Projecting the Playoff Conversation (Week 10)
A quick look at our latest end-of-season projections (focusing on our “In The Conversation” metric). The aim, as always, is to project the teams we’ll be discussing as we head into the conference championships.
Remember when the playoff committee released their initial rankings in 2014 – the first ever – leading with Mississippi State as #1? Many folks, and all quants, knew that team was a bogus #1 and would be proven so by the end of the regular season. This year is pretty much the opposite.
Still at 9 teams with >10% of being in the conversation at the end of the regular season, though we traded Nebraska for Texas A&M this week. But the big story remains at the top, with the 4 undefeateds at or near 90% and everyone else practically resigned to pulling for conference championship upsets.
The main thing is that the top 4 teams more or less have a game to give and remain in the conversation. This is explicitly true for Clemson, which makes them a lock since we show a 97% chance of winning at least 11 games. The other 3 would need to be mindful of where they drop that game and to whom, since they could still lose their divisions with a single loss.
We give Washington an 84% chance of winning at least 11 games, which means they are very likely in the Pac12 title game unless Wazzou runs the table. BTW, right now we’d make the the UW-WSU game, in Pullman, UW -7.5.
Michigan’s route is similar, but against stiffer competition. We give them a 92% chance of winning at least 1. But of course they have to go through Columbus and we give the Buckeyes ~60% of making it to that game without another loss. From the beginning of the season we’ve lumped these two together as a shoe-in for one of the playoff spots and things have held to form so far. Right now we have UM -2.3 @ OSU.
Alabama faces multiple threats from 1-loss division rivals. LSU and Auburn control their own destiny in the West, and even Texas A&M could squeeze in with a little help. OTOH, Alabama is a cut above those teams. They will be big favorites in all their remaining games (e.g., AUB +14 in Tuscaloosa), and even if they drop 1, the others are likely to continue beating up on each other. If you’re looking for regular season drama among the Top 4 this is probably the place to look, but this Bama team is the real deal.
The more likely drama will come with the conference championship weekend. Odds are at least one of the Big 4 will go down in a title game. Louisville will in all likelihood be waiting in the wings, but they might not be alone. Michigan will be there if they lose to the Buckeyes. The committee will at least discuss a 2-loss surprise champ from the Pac12 South or Big10 West, though I’m skeptical they’d trump Louisville. And of course a 1-loss Florida surprise winner over Alabama would be in (we’d make that title game ALA -17 btw). But how about a 1-loss SEC-West runner-up Alabama? That would be interesting. As fun as it is unlikely I guess.
And some more detail on our ITC Top 20: