A week ago, we kicked off our College Football Playoff prediction model by talking in part about the handful of teams that were in great shape — provided they just kept winning ballgames. Then Saturday came around, and just like that, two of those squads (LSU and Oklahoma) were knocked down more than a few rungs on the championship ladder. So how can the Tigers and Sooners climb their way back toward the top?
In each remaining week of the season, we’ll break down what one team — or, in today’s case, two — needs to have happen in order for it to make the College Football Playoff. Primarily, we’ll be looking at how much each remaining game on the team’s schedule (and other teams’ schedules as well) potentially swings its playoff probability.
Current playoff chances: 4 percent
What it can do: Losing to Florida dropped LSU’s playoff chances from 11 percent to 4 percent, giving the Tigers very little margin for error from here on out. The good news in Baton Rouge, though, is that they still basically control their own destiny — one of the fringe benefits of having an impossibly tough SEC schedule. If LSU wins out, our model says it would have a greater than 99 percent chance of making the playoff, making it one of only five schools (joining Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson) whose playoff chances are that high if they go the rest of the season without a loss. Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done: Even after putting the Gators behind it, LSU still has four more ranked opponents left on its regular-season schedule, plus whomever it might play in the SEC title game (if the Tigers get there). At the same time, just one more loss would basically doom LSU, leaving its playoff probability at the end of the season at just 16 percent even if it finishes 10-2. Practically speaking, Ed Orgeron’s team really does have no choice but to keep winning.
Who can help it: After allowing LSU to storm back from down 21-10 to beat it in September, Auburn could end up doing its SEC West rivals yet another favor by winning the Iron Bowl over Alabama in late November. LSU’s chances of making the playoff are about 3 percentage points higher in our simulations where Auburn beats Alabama than vice versa. In fact, any Alabama loss would generally help LSU’s chances of making the playoff because it would give the Tigers the edge over the Tide in the division (assuming they beat the Tide themselves in Death Valley on Nov. 3). One other thing is also clear: Alabama and Georgia’s playoff bids are basically incompatible with LSU’s. Conditional on the Tigers making the playoff, there’s only a 23 percent chance that Alabama also makes it and a 14 percent chance for Georgia. Even the SEC can contain only so many playoff contenders. Outside the conference, Texas and Penn State are teams with similar playoff bona fides who would theoretically be competing with LSU for an outside shot at the final playoff slot, so slip-ups by the Longhorns or Nittany Lions also slightly help the Tigers. But even so, most non-LSU games won’t move the Tigers’ needle much, meaning they’ll mostly have to forge a path to the playoff for themselves.
|DIff. in LSU Playoff Odds|
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Current playoff chances: 16 percent
What it can do: After losing the Red River Showdown to Texas on Saturday, the Sooners are less in the driver’s seat than LSU in terms of controlling their own postseason destiny. Even if Oklahoma wins all its remaining games, our model still gives the Sooners only an 85 percent chance of making the playoff. That’s not too terrible, though, given that Kyler Murray and company have a relatively manageable remaining schedule that includes only one ranked opponent. That matchup — a Nov. 23 battle against West Virginia in Morgantown — could swing Oklahoma’s season more than any other game, with our model calling for an average change to the Sooners’ playoff chances of plus or minus 13 percentage points, depending on whether they can beat the Mountaineers. In the universe where OU does win that one, the Sooners make the playoff 29 percent of the time; in the ones where they don’t, that number is 2 percent.
Who can help them: Because they’re not quite the locks that some other top teams are, Oklahoma will probably need another big-time contender to falter. And according to our model, that team is most likely Notre Dame. Aside from West Virginia and Texas, whose hopes each rest on outdueling the Sooners for the Big 12 title, the Fighting Irish are the team whose playoff chances drop the most in simulated universes where Oklahoma makes the playoff. Unfortunately for the Sooners, Notre Dame has a 38 percent chance of navigating the rest of its schedule undefeated — tops among any team in the nation — while Oklahoma’s chances of winning out are only 13 percent. (That discrepancy is a big reason for Notre Dame’s 45 percent chance of making the playoff, while Oklahoma sits at 16 percent.) But a Notre Dame loss — most likely to Syracuse, USC or Northwestern — would do the Sooners a big favor in their struggle to regain position in the playoff race.
|DIff. in Oklahoma Playoff Odds|
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