Normally in this space, we examine all the things a certain contending team needs to have happen over the rest of the season in order to make the College Football Playoff. But at this stage of the calendar, every single week has a huge effect on the playoff picture. So to change things up a bit, this week we’ll be focusing on the most important games of the upcoming weekend, based on how much they project to swing the odds in our CFP prediction model.
For each matchup, we’ll list the total swing it has across the entire college football landscape. We’ll also break out the ripple effects it might have on each school — from the obvious implications for those involved to the more hidden impact it might have on other teams’ chances. Here are the most crucial matchups of Week 11, with odds given as of Wednesday:1
1. TCU at Oklahoma (8 p.m. EST, Saturday)
44.3 percentage points of total swing2
|TEAM||CFP PROB.||OU WINS||TCU WINS||AVERAGE|
This might not be the marquee game-of-the-week you were expecting (more on that one later), but it will undeniably change the complexion of the playoff race. Both teams are 5-1 within the Big 12, so the winner will have sole possession of first place with two games left in the regular season. Our model has the Sooners as the nation’s fourth most likely team to make the CFP, with a 42 percent playoff probability. That number would rise to 58 percent if the Sooners win, paving the way for a likely berth in the Big 12’s newly revived conference championship game, though it would drop to 15 percent if they lose. And TCU isn’t out of the CFP race, either; the Horned Frogs rank ninth with a 23 percent probability of making the playoff. If it wins, TCU’s own odds would rise to 46 percent — placing it firmly within the CFP conversation down the season’s final stretch — while a loss would all but eliminate the Frogs (knocking them down to 8 percent). Such a large potential swing in CFP probability — plus the small peripheral effect it will have on the odds for both Notre Dame (a TCU win would boost the Irish’s chances by clearing Oklahoma out of their way) and Ohio State (whose head-to-head loss to the Sooners looks worse with every OU loss) — make this the week’s most important game.
2. Notre Dame at Miami (8 p.m. EST, Saturday)
43.4 percentage points of total swing
|TEAM||CFP PROB.||ND WINS||MIA WINS||AVERAGE|
Coming in a close second behind OU-TCU is the matchup everyone has their eye on, Notre Dame on the road against Miami. The game will carry with it echoes of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry from decades ago, and with good reason — according to our Elo ratings (adding up the pregame ratings of both teams), this is easily the best matchup of these two classic college-football powers since 1989. The Hurricanes won back then, but our model gives the Irish a 61 percent chance of coming out on top this time around. If they do, Notre Dame’s odds of making the playoff would rise from 30 percent to 47 percent,3 while a loss would drop the Irish’s playoff odds to 3 percent. For the undefeated ’Canes, a win would vault them from 25 percent to 45 percent, and a loss would send them down to 13 percent. The Irish in particular would really struggle to make the playoff as a two-loss team, because unlike two-loss fringe contenders like Ohio State or USC, the Irish will not have a conference championship against a quality opponent to pad the resume.
3. Washington at Stanford (10:30 p.m. EST, Friday)
42.0 percentage points of total swing
|TEAM||CFP PROB.||UW WINS||STAN WINS||AVERAGE|
The previous two games each contained a couple of teams with intact national championship aspirations, however strained. In this game, however, the three-loss Cardinal is basically eliminated from playoff contention — yet could still play spoiler to the 8-1 Huskies, who are right on the edge of playoff contention. Right now, Washington has a 31 percent chance of making the playoff, good for sixth-best in the country; those odds would jump to 48 percent with a win but fall to practically nonexistent (3 percent) with a loss. And Stanford is no pushover, record notwithstanding: It currently ranks 14th in ESPN’s Football Power Index, with a rating roughly equal to that of Miami. The Huskies are still favored to win by our model (we give them a 63 percent chance), but they’ll have to play their best football against Heisman contender Bryce Love and the Cardinal in order to keep their CFP hopes above sea level.
One more notable aspect of this game is just how much effect it could have on other teams in the playoff race. No fewer than 10 teams figure to see their own CFP odds change by at least 1 percentage point based on the outcome of Washington and Stanford’s tilt, with most of those contenders rooting for a Husky loss. (Because Stanford would only have a 1 percent playoff probability even if it wins, this is the rare case of a realistically probable upset where the would-be victor poses little threat to other top teams.) Add in the extra twist of it taking place on Friday night, and this one could reshape the playoff race before Saturday’s games even get a chance to kick off.
4. Georgia at Auburn (3:30 p.m. EST, Saturday)
33.1 percentage points of total swing
|TEAM||CFP PROB.||UGA WINS||AUB WINS||AVERAGE|
Although Georgia held steady at No. 1 in the CFP committee rankings for the second straight week, this week will provide the Dawgs with their toughest test since beating Notre Dame in early September. Auburn has plenty of talent — it’s the eighth-best team in the country according to FPI — and it will also be at home, a big reason why our model has UGA as only a narrow favorite to extend its undefeated record against the Tigers. Needless to say, the playoff implications of this game are enormous. The Bulldogs, at 57 percent to make the CFP, could bolster those odds up to 70 percent with a win or see them fall to 42 percent with a loss. The latter scenario wouldn’t be a complete catastrophe for Georgia, but it would make its playoff path a lot more daunting, with Alabama (or maybe Auburn!) potentially looming in the SEC title game. For Auburn’s part, the two-loss Tigers sit at 8 percent to make the playoff, and those chances would rise only to 18 percent if they knock off UGA. But that would improve their chances of forcing ’Bama into a must-win Iron Bowl to get into the SEC championship, one of the Tigers’ few viable paths to possibly making the playoff. The only thing keeping this matchup from ranking higher is its relatively limited effect on the rest of the country — aside from Notre Dame and Clemson rooting for a Georgia loss, there aren’t many implications here outside of the SEC.
Honorable mentions: Alabama at Mississippi State (23.2 points of swing); Iowa at Wisconsin (22.7); Florida State at Clemson (21.9); Michigan State at Ohio State (13.4).