College Football Predictions

I figured that since I’ll say plenty of provocative things in the future, I should start with something a little more lighthearted.
I love college football, much more than the NFL.  The number of teams, split across a dozen 11 conferences, gives the sport a grand feel and the talent gaps between teams and players makes the games an edge-of your seat spectacle where anything can happen. I remember a game a couple years back where my Tennessee Volunteers beat Georgia with an incredible catch on a Hail Mary as time expired. That was only after Georgia came back on and took the lead on a miraculous play of their own with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter. That’s the excitement of college football, and you can’t get in anywhere else in sports.
Another great thing about college football is that it’s never too early to start predicting which four teams will make it into the coveted College Football Playoff to play for the national championship. Since the college football season is so short, this race is incredibly tight. To make the playoff, most teams usually need to be their conference champion, and they can’t have more than one loss. This means that every single game counts.

Right now, with 6 weeks left in the season, there are 9 teams I believe still have a shot at making the playoff. 2 of these teams I would be surprised with they missed the playoff, 2 other teams I think will probably get in, and 5 others that are on the outside looking in. There are also two high-ranked teams that are in the hunt but I believe have no chance of making the playoffs. I will explain why towards the end of the reflection. Throughout the piece, I will reference 538, a statistical analysis site that models basically anything. The link to their college football model is https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2018-college-football-predictions/ I have some disagreements with their predictions, but I do reference it a couple times and it’s another opinion for anyone interested. Here are my personal predictions for which four teams will earn a sport in the college football playoff in January:

Teams that should make the playoff

Clemson– Currently ranked at #3, the Clemson Tigers benefit from a weak ACC this year. The only ranked team they’ve had to play so far was Texas A&M, and the only ranked team they still need to play is NC State, who is 5-0 but without any standout wins of their own. There isn’t even another strong team in the ACC coastal division to challenge Clemson in the conference title game. The 538 model agrees, giving Clemson a 39% chance of winning out, a 66% chance of winning the ACC, and a 65% chance of making the playoff, all of these first in the FBS. I fully expect Clemson to finish undefeated, win the ACC title game, and easily secure a spot in the playoff.

Notre Dame- Currently ranked at #4, the Fighting Irish have an even easier schedule ahead of them than Clemson. With five remaining games, they only have to play two teams with winning records, none of whom are ranked. They also don’t have to deal with a conference championship game. The 538 model gives them a 37% chance of winning out, second only to Clemson. If they are able to do that, which is likely, expect to see the Fighting Irish in the playoffs come January.

Teams that will probably make it in

Alabama– At this point, you’d have to be a fool to bet against Alabama. Last year, when they didn’t even make it to the SEC title game, they still won a national championship. They’ve won the national title four out of the last seven years. Ranked #1 and high up in the 538 model, the only reason they aren’t in the first category is there schedule isn’t forgiving. They have to play LSU in three weeks and Auburn at the end of the year (who always give Alabama a tough game), before playing Florida/Kentucky/Georgia in the SEC title game. I expect Alabama to win all of these games, but it’s possible if they lose one of them and the field remains tough, Alabama could get snubbed this year. Otherwise, they will claim a spot in the playoff. Again.

Ohio State– Fun fact, the Buckeyes are the second most winning college football program since 2009 after Alabama. Currently ranked at #2, they have one of college football’s best offenses and already have a major win over Penn State three weeks ago. Their one drawback is they are playing in the Big Ten, which is always the most competitive conference in the country. They still have matchups with Michigan and Michigan State, along with a Big Ten championship game to win. However the Big Ten is always tough, and it hasn’t seemed to bother the Buckeyes much, so I expect Ohio State to return to the playoff after their snub last year and round out this year’s playoff roster.

Teams on the outside looking in

Texas– I always considered Texas to be perennially overrated, however this year they are actually good. They had a big win two weeks ago against Oklahoma, and wins earlier in the year against USC and TCU. The drawback is they’ve had a couple close ones against teams they should’ve handled, they have a big matchup in a couple weeks with West Virginia, and will probably need to face Oklahoma again in the Big 12 title game. If they win both of those games they are as deserving for a spot in the playoff as any, but that’s a tall order.

Michigan– Much like Texas, Michigan is usually overrated (last season they started 4-0 and were ranked 7th before finishing 8-5 and losing a bowl game.) But after beating Wisconsin, they are 6-1 and ranked sixth. They look like they mean business this time around. They’ll need to be, as they have games coming up against Michigan State, Penn State (whose two wins disqualify them from playoff consideration but are still a very good team), and a season finale against Ohio State in Columbus, a matchup the Wolverines haven’t won since 2011. Then they’ll need to beat Wisconsin or Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. That’s as hard of a schedule as any, which is why I’m skeptical of the Wolverine’s playoff chances this season.

Oklahoma– They narrowly lost to Texas, but don’t count Oklahoma out. There are still ranked at #9, at 538 has them as the fifth most likely team to reach the playoff. I personally am more skeptical. However, if they win out, including a matchup with West Virginia next month, and then win the Big 12 Title rematch with Texas, they deserve a playoff spot. But much like Texas, that’s a tall order. The Sooners have no room for mistakes.

Oregon– Currently at #12, Oregon is the lowest ranked team I still consider a contender. If they didn’t blow a lead against Stanford three weeks ago, they’d be undefeated, including a win over Washington last week. Their remaining schedule isn’t too tough and if they make it to the Pac 12 title game, they will probably face an unranked USC. The drawback here is that they need Stanford to lose in order to make the championship and even still, if the field is as tight as I expect, a team with one loss and only two ranked wins might not command a playoff spot.

UCF– Let’s face it, Central Florida will probably win every game this year again and still not make it into the playoff. The 538 model gives them a 25% of winning out, fifth in the league, but gives them just a 4% chance of making the playoff, seventeenth in the league. If you need an example as to why the playoff needs to be expanded to eight teams, look no further. I’m more confident in UCF’s chances for the playoff than the 538 model. Despite a scare last week against Memphis, they’ve beaten every other team they’ve played handily. Their one drawback is they only have two more teams on their schedule who are ranked, South Florida and Cincinnati, and since these teams play each other before they play UCF, the Knights will have just one ranked win. Last year they got three and still missed the playoff. The field is tougher this year, so while the AAC is theirs to win, someone dramatic will need to happen for them to reach the playoff.

Notable Exclusions

LSU- Currently at #5, it’s been a couple of years since the Tigers have been really good, so I’d like to welcome LSU back into the fold. The problem is they play in the SEC West, which means they have to host Alabama. They have a good win against Georgia, but their wins against Miami and Auburn aren’t as impressive as you would have thought going into the season. To make the playoff they’ll still need to beat Alabama, Texas A&M, and Kentucky/Florida/Georgia in the SEC title game. Sorry LSU; I’m glad you’re a contender again, but you’re going to lose at least one of those games, and this year the playoff is just out of your reach.

Georgia/Kentucky/Florida- I’ve been referring to these three teams as a group this whole time because they are all in the same position. They are all one lost SEC East teams with at least one tough game left on their schedule, mostly against each other. My money is on Georgia emerging victorious in the SEC East, but at this points it’s a toss-up. It’s also possible they all emerge with a second loss. Whoever wins the SEC East, they will then need to win the SEC championship game against probably Alabama. If you’re betting on whose getting to the college football playoff, stay away from the SEC East.

 

Those are my expectations for the college football playoff. Notre Dame and Clemson will make the playoff, Ohio State and Alabama should make the playoff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, or UCF sneak in. Now what’s great about college football is that you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe Clemson will lose against some scrub team in a couple weeks and this whole prediction will be completely wrong. But that’s why it’s fun.

Agree with my predictions? Think I’m forgetting someone or underestimating a team? Let me know who you think will make it into the playoff this season.

As for the blog in general, I’m grateful for you all for reading this and the introduction post from earlier this week. As you can probably tell I’m still working on formatting on the site, but I should be getting better in the near future. Please subscribe to the blog, as this will send you an email whenever I post something. There should be a ribbon to the bottom right of the screen to subscribe. Also, be sure to follow DK24blog on twitter. Tomorrow I intend to publish a response article to something interesting a read in the New York Times earlier in this, and early next week I’ll post my predictions for the 2018 midterm elections. My contact information is at the top in the tab next to the home link, let me know who you think will make it to the College Football Playoff.

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