The goal of the 2018 College Football Playoff projections is not to figure out where the teams will rank each week, but the team trajectories.
This college football page was last updated on December 1, 2018.
There are 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Realistically, well over 100 of them are already out of the conversation to win the college football national championship. The number of teams still alive dwindles week by week. Our objective is to look at those teams and their remaining games, then figure out where they will land when the dust settles.
This exercise will for certain be made easier when the first College Football Playoff rankings of 2018 are released, and guess what? That has started to happen, and those rankings are represented below. No matter, because we’re trying to figure out where the teams will land at the end.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Before We Begin…
Here is what we are using to determine what teams will finish the season in the top four:
- Their current ranking in the College Football playoff poll or otherwise.
- Their record so far.
- Their remaining schedule and, at minimum, a rudimentary probability of how likely they are to win their unplayed games.
- A comparison of the theorized resumes among the contending teams.
Please note, and underline it a few times, that these projections are subject to change. If a top five team loses in a huge upset to an unranked school, that will obviously carry a massive impact. To project where these teams finish, we’ll take into consideration the opponent, which team is likely to be favored, and metrics like the ESPN FPI on a game-by-game basis.
We are going to also set a few ground rules for determining the teams to evaluate (including some new rules for the October 21 and October 30th editions):
- For now, we will show the two-loss Power Five teams that are ranked. A two-loss Auburn might have made it in 2017, but we will never know because they lost the SEC Championship.
- Undefeated and one-loss Power Five teams will all be considered.
- Only undefeated Group of Five teams will be evaluated.
- If you are not ranked by now, you are not a contender. Only ranked teams are being considered now.
- Any team in excess of two losses should be considered as having been eliminated from contention, unless there are no undefeated teams remaining.
To see our predictions for the 2018 College Football Playoff, which are already worthless, click here.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Contending Teams Following Championship Week
|Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC)||CFP: 1st||13-0|
|Clemson Tigers (ACC)||CFP: 2nd||13-0|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Ind)||CFP: 3rd||12-0|
|Georgia Bulldogs (SEC)||CFP: 4th||11-2|
|Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12)||CFP: 5th||12-1|
|Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)||CFP: 6th||12-1|
|Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)||CFP: 7th||10-2|
|UCF Knights (AAC)||CFP: 8th||12-0|
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Final
|1||Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC)||13-0|
|2||Clemson Tigers (ACC)||13-0|
|3||Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Ind)||12-0|
|4||Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12)||12-1|
First Four Out
|5||Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)||12-1|
|6||Georgia Bulldogs (SEC)||11-2|
|7||UCF Knights (AAC)||12-0|
|8||Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)||10-2|
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Here’s Why, December 1
In hours, the College Football Playoff committee will announce the four teams in the field. Let’s address each of our top eight teams and why they are where they are.
1: Alabama. Like you need to ask why.
2: Clemson. Undefeated and a conference champion, so they deserve to be ahead of Notre Dame. Not as stellar a team as Alabama, so two it is.
3: Notre Dame. Undefeated with some respectable wins. Could get docked by the committee for lack of a “13th data point.” Lucky that they did not lose a game along the way.
4: Oklahoma. The best of the one-loss conference champions.
5: Ohio State. The second-best of the one-loss conference champions. Purdue is a big problem for them and will probably be the reason they do not get into the field.
6: Georgia. Simply put, Georgia, despite a valiant try against Alabama, lost, and will probably not be rewarded for losing when Oklahoma and Ohio State took care of their own business. A two-loss team has never made it, but the ones that were seriously considered WON THEIR CONFERENCES. Taking a 2-loss conference loser when there are two 1-loss Power 5 champions sitting there is preposterous and the committee is not going to do it.
7: UCF. Docked for being in the American. They should be proud to have made it this far.
8: Michigan. Blew it during “The Game.”
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: The Bottom Line, November 28
The committee is not going to leave Alabama out of the playoff, even if they lose to Georgia. This is why Oklahoma and Ohio State will be pulling for Alabama to get Georgia out of their way.
Do some out there still think that if Oklahoma and Ohio State post impressive title game wins that Notre Dame will be left out of the field? It will most likely not happen, but expect to hear a case be made if that’s what happens in the Big 12 and Big Ten, respectively.
We started this season with a few dozen teams that were undefeated or had one loss as contenders for the College Football Playoff. We are down to six legitimate contenders: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. One of these six will be the next national champion.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Here’s What They Need to Do, November 20
With only one or two games left for the contenders before bowl season begins, what might be of more value to you is telling you what each team must do to get into the playoff. This may involve what other rivals DON’T do, as many do not control their destiny.
Alabama: Win and in. They would probably even find a way as a 12-1 team that lost a close game to Georgia or Auburn.
Clemson: Win and in. Lose to South Carolina or Pitt and it becomes a very tricky proposition. No guarantee they make it in either of the latter scenarios.
Notre Dame: Win and in. Lose to USC and they are in big trouble, which would necessitate Michigan and Oklahoma losing to Ohio State and West Virginia at a minimum. The Irish could still back in if the teams around them collapse, but that’s a tall order. Score one for the “13th data point.”
Michigan: Win and in. A Michigan team that handles Ohio State and Northwestern to win the Big Ten probably does not drop out of the top four. They may even move up, depending on how Notre Dame plays against USC.
Georgia: Run the table, including beating Alabama in the SEC championship. The Bulldogs may find a way in under that scenario, but who do they leap? Unless they house Alabama, the Tide’s overall resume could still be better than Georgia’s. Does Big Ten champion Michigan fall out despite winning their conference? What happens to Notre Dame? This is one of the more interesting scenarios.
Oklahoma: Win out and hope that at least one of the five teams in front of you loses a game. Preferably two teams. They do not control their destiny and need help from a few places.
LSU: Even if they win their last game against Texas A&M, it’s highly unlikely that a two-loss, non-division champion makes it. Complete chaos would be required, as in the top teams ALL with at least one loss, and Georgia, Michigan, and Oklahoma finding a second loss.
Washington State: Win out and hope for a collapse of everyone else. At the very least, Michigan, Georgia, and Oklahoma all need to lose. 12-1 Washington State would pass 10-2 LSU but the rest of those all need to be 11-2.
UCF: Probably nothing the Knights can do. The sort of meltdown they would need, involving four or five of the top eight losing at least one more game, is possible but very improbable.
Ohio State: Should they go 12-1 and win the Big Ten, it depends on what the other teams in front have done. Should Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Washington State also win out, the Buckeyes have very little shot. They are probably not passing all of those teams with the same record (or 12-0 Notre Dame). Did Ohio State pass the eye test to you last Saturday? Dwayne Haskins did individually, but the Buckeyes as a whole did not. Purdue was a gigantic clunker and Maryland was one inaccurate pass away from being a disaster.
West Virginia: 100 percent done in the playoff hunt.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: The Bottom Line, November 13
The number of teams we consider to have any contention for the playoff whatsoever is down to 12. A few of those, like UCF and Syracuse, really have very little case so it’s more like 10.
With the top ten unchanged, it was a rare week of clarity with regards to the College Football Playoff. Unless you’re a fan of one of those teams, however, you want chaos. You did not get it last week.
If you’re expecting to be disappointed by Week 12, who can say, but it’s possible. Cincinnati at UCF means a signature win for one of those two schools. Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have cupcake games. Michigan, Washington, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Ohio State have winnable games, in some cases very winnable. West Virginia’s is a little tougher against Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame has a tough task against Syracuse.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Individual Team Outlooks, November 7
The following is the College Football Playoff outlook for each team considered to be in the race.
Alabama: As close to a lock as you can be with several games to go. At this point, a one-loss Alabama probably makes it into the field. The Tide have an air of invincibility.
Clemson: Very promising. Boston College may be their toughest game left, and even at that, they will be a strong favorite over another ranked opponent. The ACC Coastal is a pushover, meaning a 13-0, ACC champion Clemson gets in without any issue.
Notre Dame: They should win out, but that does not necessarily mean they will. Undefeated Notre Dame gets into the field. A one-loss Notre Dame will have trouble making it into the College Football Playoff. First, they would not and cannot be a conference champion, which is a priority point for the selection committee. Second, the variable in play is how good the teams below them are. 12-1 Michigan (Big Ten champ) probably jumps them despite the head-to-head loss; the committee has shown before head-to-head does not always matter. 12-1 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) would have a strong case. Georgia is can still repeat as SEC champions, and if they do so at 12-1, they’re probably in as well. The Irish control their destiny but can really muck it up with a loss.
Michigan: Looking good as of today, but their long-term prospects rely heavily on winning the Ohio State game. Lose that and it’s probably game over for the Maize and Blue. Aside from that, they will be favored the rest of the way, including the Big Ten title game. 12-1 Michigan gets into the playoff with how dominant they have looked in recent games.
Georgia: It’s not over yet for the Bulldogs at #5. The reality, however, is that they have to win out, including a defeat of Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Good luck with all that.
Oklahoma: The Sooners have a path to the College Football Playoff but do not control their own destiny. Oklahoma needs Notre Dame to lose a game and, ideally, Georgia or Michigan to pick up a second loss. If both of those things happen and Oklahoma wins out, they are most likely in the playoff.
LSU: The committee has them a little high; 8 or 9 would be more realistic. LSU got a reprieve dropping only four spots because it was against Alabama, but it was an atrocious offensive effort (again). The Tigers do have some impressive wins, but a two-loss, non-conference or division champion LSU is not getting in without several conferences collapsing in November. A one-loss, non-conference or division champion LSU might get in somehow, but not two losses. If you are thinking about how Auburn almost did it last year, they could have won the SEC. LSU no longer has that opportunity.
Washington State: Wazzu is having an amazing year but they lag behind some of the power brokers in the other major conferences. A 12-1 Washington State that wins the Pac-12 has an interesting case, but would need a fair amount of help. Crazier things have happened, but they have a hill to climb. The Pac-12 only has two ranked teams, which tells you that it’s down again.
West Virginia: Still have a case with one loss and their only defeat being at a (now-ranked) Iowa State. If anything hurts them, it would be the NC State game getting cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. You would rather be a 12-1 conference champion with an extra quality win than an 11-1 conference champion without it.
Ohio State: It’s still not clear what will happen to the Buckeyes, and won’t be until they settle matters with Michigan. The Purdue loss is a black eye that could haunt them into December. Yet, there is still a path for them to 12-1 and a Big Ten title. Ohio State is not out of the running and controls their destiny as far as winning the Big Ten, but not for making the College Football Playoff. They will need lots of help.
UCF: No realistic chance to make the College Football Playoff, even if they are undefeated. A more dominant team with a tougher Group of Five schedule would have a better shot. UCF is winning some ugly games and their schedule has not been very challenging.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Why Those Teams? October 30
We now have a rudimentary understanding of how the College Football Playoff committee sees things. We think we are being somewhat realistic projecting UCF in 8th in the final rankings as a 13-0 team, considering that to do that, they’d have had to beat Cincinnati, South Florida, and Houston, three decent teams, in a row. Eighth, however, is still not fourth. The number of things that would have to happen for them is mind-boggling. It is just as likely that they land at ninth or tenth.
Alabama and Clemson are as expected the top two teams. LSU probably wishes it wasn’t third, as the number three spot in the initial rankings are a harbinger of doom. Notre Dame sits at fourth and controls their destiny.
If Alabama beats LSU and Michigan wins out, the Maize and Blue will likely be in the playoff. That will means wins over Penn State and Ohio State, as well as a Big Ten championship. Now, if you’re Oklahoma, this might rankle you, but as much as you might not want to admit it, the committee DOES look at whose losses were “less bad.” Michigan’s only loss in that scenario would be a close defeat on the road at Notre Dame, which might be seen a little more favorably than the Red River Showdown for the Sooners. It is right now, anyway.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Why Those Teams? October 21
Ohio State’s loss put everything on its head in college football — and put their hated rivals, Michigan, in our CFP forecast. Remember, our objective here is not to tell you who would make the College Football Playoff if the season ended right now. It is to forecast the rest of the season, and THEN tell you who would make it based on current trajectory.
Alabama could probably lose a game and make it into the field. Clemson and Notre Dame solidified themselves; the Tigers through victory and the Irish by watching Ohio State lose. Michigan helped its case in significant fashion with their thorough victory over Michigan State.
Texas would be on the brink as a one-loss Big 12 champion. Georgia, as a two-loss non-champion, would have a lot of explaining to do. UCF sitting there at seventh is very intriguing, but the Knights need a lot more to go their way (like teams ahead of them starting to lose). Oklahoma would probably be in Texas’ slot if they won the Big 12 title and got to 12-1; still probably not in if Michigan continues to look good.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Why Those Teams? October 14
Though things did not look great for Notre Dame on the field on Saturday, they won, and some of the field cleared out for them. Georgia getting housed was the best news they got all day, and now they are in our projection as the fourth seed.
Determining that fourth seed was still tricky. We still project Texas as the Big 12 champion and Oregon enters the mix as our pick for Pac-12 champion. UCF, after their great escape on Saturday, looks like they are destined to go 13-0 again. Sad to say, you can discount the Knights unless everyone in FBS has losses, and even at that, probably not. The current system is not designed to help the Group of Five make the playoff save for a truly extraordinary sequence of events.
Georgia is not done yet, but they have to run the table. We do not have LSU up here because we suspect they will lose one more time (Alabama), and two losses probably won’t get you in this season, but we had to put a 13-0 UCF in front of them.
2018 College Football Playoff Projections: Why Those Teams? October 8
Alabama: Obviously. No explanation is required.
Ohio State: They look primed to run the table, and they’ll get there. Not above Alabama, but 13-0 and a Big Ten title locks them in for certain.
Clemson: Take the same thing we just said about Ohio State and apply to Clemson. They control their destiny.
Washington: This was tough, but 12-1 and a conference championship is probably better in the eyes of the committee than 12-1 and no championship (Georgia), though don’t tell that to Alabama. So, why not Texas, then? A 12-1 Texas that beat Oklahoma twice to win the Big 12 would have a strong case, but don’t put it beyond the CFP Committee to compare losses. Washington’s only loss in this scenario is to a ranked Auburn team. Texas lost at home to Maryland.
Notre Dame: Sitting at 11-1 with several undefeated teams ahead of them is going to put the Irish in a tough position. They do not have the so-called “13th data point” from a conference championship.
UCF: A team like UCF will not be considered for the College Football Playoff unless they are an undefeated 13-0 and all the Power 5 teams have at least one loss. Even then, it will be difficult. Hey, at least we suggested an eight-team playoff that gives the Group of Five a seat the table.