We’re headed into Week 7 of college football, and the playoff race just got a tad more interesting. Not only is there a newcomer to the top four teams with the best chances of making the College Football Playoff, according to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor formula, but there’s a new standalone No. 1 — and it’s not Alabama.
Going into Week 6, the top four teams had remained the same from the previous week — Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia — but their playoff chances had been jumbled around.
The Buckeyes had jumped up to tie the Crimson Tide for the No. 1 most likely team to make the playoffs, and now, Ohio State is the lone top team. And, Notre Dame finally made a move too.
So six weeks into the season, here are the top four teams with the best playoff chances, per ESPN’s Playoff Predictor algorithm.
1. Ohio State (6-0)
Playoff: 74 percent
Championship game: 41 percent
Win championship: 21 percent
T-2. Alabama (6-0)
Playoff: 72 percent
Championship game: 46 percent
Win championship: 27 percent
T-2. Clemson (6-0)
Playoff: 72 percent
Championship game: 38 percent
Win championship: 19 percent
4. Notre Dame (6-0)
Playoff: 62 percent
Championship game: 23 percent
Win championship: 8 percent
With a hardly surprising W over Indiana, Ohio State broke its previous tie with Alabama and is alone at No. 1 on this list.
The Buckeyes’ two most notable wins so far were over then-No. 15 TCU and then-No. 9 Penn State, while their remaining October schedule shouldn’t be a problem and includes a bye week. They could face potential upsets against Big Ten East foes Michigan State and Michigan in November, but they look pretty unstoppable right now.
Last week, Ohio State had a 75 percent chance to make the playoff, so even though that number dropped slightly, it’s still better than the Crimson Tide’s. Its shot at the championship game and winning it all also dropped from 45 percent and 23 percent respectively, and it’s worth noting even though its playoff chances are at the top, Alabama is still the favorite for the title game and defending its national championship.
The Crimson Tide wrecked Arkansas on Saturday with ease, and they don’t face their second ranked opponent of the season — after beating then-No. 22 Texas A&M — until No. 13 LSU in November. As other teams make a push to join the top four, it makes sense that Alabama’s chances are dropping, but their numbers are hardly bad. Along with their likelihood of making the playoff barely dipping from 75 percent last week, their chances of making the championship game and winning it all also fell from 51 percent and 32 percent.
But Alabama is still in a tie on ESPN’s Playoff Predictor list, but this week it’s with Clemson, which put up a 60-point victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.
The Tigers are headed toward a bye week and face their only ranked opponent — at this point — in No. 20 NC State on October 20. After escaping a back-to-back upset attempt from Syracuse two weeks ago, Dabo Swinney’s team looks like it can cruise to an undefeated regular season, which obviously helps its playoff argument. However, its weak ACC schedule could threaten its chances if a bubble team makes a move later in the season.
Welcome to the party, Fighting Irish. Notre Dame remains undefeated after taking down then-No. 24 Virginia Tech — its second ranked opponent in as many weeks after blowing out then-No. 7 Stanford. Brian Kelly’s team now has wins over three top-25 teams this season after opening the year with a victory over then-No. 14 Michigan, and there’s a good chance the Fighting Irish will be able to hold onto their perfect record.
They probably won’t face any more ranked teams this year, so wins over their only top-25 opponents was a must for a shot at the playoff — especially because they don’t have a conference championship or title game to help bolster their argument. Up next for Notre Dame is Pitt, followed by Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and USC.
If it can escape any upset bids, you’re looking at an undefeated squad come December.
As ESPN has previously explained, the Playoff Predictor formula is based on a team’s strength of record, losses, conference championships, independent status (because of Notre Dame) and the Football Power Index (FPI) — which gauges how well teams are playing based on expectations, or, basically how good each team is. It also considers how the selection committee has acted in the last four years when faced with similar predicaments.
With Notre Dame in, that means Georgia (6-0) is out. The Bulldogs were No. 4 on the list last week and haven’t been excluded from the top four since after Week 1. What’s interesting, however, is that their playoff chances increased from last week, but just not as much as Notre Dame’s. Their likelihood of making the playoff is up to 55 percent from 52 percent after Week 5, and the same goes for their 30 percent chance of making the title game (up from 27 percent last week) and 15 percent of winning a championship (14 percent last week).
Outside of the top four and Georgia, we now have the biggest dropoff in playoff chances so far this season. Penn State is No. 6 with a 14 percent chance, Oklahoma and Washington are tied at No. 7 with a 12 percent chance and Michigan is No. 9 with an 11 percent chance. Everyone else on ESPN Analytics’ top 25 list has single-digit chances.