2018 Playoff Big Board: Week 6

Welcome to a new feature here on 18Stripes, where we dig into potential playoff teams by tier and take a shot at how things could shake out. Our board will consist of all ranked undefeated teams and all ranked one-loss Power 5 teams – first from the AP poll, then from the committee rankings when they’re available in a few weeks. I define “resume wins” for our purposes as wins over currently-ranked teams; it gets too complicated to project whether teams will drop out of or climb into the rankings as the year progresses.

Possible resume wins are listed in schedule order. The “538 Table-Running Probability” is taken from the nifty predictor tool available here. I don’t have a preference for 538’s table over S&P+ win probabilities – I think both methodologies are sound. 538’s presentation is just a lot easier to work with versus pulling up individual S&P+ win probabilities for everyone.

Undefeated Teams

With apologies to UCF, an undefeated team will generally control its own destiny. All these teams, again with apologies to UCF, are thus sitting pretty for the playoff as of today.

#1 Alabama

Next game: vs. Missouri

Resume wins to date: #22 Texas A&M

Possible resume wins: at #13 LSU, vs. #24 Mississippi State, vs. #21 Auburn, SEC East winner

538 table-running probability: 32%

Alabama, like it or not, gets extra credit for having won half the available titles since 2009. They’re more in control of their destiny than anyone; even one loss probably wouldn’t be enough to knock them out of the playoff, as everybody knows they’re one of the top few teams in the country. I almost put everyone knows in quotes, but I didn’t because there’s no subtext needed. It’s just true.

They’d be out if they lose two or maybe if they lose one and the right sequence of other things happens around them – like Notre Dame, Clemson, and West Virginia all run the table while Georgia, regardless of record, beats them in the SEC championship game.

#2 Georgia

Next game: at #13 LSU

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #13 LSU, vs. #14 Florida (in Jacksonville), at #18 Kentucky, vs. #21 Auburn, SEC West winner

538 table-running probability: 17%

Georgia controls their destiny, but poop is about to get real for the Bulldogs. Those next four possible resume wins are consecutive opponents, starting with LSU this Saturday, and Auburn is the only home game in that stretch. They’ve looked good against the badly overmatched opponents they’ve faced so far. Will they hold up as the schedule gets tougher?

#3 Ohio State

Next game: vs. Minnesota

Resume wins to date: at #8 Penn State

Possible resume wins: vs. #12 Michigan, Big Ten West Winner

538 table-running probability: 33%

All kinds of questions swirl around the Buckeyes; they begin with the Urban Meyer Zachgate drama, but they’ve shown some blemishes on the field as well. After dispatching Penn State in dramatic fashion a couple of weeks ago, they’re in good position to win the conference again. Even so, this Buckeye edition feels more vulnerable than usual, especially with Nick Bosa’s return from abdominal surgery uncertain. On the other hand, as things stand today Michigan looks like the only real threat ahead of them, including any potential conference title game opponent. And we know how Michigan has fared against them in the Harbaugh era.

#4 Clemson

Next game: vs. #20 NC State

Resume wins to date: at #22 Texas A&M

Possible resume wins: vs. #20 NC State, ACC Coastal winner

538 table-running probability: 36%

Clemson’s schedule to date isn’t quite as soft as Alabama and Georgia’s, but their remaining schedule is much softer. There’s a chance that Boston College and/or Duke could climb into the top 25 and help them a bit, but that’s damning with faint praise. Even so, like a mini-Bama, they’ve built up quite a bit of equity by being good for a long time, and if they run the table there’s no doubt they’ll be in the playoff. So they’re in control. Yet with wins over the two strongest teams they’ve faced – A&M and Syracuse – by a total of six points, it’s also fair to wonder if their schedule holds a loss ahead despite its softness.

#5 Notre Dame

Next game: vs. Pitt

Resume wins to date: #12 Michigan

Possible resume wins: None

538 table-running probability: 39%

Notre Dame’s schedule this year is much weaker than anyone expected, which makes the tightrope the Irish must walk a bit narrower. A mild silver lining is that there’s a chance that some of their opponents will climb back into the top 25; S&P+ win probabilities suggest non-pie-in-the-sky chances for an 8-4 or better regular season record for Stanford (47%), USC (43%), Syracuse (30%), and Virginia Tech (17%). By historical norms, 8-4 for a Power 5 team should be enough to be in or near the back end of the rankings.

Regardless, though, the schedule is a potential problem – but only if the Irish lose a game. Put me down as believing that it’s a stone-cold lead-pipe lock twice over that a 12-0 Notre Dame team will never, ever be left out of the playoff. There’s no way. First of all, I’m not much of one for conspiracy theories – I don’t think the committee will go out of their way to keep Notre Dame down. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the moment a 12-0 Notre Dame is left out is the moment the four-team playoff dies. Nobody wants that, at least not yet.

Now, lose a game, and like in any other season and for any other team you turn it into a beauty contest. And beauty contests are inherently wonky. So, don’t do that.

#6 West Virginia

Next game: at Iowa State

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #9 Texas, vs. #11 Oklahoma, Big 12 title game opponent

538 table-running probability: 5%

I feel like West Virginia is the forgotten Power 5 contender – I certainly have to remind myself repeatedly that they’re in the picture. Their best win to date is probably Texas Tech, who’s not bad but also not all that good, so it’s hard to know what to make of them. They’re about to visit an Iowa State team that has beaten Oklahoma State and lost to Iowa, Oklahoma, and TCU by a total of 23 points. If Iowa State beats them, they’re dead. If Iowa State hangs with them, I think the questions don’t go away yet. If they hammer the Cyclones, then we can look at them more seriously.

The biggest challenge for them, should they make it to the Oklahoma game unblemished, is that they’ll probably have to beat Oklahoma twice in a row. Because the Big 12 is dumb.

#10 UCF

Next game: at Memphis

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: vs. #25 Cincinnati, at #23 South Florida, American West division winner

538 table-running probability: 17%

You know who has the longest win streak in FBS? It’s the Golden Knights, winners of 18 straight. That means [Team Playing UCF This Week] has no bigger fan than the CFB powers that be. I’m not sold that UCF really controls their destiny because I think even if they win out they’re going to be left out again, and again likely in favor of multiple one-loss teams. That’s a nightmare scenario for the Playoff as it will almost force the Group of 5 schools to file a collusion lawsuit. The Knights still have Memphis, Temple, and Navy on the schedule, in addition to Cincinnati and South Florida. S&P+ gives them a 25% chance of winning out in the regular season, and then they’d have to beat someone decent in the AAC title game. So it’s still not likely, but man, buckle up if they pull it off.

It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to have multiple Power 5 champs with 2 or more losses. The Pac 12 will probably end up that way; there’s a chance the Big 12 will as well and a somewhat smaller chance the ACC or Big Ten might too. That would probably be UCF’s ticket into the playoff, even at 13-0.

#19 Colorado

Next game: at USC

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #7 Washington, Pac 12 North winner

538 table-running probability: < 1%

Much like many humans, the computers don’t seem to think Colorado’s 5-0 start is the real deal. Given that those wins came at the expense of Colorado State, New Hampshire, the corpses of Nebraska and UCLA’s programs, and Herm Edwards’s Little Cardinals… Well, can you blame them? S&P+ has them as substantial underdogs in their next two games, at just 40% to beat USC and 21% to beat Washington. Oh, and both games are on the road. We should know how real they are soon enough.

#20 NC State

Next game: at #4 Clemson

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #4 Clemson, ACC Coastal division winner

538 Table-Running Probability: 3%

Go ahead, look it up. NC State really is undefeated. Sure, their five wins came over James Madison, Georgia State, Marshall, Virginia, and Boston College, but hey, 5-0. With a visit to Death Valley East on tap I’m pretty sure they’re only going to be on the board here one time, but they can enjoy it while it lasts.

#23 South Florida / #25 Cincinnati

Next game: at Tulsa / at Temple

Resume wins to date: Georgia Tech / UCLA (not ranked, but they do each get some credit for knocking off Power 5 teams)

Possible resume wins: Each other, #10 UCF, AAC title game opponent

538 table-running probability: 3% / 5%

I’m lumping these guys together because there really isn’t much point to reviewing them. Unfortunate for them, but reality. If UCF will struggle to get in at 13-0, both of these teams would struggle even more – and both have a razor-thin chance of winning out. They probably won’t be here long either, but both are undefeated, so… Here they are.

One Loss Teams

These teams aren’t out of it but will need some breaks to fall their way. The good news for them is that every college football season contains a looooot of breaks.

#7 Washington

Next game: at #17 Oregon

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #17 Oregon, PAC 12 South winner

The one loss: #21 Auburn (in Atlanta)

538 table-running probability: 18%

Washington’s season-opening loss to Auburn was a killer given that USC and Stanford both look softer than expected. Even if they win out, it’s going to be very hard for them to stack up to other one-loss teams. A second loss would almost certainly doom them completely barring utter chaos elsewhere.

#8 Penn State

Next game: vs. Michigan State

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #12 Michigan, vs. #15 Wisconsin, Big Ten West winner

The one loss: vs. #3 Ohio State

538 table-running probability: 21%

Their playoff chances are already on life support after the loss to Ohio State. To get into the conference title game they need to win out while the Buckeyes lose two from the group of Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland, and Michigan. That seems… unlikely.

#9 Texas

Next game: vs. Baylor

Resume wins to date: at #11 Oklahoma

Possible resume wins: vs. #6 West Virginia, Big 12 title game opponent

The one loss: at Maryland

538 table-running probability: 7%

Texas crashed the party in a big way last weekend, with an upset so stunning it made for Mike Stoops’s exit from Norman. They carry probably the worst loss of anyone in the playoff picture: their second-straight season-opening upset by Maryland. That loss might be tough to overcome, but if they win out the committee might give them the benefit of the doubt on it just due to time elapsed.

#11 Oklahoma

Next game: at TCU

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #6 West Virginia, Big 12 title game opponent

The one loss: vs. #9 Texas

538 table-running probability: 13%

The loss to Texas has the Sooners teetering on the edge of playoff relevance. It’s pretty easy to find one more loss in their remaining schedule, and if that happens they’re definitely toast. They need to hope that West Virginia keeps it together and some stuff happens elsewhere.

#12 Michigan

Next game: vs. #15 Wisconsin

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: vs. #15 Wisconsin, vs. #8 Penn State, at #3 Ohio State

The one loss: You know what it is. BWA HA HA HA HA.

538 table-running probability: 6%

I’m not sure how good Wisconsin or Penn State really is, but regardless, the remaining slate will be much harder than the schedule so far. The one thing the Skunkbears having going for them versus Penn State is that their loss occurred in a non-conference game, which means they can take the division only by winning out. I know I should pull for them to win out as our only current resume win, but I can’t do it. DIE, WOLVERINES. DIE.

#13 LSU

Next game: vs. #2 Georgia

Resume wins to date: #16 Miami (at Jerry World), at #21 Auburn

Possible resume wins: vs. #2 Georgia, vs. #24 Mississippi State, vs. #1 Alabama, at #22 Texas A&M, SEC East winner

The one loss: at #14 Florida

538 table-running probability: 2%

Which of these is true?

(a) LSU is a legitimately good team.

(b) LSU will probably finish 8-4/9-3.

Trick question! The answer is both. That schedule is just brutal, which is why 538 gives them a 2% chance of winning out and S&P+ gives them a 1% chance. In the unlikely event that the Tigers do indeed run the table, they will have earned their spot in the playoff. The more likely scenario is that they play the spoiler.

#14 Florida

Next game: at Vanderbilt

Resume wins to date: at #24 Mississippi State, vs. #13 LSU

Possible resume wins: #2 Georgia (in Jacksonville), SEC West winner

The one loss: at #18 Kentucky

538 table-running probability: 4%

You look at the second-half death schedules that most of the SEC teams have, and then you look at Florida. S&P+ gives them just a 22% chance to win the Cocktail Party, but if they can pull that off they should coast to the SEC East title. Quite the turnaround from their work last season under current Michigan WR coach Jim “Sharklover” McElwain. They don’t have a great shot at making it to the postseason, but they have fewer external obstacles than a lot of other teams.

#15 Wisconsin

Next game: at #12 Michigan

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: at #12 Michigan, at #8 Penn State, Big Ten East winner

The one loss: vs. BYU

538 table-running probability: 2%

I said before that Texas has “probably” the worst loss on the board; the reason it isn’t definitely the worst is BYU’s defeat of Wisconsin. BYU is, charitably, not good, and Wisconsin lost to them at home. At least Texas had to travel for their loss… Like Michigan, Wisconsin is helped by their loss being non-conference, and they’re also helped by being in the Big Ten West. The Wisconsin-Michigan matchup this week is a playoff elimination game.

#16 Miami

Next game: at Virginia

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: ACC Atlantic winner

The one loss: vs. #13 LSU

538 table-running probability: 2%

Miami is hurt substantially by their loss to the only good team they’ll face during the regular season. Even if they win the ACC their resume won’t stack up well against other one-loss Power 5 teams, so they would probably need significant help.

#17 Oregon

Next game: vs. #7 Washington

Resume wins to date: None

Possible resume wins: vs. #7 Washington, Pac 12 South winner

The one loss: vs. Stanford

538 table-running probability: 3%

Yet another likely one-week denizen, although their loss was 2011-USF-aliens level unfortunate, so maybe they’re better than they look. 538 and S&P+ will both like Oregon a lot better if they can get past Washington this week; if they don’t, they’re out.

#18 Kentucky

Next game: vs. Vanderbilt

Resume wins to date: at #14 Florida, vs. #24 Mississippi State

Possible resume wins: vs. #2 Georgia, SEC West winner

The one loss: at #22 Texas A&M

538 table-running probability: 2%

Kentucky’s Cinderella story came to a crashing halt last week when they lost a one-score game in College Station. I’m not quite ready to write them off though, given that they’ve beaten two ranked teams by a combined score of 55-23. They’re very much alive in the SEC East, which gives them a fringe chance at the playoff as well.

By |2018-10-09T16:44:28+00:00October 9th, 2018|Football|28 Comments

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my name is inigo montoya
my name is inigo montoya

I am still so shell-shocked from 2012. I want absolutely nothing to do with Bama.


Let’s stop kidding ourselves. We all know we’re gonna beat Bama in the semifinals then lose to like Washington in the championship.

Clay Cossé fka Mouth
Clay Cossé fka Mouth

I ask because I dont know. How many conference games do most teams play. How many P5 games. ND plays 10 P5 games. That seems like a lot.


Most conferences play 8 (SEC, ACC, B1G, I’m pretty sure). Pac12 and Big12 play 9.


If we count ND as P5 team, by my count, USC plays 11, Michigan plays 10, and VT plays 9, so 10 is probably not too special.

Here is what my beef has always been with the conference thing, though. Everyone seems to talk about a conference championship game as if ND plays the same schedule as everyone else, and then at the end of the year, ND hangs out and does nothing, while, all other things being equal, conference champs play in some big time game.

In reality, ND develops their schedule to be competitive with CCGs in mind. They’re one of only, I think, 3 P5 teams (including USC) who never play an FCS opponent. Most other teams play an FCS game every year.

In my opinion, the only really really logical way to compare schedules is to line them up, top to bottom, best game to worst.

If you compare schedules that way, I think 99% of the time you will find that the “extra game” that ND didn’t play compared to a conf. champ was not a big time game while ND players were playing foosball in the dorms. The extra game was actually that one down at the bottom, Savanna State or whatever, while the other 12 games line up favorably for ND.


Navy counts as 2 P5 games, because…Navy.


Would much rather dump Navy and schedule, say Purdue, Baylor, Texas Tech, Colorado(insert middle of the road P5 team)


” it’s a stone-cold lead-pipe lock twice over that a 12-0 Notre Dame team will never, ever be left out of the playoff.”

As a matter of probability, yes. However, ND does not yet control its own destiny this year given how the schedule has turned out. If Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, and West Virginia go undefeated, that’s your playoff.

But, FiveThirtyEight says the odds of that happening AND ND going undefeated is basically nil.


Completely disagree. The BXII’s only real hope right now is for OU to go undefeated and look dominant doing it. If WVU wins that conference, they are going to go to the Fiesta and ND will be in.


Undefeated WVU would have beaten at least four teams better than ND’s second-best win in that scenario, unless Stanford really turns it around. We’d need Michigan to win the Big Ten to have a shot.

Vince Miller
Vince Miller

comment image:large

Vince Miller
Vince Miller

I’ve always wanted to try a line graph for a CFB resume visual. Made this for fun/out of curiosity. It only includes games against the top 100, due to the website I used.


I dont think I would have chosen a line as the chart mode for this data. Also, what is “margin?” Are you saying that Clem has played a 90 F+ team and had a MOV of 60?

Vince Miller
Vince Miller

Margin of victory. Clemson beat Wake Forest by 60.


So what’s the big ten situation it pennstate beats Michigan and Michigan beats Ohio state?


I love the 538 predictor because of its design, but I must add that it’s inherently flawed in its model with regards to ND. The probability of ND being in the playoff if they win out according to that model is about in the range of a lot of the one loss teams getting in if they win out (some of the one loss teams are even projected with a higher likelihood). Example: If both ND and Texas win out 538 says their chances are: ND 75%, Texas 87%.

I’m sorry but there’s just no way that a 12-0 ND team will have the same likelihood as a one loss team.

Other examples if both teams win their remaining games (second team already having 1 loss):
ND 77, Wash 72
ND 81, Okla 76
ND 79, Wisc 93
ND 88, LSU 99
ND 89, Kentucky 96


Yeah, I think that’s a bit of a flaw. However, if LSU were to win out, they would probably be ranked ahead of an undefeated ND unless we keep winning every game by 3+ touchdowns. Kentucky would have a chance too. Not that either of those is going to happen.


Yeah I have less of a problem with the SEC comparisons in general. But for ND’s chance to be anywhere outside of the 90+ percentile for an undefeated season just seems statistically unsound.


Agree with LSU. If they win out, I could definitely see them as a lock to get in. Wins over Bama, GA, MSST, A&M, and conf champ. Wow. That’d be a damn impressive resume


And Miami.


scUM loses to PSU then beats tOSU to send scUM to the B1G title game vs. Wiscy. Either way that game goes, I dont think there’s a chance an undefeated ND wouldnt get in that way and likely be ranked #2. We’d probably be similar to Clem and with their little scare against Cuse we’d likely get the upper hand in that debate.