 14 13 7 10.26 10.83 9.83
Oklahoma 6-2 15 16 6 9.77 9.96 8.96
LSU 7-2 16 14 9 9.13 9.74 8.74
Utah 6-2 17 20 34 7.89 8.77 7.77
UCLA 7-2 18 18 16 9.34 9.47 8.47
Arizona 6-2 19 21 28 8.64 8.71 7.71
Duke 7-1 22 22 26 10.49 10.62 9.62

Right now, five power teams are projected to finish with at least 10.5 wins: Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon, TCU, and Duke.

Auburn still faces road trips to Georgia and Alabama. Alabama still has to host Mississippi State and Auburn, two of the three best teams in the country (according to F/+). Kansas State still faces road trips to TCU, WVU, and Baylor.

Oregon is just about in the clear, especially if the Ducks tread past this week's Salt Lake City minefield unscathed. TCU is mostly home free with a home win over Kansas State. Florida State might still lose a game -- Miami is a better team than most realize, and Florida might be at least one percent better than we thought -- but isn't going to lose two. And Mississippi State has a just-good-enough chance of going 1-1 against Alabama and Ole Miss.

With wins this weekend, however, up to eight teams could be members of the 10.5 Club: Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon, TCU, and Duke, plus the Michigan State-Ohio State winner, Arizona State, and Baylor.

Mash together the teams that will still play each other in coming weeks (or might in a conference title game), and you get the following Playoff candidates: Mississippi State, Florida State/Duke, Oregon/Arizona State, TCU, Michigan State/Ohio State, and Baylor. As Peter mentioned, the odds of the SEC getting two teams into the field took a hit last weekend, and unless Auburn and Mississippi State both win out, it probably won't happen. (If MSU goes 1-1 against Alabama and Ole Miss, there might be a chance.)

Win probabilities for top teams

And here's the list of teams in order of their likelihood of reaching at least 11 wins in the regular season:

  1. Oregon 85.5%
  2. Florida State 81.6%
  3. TCU 62.4%
  4. Mississippi State 60.3%
  5. Duke 56.0%
  6. Auburn 43.8%
  7. Nebraska 42.9%
  8. Michigan State 38.1%
  9. Ohio State 35.6%
  10. Arizona State 32.9%
  11. Alabama 15.7%
  12. Baylor 10.0%
  13. Kansas State 8.0%
  14. Notre Dame 7.8%

Win probabilities by week

Though some games vary in size, every contender has some key games coming up. Some are looking at Week 11 cakewalks.

Week 11's biggest games

Ohio State at Michigan State
Win probability: Michigan State 57.8 percent
Odds of reaching 11-1 with a win: Ohio State 83.7 percent, Michigan State 66.3 percent

While Michigan State still has tricky road games against Maryland and Penn State, if Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes are mostly safe until a Big Ten title showdown against Nebraska or Wisconsin.

As you see, Nebraska's own chances of reaching 11-1 took a hit because of strong showings by Wisconsin (who will host the Huskers in Week 12) and Iowa (Week 14). But NU is still the West favorite, and the Huskers are a legitimate top-15 team.

Kansas State at TCU
Win probability: TCU 69.5 percent
Odds of reaching 11-1 with a win: TCU 90.4 percent, Kansas State 25.2 percent

If TCU handles Bill Snyder's Wildcats, the Horned Frogs are almost in the clear with remaining games against Kansas in Lawrence, Texas in Austin, and Iowa State in Fort Worth. There are more hurdles for KSU, namely trips to Morgantown and Waco.

Alabama at LSU
Win probability: Alabama 60.2 percent
Odds of reaching 11-1 with a win: Alabama 26.2 percent

Alabama's got work to do, even if the Tide emerge victorious in Baton Rouge. But at least Mississippi State and Auburn (and Western Carolina -- can't forget Western Carolina!) are in Tuscaloosa.

Baylor at Oklahoma
Win probability: Oklahoma 81.2 percent
Odds of reaching 11-1 with a win: Baylor 51.9 percent

A Baylor win would give us another case study. The committee has been unimpressed with Baylor's schedule (despite the home win over TCU) but set an interesting standard by bumping Arizona State up a few spots this week. ASU beat Utah at home and moved from 14th to ninth; would a win at Oklahoma lead to a similar bump for the No. 12 Bears?

The magnitude of the bump could be important, because Baylor would have one more opportunity for a nice win when Kansas State visits on December 6. Not only is that a big game between two good teams, it could also determine whether Baylor wins the Big 12.

On deck

Week 11 is a table-setter for those trying to position themselves behind our two remaining undefeated power teams, Mississippi State and Florida State.

Week 12, however, sends both of those teams on the road against strong opponents. MSU faces Alabama, while FSU goes against a Miami team that is up to 12th in the F/+ rankings. Those two games will suck up most of the week's oxygen.

Conference championships

There will still be conference title games to play. Let's walk through the probabilities for the most likely matchups.


With Georgia's rather inexplicable loss to Florida, suddenly Missouri has a solid chance of winning the SEC East. That opens up a few more possibilities here, none of them particularly good for the East champion:

Mississippi State vs. Missouri: Mississippi State 91%
Mississippi State vs. Georgia: Mississippi State 80%
Auburn vs. Missouri: Auburn 94%
Auburn vs. Georgia: Auburn 85%
Alabama vs. Missouri: Alabama 90%
Alabama vs. Georgia: Alabama 79%

Georgia isn't as bad as it looked against Florida, but the Dawgs would only provide slightly more resistance than a Missouri team with a great defense and a bad offense. Either way, the West champion is probably rolling.


Oregon vs. Arizona State: Oregon 82%
Oregon vs. UCLA: Oregon 80%

Oregon has about an 86 percent chance of reaching 11-1. These odds suggest the Ducks have about a 70 percent chance of reaching 12-1. Those are the best odds you're going to find.

Big Ten

Michigan State vs. Nebraska: Michigan State 60%
Michigan State vs. Wisconsin: Michigan State 71%
Ohio State vs. Nebraska: Ohio State 65%
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Ohio State 75%

Michigan State and Ohio State should be rooting for an 11-1 Nebraska, for strength of schedule. The problem with that is simple: Nebraska might beat the Spartans or Buckeyes. And it would be interesting to see how high the Huskers might get if they get to 12-1 with a road win over Wisconsin and a neutral-site win over MSU or OSU.


Florida State vs. Duke: Florida State 75%

There is about a 14 percent chance that "12-1 ACC champion Duke" happens.

(And an 86 percent chance it doesn't.)


There are still plenty of tossup games to play and questions to answer, but in the meantime, your most likely scenario is something like this:

No. 1 Florida State (13-0)
No. 2 SEC Champion (12-1)
No. 3 Oregon (12-1)
No. 4 TCU (11-1)

F/+ does think Miami has a strong shot of beating the Seminoles next week, and if FSU does fall, that opens up a scenario in which the committee has to choose between 12-1 FSU and 12-1 Michigan State/Ohio State. I figure the 'Noles still have a slight advantage there, but it's hard to tell.

Regardless, we're a week away from that speculation. In Week 11, Kansas State, TCU, Ohio State, Michigan State, Alabama, and Baylor are in the spotlight.