By: Edward Egros

Playoff

It's a Must Win for Alabama

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Let's suppose Oklahoma wins the Big 12 Championship, Ohio State wins the Big Ten, Clemson takes the ACC and, wait for it, wait for it, Georgia claims the SEC title. In other words, Alabama is the only team in the Top 6 to lose AND, aside from Notre Dame, the only team not to have a conference championship.

Seth Walder of ESPN says
Alabama would still make the College Football Playoff, per their Playoff Predictor. This metric offers a likelihood a team makes the playoff, given its resume, taking into account five variables: Strength of Record, Football Power Index, Number of Losses, Conference Championship and Independent Status. This model says Bama would have a 43% chance to make it, while Ohio State would have just a 37% shot and Oklahoma at 28%.

With all due respect to the model, the 6% difference is not large enough to feel comfortable about the prediction (confidence intervals and comparisons are not readily available). Also, if there are messages or lessons the committee is trying to teach college football fans, in 2015 we learned conference championships are hugely significant, unless that team suffered two losses, like 2016 when the two-loss Big Ten Champion Penn State Nittany Lions missed out to one-loss Ohio State, or 2017 when one-loss Alabama edged the two-loss Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

This year, if Alabama loses in this scenario, they would be compared with a one-loss Big 12 champion and a one-loss Big Ten winner for one available spot. Again, this is unlike last year when the committee compared Bama with a two-loss team. There are three teams instead of two to consider, and each have one loss.

If consistency is something to be strived for, and conference championships deserve added weight, and if
geographic diversity is still a consideration, then Alabama, despite everything accomplished this year, is in a "must win" game Saturday afternoon to make the College Football Playoff.

It May Seem Like Mayhem, But...

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Though a few schools decided to start the college football season one week early, the heavyweights, the blue chippers, the ones who are constantly atop any set of rankings you can find and are in contention for that trophy…begin this weekend.

As before, we can use parts of our
college football prediction model to determine who is likeliest to have the most talent and the most favorable schedule, including who has the toughest games at home and if the toughest games are on days with ample rest and preparation.

Using all of this information, my prediction for who will make this year's College Football Playoff are:

Alabama
Ohio State
USC
Florida State

Virtually every year, there is a surprise team sparingly chosen that charges from
outside the Top 10 to the Final Four. This year, I am picking two. First, while many say Washington will represent the West coast, I like USC because of more highly ranked sophomore and junior classes (per 247 Sports) and Washington begins the season in Auburn (a Top 10 team in many metrics including ours), while USC's toughest non-conference opponent is at Texas (not as strong as Auburn), and the Huskies are likelier to lose than the Trojans while USC still earns solid strength of schedule numbers. The Trojans also boast one of the better receiving corps which should help a true freshman quarterback in JT Daniels feel comfortable.

The other outsider is Florida State, edging a perennial contender in Clemson. Again, the Seminoles have more highly ranked second-year and third-year classes and Clemson plays at Florida State. Last season, the Seminoles were ranked third in the AP Preseason. You can make the argument: had they not lost starting
quarterback Deondre Francois for the season with an injured patella tendon in his left knee, they would have been in contention. The running game also carried that offense, and with Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick providing depth in the backfield, this offense should not be overlooked.

This playoff is entering its fifth season. Even though USC and Florida State are outside of the AP Top 10, the Seminoles have been in the playoff before, and the Trojans are the defending Pac-12 champions. It may seem like mayhem, but it's not.

Predicting the College Football Committee

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The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings are out and those conceivably in the running are:

1. Clemson
2. Auburn
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Alabama
6. Georgia
7. Miami
8. Ohio State

Before predicting how the playoff will develop, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, the College Football Playoff committee has
outlined some of the things they hope to accomplish picking the four teams. Among the most relevant items:

- Consider geography
- Avoid rematches in the regular-season
- Consider strength of schedule
- Consider conference championships won

It is also important some of the things the committee has never done in three years:

- Taken two teams from one conference
- Taken a two-loss team
- Taken three teams from the same region of the country

Using these guidelines, here is how the playoff will be decided:

- The winner of the ACC Championship between Clemson and Miami gets in, the loser is out.
- The winner of the SEC Championship between Georgia and Auburn gets in, the loser is out.
- Oklahoma gets in if they win the Big 12 Championship, TCU cannot get in.
- Wisconsin gets in if they win the Big Ten Championship. If Ohio State wins, they get in if TCU wins.
- Alabama gets in if Oklahoma loses OR Wisconsin loses.

It is impossible point differential matters in any of these league championship games (it is the committee, it is omnipotent). But chances are, we have our blueprint for who will compete for the national title in January.

Gary Patterson is the Most Hated Man in College Football

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(Courtesy: Getty Images)

It's not Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or some college football pundit who polarizes fan bases to insanity, just for that monthly paycheck.

It's TCU head coach Gary Patterson, who's led the program since 2000, including a pair of conference transitions and two New Year's Six Bowl victories. Despite few controversial issues within his program, Patterson earns this distinction because of who he is and where he works.

Who he is, is a winner. Perhaps most notable among his accomplishments, his teams are 43-5 when ranked in the Top 10. This record suggests the longevity of having played so many games near the top of the poll du jour, but also a near perfect winning percentage when expected to succeed.

Where he works is a small, private university with
roughly 10,000 students. To compare, this student body is 1/4 the size of Alabama's and roughly 1/5 the size of other highly touted college football schools like Penn State and Ohio State. Also, many of these schools are flagships of their own state, meaning their fan bases extend well beyond those who actually attend the university. Not only can't TCU boast being a flagship, it operates from a state with some of the larger followings in America like Texas and Texas A&M.

Gary Patterson is a successful coach who works for a small school with a smaller fan base trying to get his team into Year 4 of the College Football Playoff. He came close during the inaugural year of the playoff, but was pushed aside for: Ohio State (Baylor also finished ahead of TCU but was also left out, another small private university). Some will argue vindication for the eventual champion Buckeyes, but how TCU would have performed in the playoff that year remains a mystery, even more shrouded given its 39-point victory over 9th-ranked Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. The gripes only grow louder knowing TCU
controlled games better than Ohio State, had a better defensive efficiency (a metric that predicts success better than offensive efficiency) and the strength of schedule between the Frogs and Buckeyes were roughly the same.

TCU's lone loss that season was to Baylor, and committees historically rank good losses worse than mediocre defeats. The trend seems counterintuitive, but rhetorically serves as an acceptable argument within college football. Also, because the Frogs and Bears split the Big 12 Championship, despite the head-to-head result, they could have "canceled each other out", opening the door for Ohio State.

Still, the only other school with a successful season these last four years most like TCU is Stanford, with an
enrollment roughly 50% larger than the Frogs'. In 2015, they won the Pac-12 Championship, but two losses locked them out. The last two-loss team to win a National Championship was LSU in 2007, so opportunities for those in Stanford's position have always been limited.

Today, TCU is in a more advantageous position than three years ago. The latest College Football Playoff poll has TCU ranked 6th. They will face 5th-ranked Oklahoma and could face the Sooners again in a separate Big 12 Championship Game, something that did not exist during the TCU/Baylor controversy. The conference added this contest because their analytics suggest the game gives a Big 12 team
a greater likelihood of making the Final Four. Two wins over a highly ranked Sooners squad would give the Horned Frogs an undisputed league championship, something that is a statistically significant variable for making the playoff. Their strength of schedule ranking would also increase and defensive efficiency may also rise because a win would include containing Sooner quarterback and Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield.

Despite the lone loss, if TCU wins its remaining games, the Frogs' resume would be arguably as bulletproof as any one-loss team. The committee admits to wanting geographic diversity, but there would not be another program in that region of the country with a more attractive resume. If TCU is still left out, something should be considered amiss. Having a smaller following could be assumed as a factor for being left out. Gary Patterson would then spotlight a problem with this era of determining a National Champion: he has done virtually everything he can to put his team in a position to play for a title; and yet gets left out for a second year. A conspiracy theory, true or otherwise, that undermines the validity of the selection process, is something the sport and the committee would hate.