A click is a vote to expand the playoff

Seriously, who is objecting to this?

Week 15 is here, bringing us the final week of most teams’ “regular” seasons, and a conference championship week that’s right around the corner.

The matchups for the conference championships are all but set in most conferences. Ohio State, as it was announced yesterday, will indeed play representing the East in the Big Ten against Northwestern. Clemson and Notre Dame will face off a second time in a game that can’t possibly be as good as the first one, although a guy can dream. Alabama and Florida will meet in the SEC. Oklahoma will face off against Iowa State in the Big 12, and the Pac-12 remains obscure and confusing to me, but the top teams are USC, Colorado (same division), and Washington (in order).

The top four teams, according to the playoff, continue to be the usual suspects (and Notre Dame).

So let’s take a look at some stats and see which teams are most deserving of a playoff bid right now, and then we’ll talk some scenarios at the end.

Who has played the toughest opponents?

Of the main contenders with a legitimate gripe for a CFB Playoff spot, only one cracks the top ten in terms of average Elo rating of opponents, and that’s Alabama. That’s pretty impressive seeing that they haven’t really struggled this season, and Mac Jones is a contender for the Heisman at over 75% success rate. Yes, they played LSU who are overrated by Elo this year, but that was last week when their rating had already regressed to a more realistic number.

The next closest team on the cusp is Texas A&M, who, I honestly think are out of luck this season after dropping their only game to Alabama. They did beat Florida, but their two scenarios are:

  • Alabama beat Florida, and ‘Bama make the Playoff

  • Florida beat Alabama, and A&M beat Florida, but Florida beat ‘Bama while A&M lost to ‘Bama, so Florida have the better win and Heisman frontrunner and make the Playoff. ‘Bama might too if it’s close

Florida also had a difficult schedule, and that’s before factoring in that they will be playing ‘Bama to finish out the season, which will bump them up into the top 10 in SOS by all likelihood.

Who has played the most difficult schedule?

If you’re screaming “not Clemson!”, you’re spot on. Notice that this is a different question than above. “Toughest opponents” only considers the strength of your opponent. Obviously, the top four teams are some of the best in the country, so they probably outmatch all of those opponents regardless.

However, some teams still punch above their weight and really have to earn their spot in that top four by playing through the gauntlet, and there’s something to be said about that. This isn’t to punish teams for being good, but to evaluate how impressive the results of a team are.

In our case, none of the top four, or even the top 25, had a difficult schedule, but, some did have a less-easy schedule than others.

All the top teams had fairly easy schedules (by their standards), outrating their opponents by over 300 Elo points on average (at least). Florida had one of the harder schedules.

Of the top four, Notre Dame had the biggest uphill battle to get where they are, and they’ve done so impressively. Alabama follow closely behind, and then there’s a big jump to Ohio State and a slightly smaller hop to Clemson up top with the easiest schedule this year.

Florida have had a notably less-easy schedule than others as well, which gets even less easy in their conference championship (you can say this about all teams though).

Who has exceeded expectations most this year?

The answer to that is, unsurprisingly, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, with 4.8 more wins than Elo projected them to have throughout the season. If you bet against the Chanticleers, then you are undoubtedly poorer than you were before you did that.

But besides them, notable overperformers based on wins above expectation include Miami, Indiana, Texas A&M, BYU, Iowa St., Northwestern, Cincy, and Notre Dame.

The difference between projected wins based on Elo win probabilities before the game, and actual wins today. These are the teams that exceeded expectations this year.

Team Stat Comparison

I’ve somewhat arbitrarily selected the teams I consider to have any shot at making the playoff for the following charts to see how they stack up, should it be close after next weekend. Sorry Chants, you didn’t make the cut.

There’s a solid cluster of fairly explosive teams here, but Alabama does stand out among the rest, and Florida stand out in terms of passing explosiveness and the focus on the pass.

Alabama clearly lead the way on offense, both in terms of explosiveness and success rate. On defense, Clemson and Notre Dame are strongest, but Cincinnati and Oklahoma are right there with them.

So all of this points to Ohio State, despite a smaller sample size, being right up there with the likes of Alabama in terms of offense and defense, albeit with a considerably easier schedule.

If Ohio State win their title game, I’m not sure there’s much that could keep them out of the playoff.

Even an undefeated USC would be unconvincing given the stats above right now, so they’d have to win dominantly in all remaining games, and I don’t think that Oklahoma will get in with 2 losses, nor A&M without a title game.

Cincy are burned by not getting a chance to play one more against a good Tulsa team that outperformed expectations this year, but the Group of 5 bias is strong, and rightfully so with Cincinnati having the 84th ranked strength of schedule.

If either of ‘Bama-Florida or Clemson-ND are close (with Clemson and Florida winning), then I think there’s a decent chance that the loser (ND or ’Bama) get in to the final four. If the winners are reversed, then I think there’s no chance (2 loss Clemson or 2 loss Florida). In that case, the door opens up for Ohio State plus one more team. I can’t tell you exactly who that would be, but it could very well be Cincy, or USC in a long shot with a dominating stretch of 2 games - however, I haven’t seen or heard anyone talking about the way they play, so I’m assuming it’s unimpressive.

I also think there’s no chance that the final four is 2 ACC and 2 SEC teams (if Florida and Clemson win, unconvincingly). At that point, one of either ND or ‘Bama would get compared to, likely, Ohio State via the “eye-test”, and in that case ND would likely miss out.

Week 15 Win Probabilities

Thanks to all the cancellations going on, this one is actually shorter than some previous weeks. Check out all the Week 15 win probabilities and spreads here.

Alright, that’s all. We’ll see how things go this weekend and I’ll check back in next week. Thanks so much for reading and please forward this to a friend if you enjoyed it!

— Kyle

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