It’s whacky simulation day.
Every morning, FPI imagines 20,000 college football worlds that could unfurl themselves over the weeks between now and the College Football Playoff selection via its simulations. Plenty of them look like the college football landscapes that we figure will happen, with Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia reaching the playoff.
But sometimes, the wild and absurd happens, and before you know it the Syracuse Orange are in the College Football Playoff. Don’t tell me it can’t happen: The Allstate Playoff Predictor foresaw it, exactly 10 times in the 20,000 simulations it ran on Thursday.
Uncertainty is at the core of the Football Power Index, and therefore the Allstate Playoff Predictor. And so we’re harnessing the unpredictable nature of college football to find some of the wildest simulations that our model produced — meaning they were at least feasible, even if highly, highly improbable. Let’s dive in, starting with the aforementioned Orange.
Syracuse Orange: Welcome to the CFP!
Simulation No.: 3789 CFP
Teams: Syracuse, Alabama, Ole Miss, USC
On one hand, this is wild. Syracuse in the playoff? Ole Miss would’ve been a nice underdog story until the Orange came along and blew the Rebels out of the water, narrative-wise.
On the other hand … they just have to win? Syracuse is 5-0. And while winning out is highly unlikely — FPI gives it just a 0.2% chance to do so — that’s exactly what happens here in sim No. 3789. A 13-0 Power 5 champion? It is not going to be denied the playoff.
In fact, USC and Alabama also go 13-0 in this sim, so there’s only one contested spot up for grabs. Minnesota and Texas won their conferences with three (!) losses each, so both are out of the picture.
The only other contender is 12-1 Georgia, which lost to the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game. Do I think Georgia usually gets in over 11-1 Ole Miss in this spot? I do. But it doesn’t! The Predictor doesn’t give us any more details, so I’d say I’m free to editorialize and say the Bulldogs lose by three touchdowns to Alabama, while Ole Miss only lost by four in its game against Nick Saban and Co. The Rebels take the last spot!
Big Ten Mania!
Simulation No.: 281 CFP
Teams: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Alabama
Tired: two teams from the same conference in the playoff. Wired: three teams from the same conference in the playoff.
You think people are excited for an expanded playoff now? Just wait until you see non-Big Ten fans after this.
How do we get here?
Penn State lost to Minnesota but beat Michigan and Ohio State en route to a division and then conference title. Michigan finishes 11-1, only losing to Penn State. Ohio State finishes 10-2, only losing to the other two.
So how do the Buckeyes make it here?
Since Texas ends up as four-loss champion in the Big 12, it’s no threat. Oregon is a three-loss Pac-12 champion, also no threat. So it comes down to Ohio State, a fellow non-champion two-loss Georgia team and an ACC champion Clemson squad.
Why the Buckeyes?
Well their losses both came against other playoff teams, while Georgia lost to Kentucky and Clemson’s two losses came against Boston College and Miami. Because of that, the committee leaned toward Ohio State.
Pac-12 Double Up!
Simulation No.: 2803 CFP
Teams: Utah, USC, Alabama, Michigan
There are precisely 23 simulations where Utah and USC both earn a berth to the playoff, an absolute coup for the conference. Incredibly, this happens despite Utah losing to Oregon before going on to beat an otherwise undefeated USC in the Pac-12 title game.
So how do a two-loss conference champion Utah and one-loss non-champion USC both reach the playoff? Mayhem elsewhere. Texas is a three-loss Big 12 champion, Georgia is a two-loss non-champion and Clemson is a two-loss ACC champion.
Would a two-loss champion Clemson get in over a two-loss champion Utah? It might! But in simulation 2803 the committee was swayed by the Utes.
Sim No.: 12400
CFP Teams: Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio State
Turns out, the SEC can put three teams in the playoff too … and truthfully with a heck of a lot of combinations that are possible.
Here’s how we manage to get to this particular scenario: Kentucky — which currently has one loss — wins out and wins the SEC. Tennessee wins out except for its game against Kentucky, leaving it at 11-1 as a non-division champion. And that means the Volunteers beat Georgia, which also went on to lose to Kentucky in the SEC championship game.
The committee looked favorably on those SEC non-champions over the likes of a two-loss champion Clemson, a four-loss champion Texas (why does it feel like every scenario has a four-loss Big 12 champion Texas?!) and a two-loss champion Utah. Hey, the Bulldogs are defending champs — it could happen.
Oklahoma State in the CFP!
Sim No.: 833
CFP Teams: Oklahoma State, Penn State, Alabama, Clemson
Up until now, this exercise has been a pretty rough on the Big 12. But no longer!
Oklahoma State loses to Kansas — who hasn’t these days — but otherwise goes on a pretty excellent run to end up as 12-1 Big 12 champs. Is it enough for the CFP?
Clemson goes undefeated and Alabama loses twice but wins the SEC — they’re both in. Georgia loses twice, including to Mississippi State and is a non-champion. And then USC is a one-loss Pac-12 champion with a loss to Notre Dame.
So why not the Trojans? Well Oklahoma State’s strength of record was markedly better: A top 25 team would have had a 12% chance to go 12-1 against the Cowboys’ schedule, while that same team would have had a 25% chance to go 12-1 against USC’s. The committee sided with the Cowboys and put Oklahoma State in.
Lauren Poe contributed to this article.