For as long as the College Football Playoff has existed – so a total of four seasons – the four teams chosen by the selection committee and why create an annual controversy among programs and their fan bases.
Under its current format, it seems like there will always be snubs, teams with questionable credentials included and, especially recently, teams that feel they aren’t given a fair shot. But ESPN is trying to change that – or at least give people a more accurate idea of who to expect in the final four.
The network – which has the playoff and national championship game broadcasting rights through the 2025-26 season – shared the results of its new Playoff Predictor formula, which will attempt to forecast each team’s chance of making the cut before and throughout the season. People will likely still be disappointed, but perhaps they won’t be totally surprised.
ESPN’s analytics is basing its predictions on strength of record, number of losses, conference championships, independent status ( re: Notre Dame) and the Football Power Index (FPI) – how well a team is playing based on expectations. The selection committee’s past behavior will also be a contributing factor.
So where does that leave us? Here are the four teams with the best chance to reach the playoff:
Playoff: 67 percent
Championship: 24 percent
Playoff: 47 percent
Championship: 14 percent
Playoff: 46 percent
Championship: 13 percent
4. Notre Dame
Playoff: 42 percent
Championship: 10 percent
The other teams rounding out the preseason top 10, according to the Playoff Predictor, are Washington, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn, Penn State and Michigan State. You can see the full list here.
Wondering why Clemson’s playoff chances are so much higher than defending champion Alabama’s? As ESPN explains:
One, because FPI considers Clemson to be the best team in college football this season, thanks in large part to having more returning starters (like Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell, who likely would have been first-round picks) than the Crimson Tide. But more importantly: Clemson has a much easier path to a conference championship.
That makes sense, considering Alabama has another SEC team in the top four alone to contend with.
And it explains Notre Dame’s presence in the top four in part because of returning core players who led to its top-12 offensive efficiency and its top-10 defensive efficiency last season. The Fighting Irish could also have a slight advantage because they don’t compete for a conference title.
It will be interesting to see how this list evolves throughout the season – especially with high-impact games for the predictor as early as Week 1 – and how accurate it is on selection day.
Regardless, with only four teams in the playoff, there will still be plenty of people enraged come December.
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