What the numbers say about the College Football Playoff Major 3 and the race for 4th

The college football playoff race looks chalky over the top.

So much so that a file Allstate Playoff Predictor He’s never been this confident in the third week of singles chances for the top three teams to make it to the playoff.

Never in the model’s five-year history has he had three teams with at least a 70% chance of each reaching the playoff before week three in the current fashion with Alabama (84%), Ohio State (80%) and Georgia (70%). The cumulative chance of 233% is also higher than the top three teams at this point since 2018, when the Allstate Playoff Predictor Index began. And that’s even with the narrow escape by Crimson Tide against Texas last weekend!

There is a 43% higher chance that these three teams will reach CFP. Given all the things that could happen between now and the end of the conference tournaments – and that two of the three teams are in the same conference (!) – that’s pretty cool.

One of the ways I like to visualize a knockout race is to look at the best possible combinations for the qualifying teams. The table below is the top 10 most likely combinations of four teams to reach the playoff, in any base order.

Looking at things this way, we can again see that the Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes and the Bulldogs are still dominant: the top four most likely groups comprise all of them. And there is not a single group with a probability of more than 3% of becoming a fact that does not characterize all of them.

That doesn’t mean there’s a guarantee about the current Big 3: 43% is 43%, meaning that at least no one is likely to miss the playoff, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor.

But where I think this graph is particularly interesting, if we stick to the top three for now, we’ll look at who that fourth team could be.

Clemson Tigers

Playoff Chance: 46%

Clemson sits solidly on his own level: Nowhere near as close to the playoff potential as Alabama, Ohio State or Georgia, but far above the long, semi-long shots down below.

The Tigers are the fourth best team in college football, per FPI. In the past, there’s been a question about whether Loser Conference Champion One Clemson has the resume to go into the playoff and the Predictor hasn’t always been so sure. In this case, with teams like Notre Dame and Miami on Clemson’s schedule, the model is confident: The Tigers get 91% of the time when they lose to the Fighting Irish but win the rest of the roster.

Michigan Wolverines

Playoff Chance: 26%

The second group likely includes two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams (with Michigan joining the three favorites) – perhaps a preview of what college football would soon look like if a supplement expansion wasn’t on the horizon.

Michigan could Just win and get a direct ride to the playoff, of course. But the most statistically likely path to the playoff, according to the Predictor, is to finish 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State and still go into the playoff. If the first part happened – losing to only the Buckeyes and missing the Big Ten Championship match – the model predicts a 67% chance of the Wolverines playoff.

USC Trojans

Playoff Chance: 20%

FPI and Allstate Playoff Predictor moved far and fast on USC. Entering the season, the models couldn’t stand the Trojans–at least for the consensus–but now suddenly USC finds itself with 1 of 5 shots in the third set playoff likely a playoff.

An asset for Trojans? Their easy remaining schedule. USC has the 57th hardest schedule remaining among the FBS teams and will be favored in all but one of the remaining scheduled competitions – the Trojans have a 41% chance of winning in Utah, per FPI.

Texas Longhorns

Playoff Chance: 19%

The Alabama game was a brutal missed opportunity, but the (moderate) bright side for Longhorns fans is that it at least boosted the expectations of the Texans game going forward (even in the event of a loss, the team’s FPI rating can go up, just as it did with the Texans in this case).

A win will result in a definite break point but it will be difficult to withdraw. It is a possibility though. Also possible: Texas could lose, say, Oklahoma but then win a Big 12 (perhaps with a retaliatory victory over Oklahoma again in a Big 12 championship game). In this scenario—regardless of their opponent in that Conference Championship game—Texas would have a 59% chance of making the playoff as the 11-2 Conference Champion.

Tennessee Volunteers

Playoff Chance: 11%

FPI is a fan of the Vols after they escaped an overtime competition against Pitt with a win. The model believes it is the seventh best team ahead, one point behind USC.

The problem, of course, is the schedule: road competitions in Georgia and LSU plus a home game against Alabama mean the volunteers will need some big upheaval, combination. If they somehow manage to pull off a season 11-1 with a loss to Georgia, and lose the SEC Championship match, they’ll have a better than three-than-four chance of in the playoff due to the difficulty of their schedule (the sixth hardest among FBS teams).