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An ESPN Stats Comparison Between Big and Small Brand CFP Chances

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin

Back in 2014 everyone remembers the controversy of the fourth playoff spot, whether it would be TCU, Baylor, or Ohio State. While TCU was ranked No. 3 with their only loss being a three-point road loss to Baylor, they defeated Iowa State 55-3 and fell to No. 6. For Baylor they went 11-1, beat TCU, and only suffered a loss to West Virginia in Morgantown. A game that TCU barely avoided a loss in, and a West Virginia team that only fell to Alabama by 10. By contrast Ohio State lost by 14 to a 6-6 Virginia Tech team, and got the nod. 

Now the committee was validated when Ohio State went on to win it all, and as a Texas Tech guy, it’s not in my nature to defend Baylor or TCU. But one has to wonder if Oklahoma or Texas had that resume, do they get in?

 

First off, this idea came to mind when I started playing around on ESPN’s College Football Playoff predictor. ESPN essentially runs the College Football Playoff, so while by no means binding the results it spat out were certainly interesting. Only one new Big 12 school was included in this, that being Oklahoma State, so that’s who I used for examples, Oklahoma, and Texas were included so I used similar paths to compare, assuming they’d have similar resumes. Here’s some of what I found. 

Oklahoma State

  • 13-0, Big 12 title, nets a 91% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, Big 12 title, (loss at OU) nets a 58% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No Big 12 title, nets a 30% chance of making the CFP

Oklahoma

  • 13-0, Big 12 title, nets a 97% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, Big 12 title, (loss at home to OSU) nets a 80% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No Big 12 title, nets a 57% chance of making the CFP

Texas

  • 13-0, Big 12 title, nets a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, Big 12 title, (loss at home to Alabama) nets a 88% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No Big 12 title, nets a 77% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, No Big 12 title, (loss at home to Alabama) nets a 25% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, Big 12 Title, (losses to OU and Alabama) nets a 50% chance of making the CFP
 

The first thing here is Texas is a difficult comparison because their non-conference game with Alabama skews things, but, notably, an 11-2 Texas team with a Big 12 title is up 20 points to make the CFP, over a 12-1 Oklahoma State team without a Big 12 title. 

Going line by line in this comparison there will be three scenarios I compare 13-0, with a Big 12 title, 12-1 Big 12 title, and a 12-1 without a Big 12 title. 

Starting first between Texas and Oklahoma State:

  1. Texas up 8 percentage points
  2. Texas up 30 percentage points
  3. Texas up 47 percentage points

Again this is skewed some because of the Alabama game, but still, those are some shocking margins. A much better comparison is between Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, Oklahoma plays at Nebraska, and Oklahoma State plays at Arizona State in the nonconference, it’s really difficult after last week (which this calculator was released after) that Oklahoma has a tougher nonconference schedule.

Going through Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, with the same three scenarios:

  1. Oklahoma up 6 percentage points
  2. Oklahoma up 22 percentage points
  3. Oklahoma up 27 percentage points

This gap is pretty alarming, especially when you consider both teams would have equivalent resumes, and if what we’re told is true that OU is far better in FPI terms, then that should in theory give Oklahoma State a better resume. But according to ESPN “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” own statistics, they have a significantly lower chance of making the playoffs than Oklahoma., despite a stronger or equal resume

While this certainly is alarming, I went deeper than just similar resume Big 12 comparisons. I looked at Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson as well. Here’s the results. (Bringing Oklahoma State’s down again for context)

 

Oklahoma State

  • 13-0, Big 12 title, nets a 91% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, Big 12 title, (loss at OU) nets a 58% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No Big 12 title, nets a 30% chance of making the CFP

Alabama

  • 13-0, SEC title, nets over a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, SEC title, (loss at Texas) nets a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No SEC title, nets a 93% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, SEC title, (loss at Texas) nets a 69% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, SEC title (losses @ UT, and LSU) nets a 92% chance of making the CFP
  • 10-3, no SEC title (losses @ Ole Miss, and LSU) nets a 36% chance of making the CFP

Ohio State

  • 13-0, Big Ten title, nets over a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, Big Ten title, (loss at home to Notre Dame) nets a 96% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No Big Ten title, nets a 92% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, No Big Ten title, (home loss to Notre Dame) nets a 47% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, Big Ten title, (losses to ND, and MSU) nets a 72% chance of making the CFP

Notre Dame

  • 12-0, nets over a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-1, (loss to Ohio State), nets a 95% chance of making the CFP
  • 10-2, (losses to Ohio State, and NC), nets a 63% chance of making the CFP
  • 10-2, (losses to Ohio State, and Clemson), nets a 54% chance of making the CFP

Clemson

  • 13-0, ACC title, nets over a 99% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, ACC title, (loss to Notre Dame) nets a 91% chance of making the CFP
  • 12-1, No ACC title, nets a 79% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, No ACC title, (loss to Notre Dame) nets a 25% chance of making the CFP
  • 11-2, ACC title, (losses to ND, and FSU) nets a 51% chance of making the CFP

Some key points that stuck out to me here:

  • 10-3 Alabama has a 6 point better chance of getting in than a 12-1 Oklahoma State
  • 12-1 Alabama with no conference title is up 61 points over a similar Oklahoma State
  • 12-1 Ohio State with no conference title is up 62 points over a similar Oklahoma State
  • 11-2 Ohio State with no conference title is up 17 points over a 12-1 non Big 12 title Oklahoma State
  • 10-2 Notre Dame is up 33 points on a 12-1 Oklahoma State with no Big 12 title
  • 12-1 Clemson with no conference title is up 49 points on the same Oklahoma State
  • 11-2 Clemson with the ACC title is just 7 points behind an 12-1 Oklahoma State that wins the Big 12

If you consider a 25% chance as a viable possibility of making the Playoffs here’s how many different scenarios each team has of making the CFP:

  • Oklahoma State: 3
  • Alabama: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Notre Dame: 4
  • Clemson: 5

Three of the four blue bloods featured have at least two more viable scenarios, (record and conference title) than Oklahoma State. Notre Dame without the 13th game, which was used to leave out TCU and Baylor in 2014, still has an extra viable scenario.

Now, I wish I could’ve compared Baylor as well, but ESPN doesn’t have them amongst the 16 most likely to make the Playoffs, behind the likes of Penn State, Auburn, and LSU. When Cincinnati opened at No. 6 in the initial CFP ranking last year behind three one-loss teams, despite beating Notre Dame. That wasn’t a mistake, it was a message to prepare for the smaller schools to be left out. We knew this was going on back in 2014, and these statistics from ESPN, just reinforce it. 

A question has to be asked, is this Playoff under ESPN, about getting the best or most deserving four teams, or is it about getting the biggest money matchups? ESPN’s statistics and projections suggest the latter.

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