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How A Weekend Of Upsets Changed The College Football Playoff

After one of the wildest upset weekends in history — three of the AP poll’s top four teams all lost on Saturday — you knew the college football landscape was due for some bulldozing. That applied to both the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings, which landed Tuesday night, and FiveThirtyEight’s CFP prediction model, which uses those rankings to simulate the rest of the season and project who will be left standing when the committee makes its final decision. Each leaves us with a cloudier view of the playoff picture now than we had a week ago.

On the committee side, Washington dropped out of the rankings’ all-important top four (the Huskies fell to No. 6 after falling to USC), Clemson slid from second to fourth after its loss to Pitt, and Ohio State vaulted from No. 5 to No. 2. At the same time, Michigan stayed at No. 3 despite losing to Iowa, and Alabama strengthened its grip on No. 1 — so three of the top four from last week’s rankings remained in those coveted positions. But now slots 2 through 6 in the rankings are all occupied by one-loss teams, with six more two-loss teams directly behind them. Aside from the Crimson Tide’s ongoing dominance, there’s not much to feel confident about going into the final few weeks of the regular season.

That point is underscored by our CFP prediction model. Alabama remained relatively steady, and now has a 90 percent probability of making the playoff; at this point, the Tide would likely get in even if they lost a game (whether to Auburn in the season finale, or perhaps even the SEC championship). But the weekend also took identical 20-percentage-point tolls on Michigan and Washington’s CFP probabilities, and lopped 9 points off of Clemson’s as well.

MAKES PLAYOFF WINS NAT’L TITLE
TEAM CONFERENCE PROB CHANGE PROB CHANGE
Alabama SEC 90% +4 38% +7
Clemson ACC 70 -9 14 -3
Ohio State Big Ten 56 +18 17 +7
Louisville ACC 40 +12 9 +3
Michigan Big Ten 36 -20 12 -7
Washington Pac-12 32 -20 5 -5
Wisconsin Big Ten 24 +9 2 +1
Oklahoma Big 12 15 +7 2 +2
Colorado Pac-12 10 +2 <1
Penn State Big Ten 8 +6 <1
West Virginia Big 12 6 +2 <1
Washington St. Pac-12 4 <1
Oklahoma St. Big 12 3 <1
Utah Pac-12 2 +2 <1
USC Pac-12 2 +2 <1
Auburn SEC <1 -10 <1 -2
Nebraska Big Ten <1 <1
Tennessee SEC <1 <1
Western Michigan MAC <1 <1
Florida SEC <1 <1
2016 College Football Playoff predictions update (Nov. 16)

Changes in FiveThirtyEight’s CFP prediction model are since last week.

Source: ESPN Stats & InfoRMATION GROUP

The big beneficiaries of that were Ohio State, which tacked 18 percentage points onto its CFP probability, and Louisville, which picked up 12 points — as well as the Big Ten’s less-heralded contenders (Wisconsin and Penn State) and whoever wins the Big 12 (probably Oklahoma), who now has a Hail Mary’s chance to make the playoff.

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We’d said Louisville needed help to squeeze back into the playoff picture, and this past weekend provided it. If the Cardinals win out (the biggest obstacle to which is Houston, on the road, this Thursday night), they’d be slightly better than 50-50 to make the CFP. And Michigan’s loss only ratchets up the pressure surrounding “The Game” against Ohio State on Nov. 26: Provided each team beats its next foe (both Michigan and Ohio State are very likely to beat Indiana and Michigan State, respectively), the winner of the two rivals’ annual clash will be practically guaranteed to make the CFP — while the loser’s chances will be slim at best.

All of these shake-ups will lead to a few weeks of extra anxiety for the coaches involved. But from a fan’s perspective, they took a relatively tidy (read: potentially boring) playoff picture and made it far more chaotic, a good recipe for an exciting climax to the season.

Check out our college football predictions.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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