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College football playoff projections: Washington Huskies are probably done

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 finals.

The Pac-12 has had better weekends. Washington, this year’s flagship program for the West, dropped a hard-fought game against Auburn in the closest thing week 1 had to a must-win contest. Nevermind that either team could have walked away the winner, the narrative is a simple one: SEC No. 3 beats Pac-12 No. 1. Stereotype fulfilled.

Could the Huskies recover and still make the College Football Playoff? Sure, anything is possible with 13 weeks of college football to play. But they’ll likely need to run the table, which is unlikely. Our model gives that a likelihood of just 15 percent. And even then, they’re not guaranteed to get in (a 73-percent chance if they win all their remaining games). They’ll need the rest of the conference to looks respectable, but unfortunately, their compatriots have not yet received that memo.

Chip Kelly debuted at UCLA by dropping a game to 14-point underdog Cincinnati. Arizona, led by Heisman hopeful Khalil Tate, lost as an 11.5-point favorite to BYU. And though it shouldn’t matter that bottom-drawer Oregon State was shellacked by Ohio State, it doesn’t help.

Post-Week 1 playoff projection

Team MP Rank E(Ws) E(Ls) P(L<2) Win Conf Playoff
Alabama 30.6 1 11.2 0.9 70% 46% 62%
Clemson 25.0 4 10.7 1.3 56% 56% 51%
Oklahoma 24.5 5 10.8 1.2 58% 59% 51%
Ohio State 26.1 3 10.7 1.3 58% 46% 49%
Georgia 26.8 2 10.7 1.3 46% 33% 42%
Notre Dame 18.7 9 9.7 2.3 35% 18%
Auburn 22.6 6 9.4 2.6 17% 9% 17%
Washington 19.3 8 9.3 2.7 15% 39% 13%
Virginia Tech 16.7 11 9.7 2.3 22% 19% 13%
Michigan 19.6 7 8.5 3.5 6% 14% 9%
Penn State 15.2 13 8.6 3.4 11% 8% 7%
Wisconsin 15.2 14 9.2 2.8 12% 16% 7%
Michigan State 14.6 16 8.4 3.6 10% 8% 7%
USC 12.3 19 8.2 3.8 7% 21% 5%
LSU 17.1 10 8 4 4% 3% 5%

There just aren’t that many chances for the conference to improve perceptions. USC’s Week 3 matchup against Texas lost some luster when Maryland tripped the Longhorns in their opener. Oregon has the easiest schedule in the Power 5, with a nonconference slate of Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State.

Stanford and USC do have rivalry games against Notre Dame, but this is probably not the year to change national perceptions by playing the Irish. At this point we expect Stanford (24 percent) and USC (39 percent) to be underdogs in those games.

All of this combines to leave the Pac-12 on track to miss the playoff for the second year in a row. Preseason we had the conference with a 41 percent chance to make the playoff, the lowest of the Power 5 conferences. After the weekend we have it down to 29 percent, far below even the Big 12 (60 percent). With three (!) strong contenders in the SEC and a resurgent Notre Dame, the competition for those spots has never looked more daunting.

Conf Make Playoff Multiple Tms
SEC 96.3% 36.7%
Big Ten 75.3% 5.7%
ACC 71.1% 4.5%
Big 12 60.9% 0.8%
Pac 12 28.7% 0.2%

Crazier things have happened over the course of a college football season, and it’s ridiculously early. Our simulation shows Washington (13 percent), USC (5 percent), Oregon (4 percent) and Stanford (3 percent) all among the Top 25 most likely teams to make the playoff, but none are in the top tier. The cleanest shot they have is if USC runs the table, knocking off Texas and Notre Dame in nonconference games and an 11-1 Washington or Oregon in the Pac-12 championship.

Was it unwise for Washington to play the Auburn game, given how bleak their prospects look now? Arguably the Pac-12 needs to play those games to build respect. Their nonconference slates are embarrassingly bad — it’s possible the Huskies couldn’t get there any other way. The more general answer is that the need for those games depends on a team’s position. While Washington probably needs to roll the dice, teams like Auburn and Michigan ought to be playing it safe. Your resume doesn’t need bolstering when it already includes multiple Top 10 teams. But hey, it makes great TV, so we’re not complaining. And the Tigers could be thankful when the playoff committee is deliberating over a second SEC team in November.

It’s good to remember that teams are rarely as good, or as bad, as they look in Week 1. This is the moment in the college football calendar most prone to overreaction. The Pac-12’s playoff hill is a little steeper after last weekend. And the SEC is, indeed, borderline terrifying. But this is college football, and it’s September. Virginia Tech might take this thing yet … even with a 1.6 percent chance.

The top Week 2 playoff-impact games

Favorite Underdog Pred Diff Win Prob
Clemson @ Texas A&M 10.7 78%
@ Stanford USC 1.7 55%
Michigan State @ Arizona State 3.9 61%
Penn State @ Pittsburgh 7.2 70%
@ Florida Kentucky 9.8 76%

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