It was a quiet weekend for the college football playoff picture. The selection committee’s top five teams — Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Georgia — all won convincingly. With the exception of Oklahoma, which eked out a win over Oklahoma State, so too did every other one-loss hopeful.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, let’s take a look at each Power Five conference, and how we see the conference championship races playing out.
Big Ten (Michigan 63.6%, Ohio State 27.1%, Northwestern 9.3%)
We didn’t see Northwestern coming, but then again, who did? The four-loss Wildcats wrapped up the Big Ten West with a four-point win at Iowa, their fourth conference win by four or fewer points.
Michigan can wrap up the East next week with a win against Indiana coupled with an Ohio State loss to Maryland, but more than likely, the division comes down to Michigan’s Nov. 24 trip to Columbus. We make the Wolverines a 4.6-point road favorite in that rivalry game. Whoever happens to win will be a prohibitive favorite to win the conference title game against Northwestern (Ohio State 89 percent, Michigan 93 percent).
Pac-12 (Washington 37.7%, Utah 33.6%, Wash St 19.4%, Arizona St 8.4%, Arizona 0.9%)
While the Pac-12 has only a one percent chance of crashing the playoff party, the conference race is still interesting. In the North, it’s a two-horse race between Washington and Washington State, which will come down to the Apple Cup in Pullman. Washington winning would be an upset in name only; despite their three losses, the Huskies are a superior team and we tab them as a 4.5-point favorite.
The South is considerably more chaotic. Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State have three conference losses apiece, but the Utes are the favorites here (71 percent). Arizona State is the only team controlling its own destiny (by virtue of its win over Utah), but the Sun Devils face two tough road games at Oregon (38 percent) and Arizona (46 percent). Arizona needs a prayer. They need to win in Pullman on Saturday (25 percent), beat Arizona State (54 percent), and a Utah loss to Colorado (20 percent).
Big 12 (Oklahoma 56.8%, West Virginia 24.7%, Texas 12.4%, Iowa State 6.1%)
The Big 12 is the most interesting race in the country. Oklahoma and West Virginia both won last weekend, but the gap between the two schools narrowed considerably.
The Sooners and Mountaineers control their own destinies, and each has a chance to wrap up a spot in the championship game this week. Both schools will be very interested in the Texas-Iowa State outcome.
● If Texas beats Iowa State (64 percent), West Virginia needs to win only one of two games to make the title game.
● If Iowa State beats Texas (36 percent), Oklahoma needs only one win to make it.
● Texas needs to win out and have Oklahoma lose to West Virginia.
● Iowa State needs to win out and have West Virginia lose to Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is still the favorite to win the Big 12 (56 percent), but the Sooners' chances are the lowest they’ve been in weeks. Right now they would be just a ~5-point favorite in Morgantown to close the regular season.
ACC (Clemson 94.9%, Pitt 4.9%, Virginia 0.2%)
Clemson locked up the ACC Coastal title with another dominating performance. The 27-7 final doesn’t begin to tell the story; Clemson’s defense was as physical and stifling as it has been this season, holding Boston College to 113 total yards. Were it not for a first-quarter punt return touchdown, Clemson would have pitched a shutout.
Pittsburgh has been a big surprise on the Atlantic side. After a 2-3 start, the Panthers have won five straight, and last Saturday’s 30-point win over Virginia Tech graded as our No. 5 performance of the weekend. As long as Pitt wins one of its last two games or Virginia loses one of its last two, Pitt will earn the privilege of getting blown out by Clemson in the ACC championship game. We would make the Panthers a 25-point underdog.
SEC (Alabama 73.4%, Georgia 26.6%)
Alabama and Georgia have clinched their respective divisions so the next two weeks matter only for playoff purposes. We think the SEC title game will be more competitive than most do, giving Georgia a 27 percent chance of knocking off Alabama.
While the top of the polls have been steady-to-the-point-of-boring this season, there is still some intrigue on the way to the title game, and around the edges. Tight conference races in both the Big Ten and Big 12 have playoff implications. The SEC will give us yet another monster title game and one of few real tests for the Crimson Tide. The Apple Cup is setting up to be a classic. And of course everyone’s waiting to see whether Notre Dame can roll into the postseason undefeated. Lots to enjoy in the season’s final few weeks.
Cade Massey (a Wharton professor) and Rufus Peabody (a professional sports bettor) are co-founders of Massey-Peabody Analytics, which produces proprietary quantitative college football ratings. Each week, they simulate the rest of the college football season and the playoff committee’s selection process 20,000 times and explore some of the most interesting outcomes.