College Football Playoff Prediction From WhatIfSports.com image

Which school wins the College Football Playoff?

We construct a playoff with the four highest-ranked teams from the AP Top 25 poll

WhatIfSports.com
August 27, 2014

The much-anticipated era of the College Football Playoff has arrived. Following the season, four schools will be selected by a 13-person committee to compete for the coveted and creatively-named College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy.

The College Football Playoff likely won't eliminate debate this fall. Rather than discuss the championship game merits of the country's third and fourth-best teams, pundits will simply move down the line and argue the candidacy of the fifth and sixth-best teams for inclusion in the playoff. Last year, for example, the probable playoff field would have been Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State, the top four teams in the final BCS standings. But many would have supported the inclusion of 11-2 Stanford or 11-1 Baylor over Alabama, which had just fallen to Auburn in the SEC Championship.

While not a case-closed determination of college football's best team, a playoff does take us one step closer to accurately and fairly ordaining the best team in the land, and, perhaps more importantly, it adds a couple must-watch games to the calendar.

A season of anticipation is too much for our college football simulation engine to bear, so it's taken the liberty of "playing" the College Football Playoff in advance. Using the top four teams from the AP Preseason Top 25, we simulated each matchup 1,001 times.

Semifinal I: Oklahoma vs. Florida State

Our first semifinal matchup pits the preseason No. 4-ranked Sooners against the defending national champions, the No. 1-ranked Seminoles.

Oklahoma may have parlayed its Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama into preseason hype, but the Sooners are the real deal. In 15 years at the helm, Bob Stoops has led Oklahoma to 10 or more wins on 12 occasions. A national title has eluded the Sooners since 2000, however. Quarterback Trevor Knight is tasked with navigating his team through the Big 12 and into the College Football Playoff. He may shoulder more than his fair share of the offensive load with Oklahoma lacking experience at running back and without highly ranked freshman Joe Mixon.

Most of the key components of Florida State's high-powered offense return. Provided you have a pulse, you're well aware the Seminoles bring back Jameis Winston at quarterback. Top targets Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary also return, along with running back Karlos Williams and much of the offensive line. Defensively, the Seminoles lost a bit more, including coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. However, Jimbo Fisher's squad has the talent to reload.

Our prediction engine gives the Seminoles the nod, with Florida State coming out on top 64.5 percent of the time, outscoring the Sooners 28.9-23.8. Florida State advances to the championship while Stoops has another team that falls just short.

Semifinal I: Oklahoma vs. Florida State
MatchupWin%Avg. Score
Oklahoma Sooners35.523.8
vs. Florida State Seminoles64.528.9

Semifinal II: Oregon vs. Alabama

In the second semifinal, the AP's preseason No. 3 Oregon Ducks and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide square off.

The Oregon offense kept humming in 2013 despite the departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL. Under Mark Helfrich's leadership, the Ducks averaged 45.5 points per game, tied for third-most in the country. With Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota at the helm, 2014 should bring more of the same. A few roadblocks will attempt to derail the Ducks' championship quest though, most notably games against Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford.

Alabama will be a perennial favorite to participate in the College Football Playoff, so long as Nick Saban is at the helm. The Crimson Tide looked suddenly human following a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma to end the 2013 season, but they've still won 72 games and three BCS championships since 2008. Alabama's defense will again be among the nation's best in 2014, but a new quarterback - Blake Sims or Jacob Coker - will have big shoes to fill with the graduation of A.J. McCarron. Receiver Amari Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon will ease the transition for the new signal caller.

Despite the diverse playing styles, Oregon and Alabama proved evenly matched foes in our simulation. Saban and the Crimson Tide edged Helfrich's Ducks 54.2 percent of the time to advance to the College Football Playoff championship game.

Semifinal II: Oregon vs. Alabama
MatchupWin%Avg. Score
Oregon Ducks45.823.3
vs. Alabama Crimson Tide54.224.8

Championship: Alabama vs. Florida State

If our prediction holds true, few will be surprised by an Alabama-Florida State championship tilt. The two schools have combined to win the last three national championships and both programs are finely tuned machines, on the recruiting trail and on the field.

Winston versus the Tide defense makes for a compelling matchup. Our simulation engine is banking on Winston to prevail. In 1,001 simulations, the Seminoles won 62.2 percent of the time, averaging 26.7 points per game to the Tide's 23.1 points.

Championship: Alabama vs. Florida State
MatchupWin%Avg. Score
Alabama Crimson Tide37.823.1
vs. Florida State Seminoles62.226.7
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Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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