College Football Playoff Predictions

By the time you read this, the NCAA selection will have already come out with their initial rankings. What remains to be seen is how closely they track with the AP and Coaches poll, but it's safe to assume they won't wildly diverge.

What also remains to be seen is how much stock the selection committee puts in blowouts vs. close games. I find a big points differential to be instructive. While I wouldn't necessarily put in a 1-loss team that blew out everybody over an undefeated team with lots of close games (strength of schedule being roughly equal), I do think it's kind of silly when, every couple of years, the argument is put forward (or the computer algorithm programmed) that makes score differential a total non-factor.

But even if the committee doesn't consider scoring margin, it can still be useful in showing us who is more likely to lose in these last few weeks. So let's take a look at the current AP top ten and see which teams have the clearest paths to the playoffs. Scroll down to the bottom if you want to skip to my prediction.

1. Alabama

I mean, they've won 12 in a row against ranked teams. Since the Mississippi game, they've answered every challenge comfortably. You're just being a contrarian for the sake of contrarianism if you think they aren't the clear favorite to not simply make the playoff but win it all. They have a big game this week against LSU, the Iron Bowl's at home this year, and then the SEC Championship Game. Not foreseeing any problems for them.

2. Michigan

Michigan may be a little more enigmatic than they first appear. They've played all of two road games, against Rutgers and free-falling Michigan State. In terms of currently ranked opponents, they beat Colorado and Penn State comfortably and Wisconsin uncomfortably. Still, it's hard to argue with their results (blowout after blowout, including that Rutgers game, an annihilation of historic proportions). Their last three games are all against decent opponents (@Iowa, home to Indiana, @Ohio State) so that should give us some better perspective.

3. Clemson

This is why I bring up scoring margin. Five of their victories have come by a touchdown or less, including against lesser lights like Troy and North Carolina State (who really should've beaten them), so it's very easy to predict a Clemson shock loss (you know at least a couple of these are coming) and I am indeed predicting it. The rest of their schedule doesn't look very challenging but once again, neither did Troy or North Carolina State.

4. Washington

They have worked their way into the top 4 almost quietly and passed a big test last week, beating a ranked Utah squad on the road. But they have no games remaining against teams with losing records, and their toughest test, the Apple Cup against Washington State, is on the road.

5. Louisville

It took end-game heroics for the Cards to knock off Virginia this week, but that's been the exception rather than the rule for Louisville this year. They also have a pretty easy schedule to close out the year: @ Boston College, Wake Forest, @ a slumping Houston, and home to Kentucky (I don't subscribe to the "anything can happen in a rivalry game" conventional wisdom, and would love to see a study to track whether flukey things really do happen more often in rivalry games). Things are setting up nicely for them.

6. Ohio State

The problem for Ohio State is that they are slumping. After the debacle at unranked (at the time) Penn State, they struggled mightily to beat unranked Northwestern at home. Maybe their youth is starting to show. At any rate, if they can turn it around and beat Nebraska at home (I don't think they will) and Michigan at home later (ditto) then of course they are in. But it will take a return to early-season form.

7. Texas A&M

What the Aggies have going for them is that their toughest challenges remaining — LSU and Ole Miss — are both at home. Thanks to being in the same division as Alabama, they also get the benefit of avoiding the SEC Championship Game. Three teams ahead of them are almost certainly going to lose.

8. Wisconsin

The first two-loss team in the rankings. The problem for Wisconsin is that their fortunes and stock price is tied to Michigan and Ohio State's. If those schools continue to win, there are fewer slots for Wisconsin to get into the playoffs. If those schools lose, Wisconsin is hurt by proxy. Winning at Northwestern this week won't be easy, but then they finally get to roll downhill to finish off their brutal schedule.

9. Nebraska

Beating Wisconsin and staying undefeated really would've helped. But they didn't, so their game against Ohio State this week is really an all-or-nothing. type game for Nebraska. Failing that, they are a 2-loss team with zero wins against teams currently ranked.

10. Florida

The good news for the Gators is the SEC East is already pretty much theirs: At 4-1 in SEC play, they lead the division over 4-2 Kentucky who they beat, and everyone else in the East has a losing record. The bad news is their remaining schedule. Besides needing teams ahead of them to lose, do you see them getting through Arkansas, LSU, Florida State (all on the road) and the SEC Championship Game without another loss? I don't.

Final Playoff Prediction

1. Alabama
2. Michigan
3. Louisville
4. Texas A&M

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