clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Alabama given 42 percent chance of winning College Football Playoff Championship

Still, the field holds the overall projections advantage over Bama.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Bowl season begins in little more than a week, and right out of the gates, we get two of the more watchable games on the postseason undercard in BYU-Utah and Louisiana Tech-Arkansas State.

But it's all undercard until Dec. 31. Bowls make for wonderful bonus football -- it's fine that some 5-7 teams got in; you don't have to watch if you don't want to -- but the main event begins midday on Thursday, Dec. 31, when the second annual College Football Playoff kicks off.

This year's four-team selection was a little bit easier than last year's, with four teams clearly standing a step or two ahead of the field when it comes to merging "best" with "most deserving."

Three of the field's four teams are consensus computer favorites -- the Massey CompositeF/+ and Sagarin all rank Alabama first, with Clemson and Oklahoma second and third in some order -- and the strength of Michigan State's résumé was too much to ignore. The Spartans rank sixth in F/+ and ninth in my S&P+ ratings, but road wins over Ohio State and Michigan, a home win over Oregon (which began to look more impressive when the healthy Ducks took flight late in the year) and the Big Ten title win over undefeated Iowa gave the Spartans enough oomph to overcome the loss to Nebraska and a few other unimpressive performances.

In most seasons, about three teams will stand out as Playoff selections; 2014, which gave us six deserving, zero- or one-loss power-conference champions/co-champions, was a rare occurrence. This year felt clean in comparison. And with a last-second shift in rankings -- Michigan State moving ahead of Oklahoma -- we ended up with two fascinating matchups: Speed vs. speed in Clemson-Oklahoma and stone vs. stone in Alabama-Michigan State.

Since the computers like Alabama, you know who the title favorite is going to be. Using S&P+ win probabilities (which I've used all season in team stat profiles and picks posts), let's take a look at the likely winners of each potential semifinal and final matchup (bold = semifinal):

No. 1 Clemson No. 2 Alabama No. 3 Michigan State No. 4 Oklahoma
No. 1 Clemson
55% Bama 69% Clemson 54% Clemson
No. 2 Alabama 55% Bama
74% Bama 59% Bama
No. 3 Michigan State 69% Clemson 74% Bama
66% Oklahoma
No. 4 Oklahoma 54% Clemson 59% Bama 66% Oklahoma

Clemson-Oklahoma is a virtual tossup, one with quite a few dead-even matchupsAlabama-Michigan State skews toward the Tide thanks to what is, on paper, Alabama's best defense since 2011.


Get one roundup of college football stories, rumors, game breakdowns, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every morning.

Based on the probabilities above, here are your most likely finals matchups.

  1. Clemson vs. Alabama: 40%
  2. Alabama vs. Oklahoma: 34%
  3. Clemson vs. Michigan State: 14%
  4. Michigan State vs. Oklahoma: 12%

And here are your national title odds.

  1. Alabama: 42%
  2. Clemson: 28%
  3. Oklahoma: 22%
  4. Michigan State: 8%

Alabama is, in a way, a shaky favorite thanks to its iffy offense. Heisman favorite Derrick Henry is a jackhammer (even if he probably shouldn't be the Heisman favorite), and while quarterback Jake Coker and the passing game have improved (Coker produced a strong 160.5 passer rating against a good Florida defense last week), this O has still produced Bama's worst offensive S&P+ ratings since 2007.

Combine that with the fact that the Michigan State you see in big games is evidently different than the third-gear version we see against lesser teams (the opposite of last year's Spartan squad, which got thumped by the two Playoff finalists and beat everybody else), and you can talk yourself into this being a pretty interesting game. Still, based on the full season of data, Alabama holds a solid edge.

An easier (on paper) semifinal matchup means that the Tide have the overall edge. Clemson and Alabama grade out almost equally, and Oklahoma's not far behind. But since the Tigers and Sooners are flipping a coin to see who gets Bama, that skews the odds in favor of a fourth title for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.

The odds say this is Alabama's to lose, but the script doesn't always follow the odds. Just ask last year's Playoff favorite ... Alabama.