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College Football Playoff: Going Through the Numbers

Featured image courtesy of Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

It’s finally here.

After 10 weeks, the College Football Playoff debuted their first poll this season, coming a week later than the process they followed in the first five years.

Below is how the Top 10 shapes up:

  1. Ohio State (8-0)
  2. LSU (8-0)
  3. Alabama (8-0)
  4. Penn State (8-0)
  5. Clemson (9-0)
  6. Georgia (7-1)
  7. Oregon (8-1)
  8. Utah (8-1)
  9. Oklahoma (7-1)
  10. Florida (7-2)

As the FBS first adopted in 2014, the top four teams in the poll at the end of the season will meet in the College Football Playoff, with this year’s semifinals slotted for the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl on Dec. 28.

In the past five years, some patterns have repeated year, and there are some commonalities for every team. Numbers never lie, and here are some numbers you need to know.

8. Teams initially ranked at 8 in the CFP Rankings have never finished better than 8

In the past five years, all teams starting at ranked at no. 8 never surpassed that ranking. Only twice, Michigan State in 2014 and Wisconsin in 2016, has the team finished at 8 as well. The remaining three finished outside of the top 10: 2015 TCU – 11, 2017 TCU – 15, and 2018 Washington State – 13.

Shakeups can always happen with the rankings. In fact, only five other times has a team ranked in the initial top eight finished at that same ranking – three top seeds and two at no. 2. That’s less than 18% of top eight teams.

Sadly, out of all teams ranked in the initial top 16, at least ONE has finished in the top six – except for no. 8. Sorry, Utah.

Team that it concerns: 8 Utah (8-1)

7. Number of teams in the bottom half of the initial CFP Ranking’s top 8 that make the College Football Playoff

Every year, at least one ranked 5-8 in the initial CFP Rankings has jumped into the College Football Playoff in the final rankings.

InitialFinal
2014 Oregon52
2014 Alabama61
2015 Michigan State73
2016 Washington54
2016 Ohio State63
2017 Oklahoma52
2018 Oklahoma74
2019 ???????

The four teams just overlooked out of the top four can find some breathing room, as it looks like at least one of them will make it into the top four.

Yet, only one of those teams – 2014 Oregon – won their semifinal game. The Ducks would go on to lose the first College Football Playoff title game to no. 4 Ohio State. Can this year’s contender have a different fate.

Teams that it concerns: 5 Clemson, 6 Georgia, 7 Oregon

6. Number of Big Ten teams that finished 5 or 6

In the last four CFP final rankings, six Big Ten teams just missed the cut for the College Football Playoffs, including the last three Conference Champions – 2016 Penn State and both 2017 and 2018 Ohio State (the first two ranked no. 5).

2015 Iowa (no. 5) and 2017 Wisconsin (no. 6) both lost the Conference Championship game, with 2016 (no. 5) Penn State being the outlier. That same year was the last time a Big Ten team made the Playoff – no. 3 Ohio State.

This means that, like every season, the Big Ten will have multiple teams in the mix, and with three teams in the conference currently undefeated (1 Ohio State, 4 Penn State and 17 Minnesota), this year could serve as a fourth-straight repeat.

Teams that it concerns: 1 Ohio State, 4 Penn State, 17 Minnesota

5. Number of CFP teams ranked outside Preseason AP Top 10

Five teams competing in the College Football Playoff started the season ranked outside the Preseason AP Poll’s Top 10. Yet, four of them entered the College Football Playoff Rankings initially in the top five.

AP PreseasonInitial CFPFinal CFP
2015 Clemson1211
2015 Oklahoma19154
2016 Washington1454
2017 Georgia1513
2018 Notre Dame1243
2019 Oregon117???
2019 Utah148???
2019 Penn State154???

Three teams this season – 4 Penn State, 7 Oregon and 8 Utah – look to have the best chance at adding to this consecutive list. However, none of those previous five teams have won the CFP National Championship game, with only 2015 Clemson and 2017 Georgia reaching the title game.

But, these patterns show two things, and there is a chance at least one will continue. Could the odd years mean one of these three teams will be the CFP Runner-Up? Or does it mean one will lose in the semifinal game, as the three others who didn’t initially rank no. 1 found out to be true.

Teams that it concerns: 4 Penn State, 7 Oregon, 8 Utah

4. Only seed to be undefeated in CFP Championship Games

An upset in a CFP Semifinal Game has only happened three times, and twice – 2014 Ohio State and 2018 Alabama (who beat no. 3 Georgia in) – did they end up as National Champions.

The other three champions were no. 2 seeds, showing that an odd ranked team has yet to be a National Champion in the College Football Playoff era.

This will take some type to offer insight, as we await the final rankings in five weeks. Any team could be affected, as all eyes should be on the final no. 4 (and maybe no. 2), to see if history continues to repeat itself.

Teams that it concerns: No. 4 (and No. 2) come December 8.

3. Teams initially ranked at 3 never make the CFP

Never has the first CFP Ranking’s no. 3 team made the Playoff, much less the top five. Only two of them, 2015 Ohio State and 2016 Michigan, finished within in the final Top 10, coming at no. 7 and no. 6, respectively.

Final CFPRecord @ Initial CFPRecord @ Final CFP
2014 Auburn196-18-4
2015 Ohio State78-011-1
2016 Michigan68-010-2
2017 Notre Dame147-19-3
2018 LSU117-19-3
2019 Alabama🙁8-0???

Only 2015 Ohio State managed to have an above-.500 record after the initial CFP, with the rest all only winning two of their next games. Sadly, this seems to be the most confident statistic, really showing no flaw. Whether it’s one more loss or maybe a few more, it looks like Alabama will not be going to the College Football Playoff.

Teams that it concerns: 3 Alabama

2. Times a team initially ranked in top two didn’t make CFP

In the CFP’s first two seasons, 2014 Mississippi State and 2015 LSU, initially ranked no. 1 and no. 2, respectively, both missed the Playoff. While the Bulldogs finished ranked no. 7 after compiling two losses, the Tigers dropped 18 spots to no. 20 the following year, after going 1-3 after the debut rankings.

Other than those two, however, the eight remaining teams all made the playoffs, with 2014 Florida State (started at no. 2 and ended at no. 3), being the only one of the group not to make the title game. That group also consists of the last three title games, meaning 1 Ohio State and 2 LSU have some luck on their side.

However, with the SEC having not only two of the top three teams but five teams ranked in the top 11, there is a chance that LSU could fall. And for 1 Ohio State, they end their season with two ranked games – the first against 4 Penn State. Will we get another year of the initial top teams making the title game? Or will a pattern that begun with the CFP resurrect itself?

Teams that it concerns: 1 Ohio State, 2 LSU

1. Number of teams in the initial top eight to end unranked in the CFP Rankings

There have now been a total of 40 teams in the first five years of the College Football Playoff to start the CFP Rankings in the top eight. 39 of them finished somewhere in the CFP Rankings (no worse than no. 20).

Except for 2016 Texas A&M. The Aggies entered the rankings at 7-1 and joined Alabama as the only SEC representatives in the initial top eight. They would go on to drop three of their next four games, with their only win being a non-conference matchup.

Usually teams in the initial top eight of the CFP Rankings stay there the whole season. Texas A&M is the only outlier. All eight teams in this season’s initial rankings hope to not join the ill-fated Aggies.

Teams that it concerns: No one, or so they hope.

0. Number of two-loss teams to make the College Football Playoff

In the five years of the College Football Playoff, never has a two-loss team made the semifinals. But, they’ve gotten close.

2016 Penn State, 2017 Ohio State, and 2018 Georgia all finished ranked no. 5 in the final rankings, with 2015 Stanford and 2016 Michigan coming at no. 6. Stanford, Penn State, and Ohio State all won their conference championship games as well, with Georgia losing in theirs.

All of these five teams – some more than others – had great cases to make the top five. Yet, the committee still has yet to budge. For teams like 10 Florida, it already looks like their CFP dreams are over. For 6 Georgia, 7 Oregon, 8 Utah, and 9 Oklahoma, all will need to win out the rest of the season. If they even lose one more game, they might as well kiss their 2019 Playoff chances goodbye.

Teams that it concerns: 6 Georgia, 7 Oregon, 8 Utah, and 9 Oklahoma (and maybe 10 Florida)

But where do they all play?

While the top four continue their chance for lifting up the trophy, the remaining top teams in the poll will fill in the other four bowls of the New Years Six: the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl.

Over half of these bowls have certain tie-ins, with the highest non-semifinal participant in each group earning a chance to the respective bowl: Cotton (Group of 5 vs. At-large), Orange (ACC vs. SEC #2, Big Ten #2, or Notre Dame), Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12). Thus, the highest ranked team in each group will participate in that bowl, with the Cotton Bowl welcoming the highest ranked Group of 5 champion (unless they *shockingly* make the playoff) against the highest-ranked team not included in any of the other bowls.

Based on these rankings, these are how the following bowls would look like:

Cotton Bowl – Dec. 28 (AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas)

8 Utah vs. 20 Cincinnati

Orange Bowl – Dec. 30 (Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, Florida)

5 Clemson vs. 10 Florida

Rose Bowl – Jan. 1 (Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California)

7 Oregon vs. 13 Wisconsin

Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1 (Mercedez-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana)

6 Georgia vs. 9 Oklahoma

Fiesta Bowl – Playoff Semifinal Game – Dec. 28 (State Farm Stadium – Glendale, Arizona)

1 Ohio State vs. 4 Penn State

Peach Bowl – Playoff Semifinal Game – Dec. 28 (Mercedez-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, Georgia)

2 LSU vs. 3 Alabama

College Football Playoff National Championship Game – Jan. 13 (Mercedez-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana)

Prediction: 1 Ohio State vs. 3 Alabama

All of these teams above will be battling for those top four spots and a chance at being the 2020 NCAA Division 1A National Champion. Can the above help predict the National Champion? We have two months to find that out. Until then, it’s free rein.

Let the real games begin.

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