Annotated predictions for week 13 of college football

I thought I would try something different this week.

With cupcake Saturday in the SEC, college football lacks many marquee games with playoff implications. One of the best games, Kansas State at West Virginia, happened last night (Kansas State won by 6).

Instead of writing previews of big games, I’m offering one sentence on a wide number of games. This is partially inspired Vox sentences, which has actually enticed me to follow the news.

The numbers below are based on the ensemble predictions that aggregate a number of different predictions. The team rankings based predictions are one of many factors that go into the ensemble.

I expect these ensemble predictions, which are available to members, to be more accurate than the team rankings based predictions.

Mississippi over Arkansas by 5.4

Arkansas might be 5-5, but they’re currently 14th in the team rankings (6th of 7 SEC West teams).

Michigan over Maryland by 4.3

The predicted margin of victory for Michigan should probably be bigger with the injury to Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs, their best player.

Stanford over California by 7.4

I don’t blame others for forecasting the end of Stanford’s golden era, but the Cardinal still have the nation’s top defense by adjusted yards per play.

UCLA over USC by 6.2

UCLA finishes the season against rivals USC and Stanford, and one more loss makes me 4-0 in my preseason win total predictions.

Tennessee over Missouri by 1.7

Missouri, which has a 30% chance to win their two remaining games and win the SEC East, some how features the 4th defense but 72nd offense in my yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule.

Notre Dame over Louisville by 4.9

Notre Dame has the 27th and 29th ranked offense and defense respectively, not much different from when I predicted the Fighting Irish wouldn’t make the college football playoff before the Florida State game.

Utah over Arizona by 4.4

Arizona has an 8-2 record but a 5-1 record in games decided by less than a touchdown, a statistic that strongly regresses to the mean in college football.

Wisconsin over Iowa by 11.8

Melvin Gordon gets all the headlines, but Wisconsin has the 5th ranked defense by adjusted yards per play after losing their entire front seven from last season.

Nebraska over Minnesota by 10.2

Nebraska’s defense dropped from 24th to 38th after Wisconsin gashed them for 9.8 yards per play last weekend.

Florida State over Boston College by 16.8

While my prediction that Notre Dame wouldn’t make the college football playoff looks good, I also predicted the same for Florida State. Oh well.

Predicting the college football playoff after week 13

Screen shot 2014-11-19 at 9.52.14 AMWhich teams will make the college football playoff? How certain are we about these probabilities?

Each week at Bleacher Report, I publish my playoff probabilities and write about the story behind the numbers. Last week, the article had over 159,000 visits and 459 comments.

This week, we explore the following story lines around the college football playoff.

  • How did Mississippi State’s odd increase after losing to Alabama?
  • What is the probability that a two loss team makes the playoff?
  • Can Ohio State climb from obscurity into the top 4 by season’s end? We evaluate their prospects in the Big Ten championship game.

To play with the visual and read the article, click here.

Interview with Armen Williams and Levack on 104.5 The Team

Armen Williams and Levack from 104.5 The Team (ESPN Radio in Albany, NY) interviewed me yesterday. We talk about college football, the playoff and all the big games for week 12 of the 2014 season.

It was a blast. On some interviews, I only talk with the hosts during the interview. Even though they were running late, Armen and Levack took time to chat with me before the interview.

And no one else has asked me whether I could beat Andrew Luck at Jeopardy.

You can also listen to the interview on Youtube.

How the SEC impacts the college football playoff in 2014

sec_west_week11_2014After week 11 of the college football season, the selection committee for the playoff has only one SEC team in its top 4. Undefeated Mississippi State tops the rankings, but TCU jumped over Alabama for the 4th and last playoff spot.

Is the strength of the SEC finally catching up with the conference? After week 11, four of the top six teams in my team rankings hail from the SEC West. All 7 teams are in the top 20. As these teams beat each other up, it seems doubtful any team will have few enough losses to make the playoff.

However, the numbers suggest the SEC will most likely get 2 teams in the playoff. Let me explain.

Mississippi State at Alabama

Mississippi State has enjoyed a magical season in which they remain undefeated and QB Dak Prescott has shot up the Heisman polls. However, life gets more difficult as they travel to Alabama this weekend.

Alabama looks like the most balanced team in the nation. I rank offense and defense by taking yards per play and adjusting for schedule. Alabama has the 7th and 2nd ranked offense and defense respectively. Miami, a team discussed later, is the only other team with two top 10 units.

In contrast, Mississippi State has the 9th ranked offense but the 37th ranked defense. Quarterback Blake Sims and the Alabama offense should get their points against this defense.

In The Power Rank’s ensemble predictions, which aggregate a number of predictors, Alabama is an 11 point favorite to beat Mississippi State. The markets started by favoring Alabama by 7, but this spread jumped to 9.5.

The glory of not playing in the SEC championship game

However, a Mississippi State loss does not eliminate them from the college football playoff. They could still win the SEC West since Alabama must play a tough Auburn team in two weeks. Overall, Mississippi State has a 34.9% chance to win the SEC West.


But Mississippi State doesn’t have to win the SEC West. If they lose to Alabama, they will drop in the committee rankings but perhaps not too far. Remember, this would be their first loss, and the committee might keep them in the top 4.

If Mississippi State wins their remaining games but finishes 2nd to Alabama in the West, they won’t play in the SEC championship game. But this is a good thing. The selection committee drops teams after a loss, just like the polls. This means it’s bad to lose late in the season. Mississippi State can’t lose the last week of the season if they don’t play.

We saw this type of phenomena in the BCS era. In 2011, Alabama lost to LSU during the regular season and finished 2nd in the SEC West. They stayed at home the last week of the season but earned the second spot in the national title game over Oklahoma State.

Auburn at Georgia

The SEC East could also have huge implications for the selection committee. This weekend, Auburn travels to Athens for a game against Georgia. Both teams feature high powered offenses that should score plenty of points.

Georgia gets running back Todd Gurley back for the game. This is one factor that drove the markets to open with Georgia as a 2.5 point favorite.

However, you have to wonder how much impact Gurley will have when his backup Nick Chubb has averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Our ensemble predictions give Auburn a slim 0.5 point edge on the road.

Despite trailing Missouri in the SEC East standings, Georgia (7-2, 5-2 SEC) has a 49.4% chance to win the division. This probability will only go up if they beat Auburn in their last SEC game. Missouri (7-2, 4-1 SEC) still has 3 conference games, two against tough SEC West opponents (Texas A&M and Arkansas).


If Georgia wins the East, they will most likely be a significant underdog in the SEC championship game. However, Georgia almost certainly makes the playoff if they win the game. The current 15th ranked team in the committee rankings would have earned a top 4 spot, which will make it even more impossible for the committee to determine the top 4 teams.

Ensemble predictions

Here are a sample of the ensemble predictions I’ve been working on with Mike Craig, my partner in the prediction service.

The first number gives a predicted point spread, and a negative number implies a win for the home team. The second number is the total points scored.

Florida State at Miami (FL): -2.1, 59.1.

Nebraska at Wisconsin: -6.6, 54.9.

Michigan State at Maryland: 8.0, 55.3.

Rice at Marshall: -22.2, 63.5.

Indiana at Rutgers: -7.1, 60.5.

Memphis at Tulane: 10.6, 45.6.

Akron at Buffalo: 4.2, 54.9.

Missouri at Texas A&M: -7.2, 56.2.

Toledo at Northern Illinois: -1.0, 64.9.

San Diego State at Boise State: -15.6, 53.2.

Virginia Tech at Duke: -3.5, 45.4.

Texas at Oklahoma State: -0.9, 45.7.

Wake Forest at North Carolina State: -16.8, 43.4.

Mississippi State at Alabama: -11.0, 55.7.

Temple at Penn State: -13.3, 38.8.

Auburn at Georgia: 0.5, 66.7.

Ball State at Massachusetts: -2.4, 60.4.

Miami (OH) at Central Michigan: -11.6, 49.3.

Southern Miss at UTSA: -8.3, 47.4.

North Texas at UTEP: -1.2, 51.2.

All of these math predictions are available to members of The Power Rank.

Predicting the college football playoff after week 11

College football playoff prediction after week 11My latest projections for the likelihood that each team makes the college football playoff are up on Bleacher Report.

Each week, I take the latest committee rankings and simulate the remainder of the season. The method uses analytics to determine a win probability for each game and captures potential match ups in conference championship games. To read more on my methods, click here.

Over on Bleacher Report, I also provide analysis on the results. Here are the 5 hot topics of the week.

  • Alabama is still your SEC favorite
  • Ohio State shows the power of an upset
  • The pool of Contenders is shrinking
  • The lack of a Big 12 championship game is a huge advantage
  • Pac-12 bias on the committee

To read the article, click here.