How Week 1’s results will impact the College Football Playoff, according to the numbers

Notre Dame’s tough season opener against Ohio State on Saturday is packed with benefits.

There’s only one other scheduled competition all year that could increase a team’s chance of making the college football playoffs with a win than the Fighting Irish’ trip to Columbus — just behind Michigan’s own fight with the Buckeyes — according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. And there’s no scheduled game where a team faces a higher total playoff leverage — the difference between their chances of making the playoffs by winning and losing — than Notre Dame’s contest in Week 1.

A win over No. 2 Ohio State would lift the No. 5 struggling Irishman from a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs to a 56 percent chance, while a loss would drop them to just 25 percent — which a total of 31 percentage points gives leverage.

And that’s why the game is almost entirely upside down. The Allstate Playoff Predictor gives Notre Dame a 30% chance of making the playoffs in Marcus Freeman’s first season running the show in South Bend and is already bagging a probable loss to the Buckeyes. FPI estimates Ohio State has an 84% chance of winning. So if Notre Dame could win it would shake the landscape, while a Buckeye win would only marginally reinforce the status quo.

Let’s go back a second. For the unfamiliar, the Allstate Playoff Predictor is our statistical model that predicts—well, you guessed it—the likelihood of each team making the college football playoffs. It is an endeavor that requires two distinct phases:

• Planning the rest of the season based on each team’s strength and schedules. This portion is covered by ESPN’s Football Power Index.

• Predicting the selection committee’s decision in each simulation, based on the committee’s behavior in the past.

Put it together and you have the Allstate Playoff Predictor – which we’ll be using to write about the playoff landscape in this area each week. And even better: You You can use the Allstate Playoff Predictor tool on to run scenarios yourself. Will a two-loss SEC champion Georgia make the playoffs? What about a 12-0 Oklahoma team losing the Big 12 Championship Game? The Playoff Predictor can tell you the odds.

For the state of Ohio, the stakes are a little less

Make no mistake: the Week 1 Marquee Matchup is a very important competition for both teams. But for the state of Ohio, the stakes are a little less. The Buckeyes playoff leverage is hovering 24 percentage points — versus 31 for Notre Dame — with a win versus a loss.

It’s also, unlike Notre Dame, not the Buckeyes’ most leveraged game (ie, conference championships excluded) this year. Ohio State actually has six games with more playoff leverage than their Week 1 game, although some of those are games where the Buckeyes are heavily favored — like their 95 percent chance of defeating Iowa. Still, Ohio State’s games against Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State all have a little more leverage than the team’s Week 1 competition, and the Buckeyes have an 83% to 85% chance of winning each individually, as in the case from Notre Dame.

The higher leverage in these other competitions is that a loss to the Wolverines or the Nittany Lions would significantly reduce Ohio State’s division — and therefore conference championship — chances. In contrast, a loss to Notre Dame keeps a potential 12-1 conference championship — with a virtually guaranteed playoff spot — completely under Ohio State’s control.

Pac-12 needs a big win in week 1

The Pac-12 is already in trouble. That’s partly because of the weakness of the conference in general and partly because FPI doesn’t really buy an immediate USC reversal with Lincoln Riley at the helm.

The conference’s best chance of making the playoffs is Utah with a 7% chance. And the Utes face a critical non-conference game in Week 1 — one of only two competitions not to favor Utah this year — in Florida. Meanwhile, the conference’s second-likeliest playoff team — Oregon — has a brutal opening match against Georgia in which FPI estimates Oregon has only a 9% chance of winning.

If both Pac-12 teams fall in Week 1, the entire conference chance of making a team into the playoffs would drop below 4%. Unlike the Ohio State example above, the Pac-12 teams are not shoo-ins to earn a playoff berth with a 12-1 record and a conference championship. Indeed, as the Predictor sees it: Anyone would have less than a 50% chance of being selected in such a scenario. How Week 1’s results will impact the College Football Playoff, according to the numbers

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