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Notre Dame Continues To Hold On To A Playoff Spot — But For How Long?

Same old, same old. The college football playoff committee had it easy this week. After a week of games where all their top teams won, they didn’t have to shake things up in their rankings much. The top five remain the same: Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Iowa. After suffering crushing losses last week, Baylor and Stanford fell back in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Sooner state made headway: Oklahoma State and Oklahoma rose up to the No. 6 and No. 7 spots, respectively. But while the Big 12 looks ascendant, they both can’t stay there long: they play each other Thanksgiving weekend.

The FiveThirtyEight model has bad news for Notre Dame fans: last week it was Baylor that was projected to elbow out the Irish by season’s end; this week it’s Oklahoma. The model continues to think an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champion will most likely surpass Notre Dame. Our model simulations — which predict where the committee will land in its final rankings on Dec. 6 — are shown in the following table:

Ranking Probability of …
Team CFP Elo FPI Conf. Title Playoff Nat. Title
Clemson 10-0 1 3 5 62% 68% 21 15%
Alabama 9-1 2 1 3 61% 63% 21 19%
Ohio State 10-0 3 2 4 45% 62% 21 18%
Oklahoma 9-1 7 5 1 46% 45% 21 18%
Notre Dame 9-1 4 7 8 a 26% 21 6%
Oklahoma St. 10-0 6 4 13 35% 25% 21 5%
Florida 9-1 8 8 14 35% 23% 21 4%
Iowa 10-0 5 13 29 28% 22% 21 2%
Baylor 8-1 10 22 2 14% 16% 21 6%
Michigan St. 9-1 9 6 22 11% 12% 21 1%
Stanford 8-2 11 11 11 44% 11% 21 2%
Michigan 8-2 12 18 17 14% 9% 21 1%
North Carolina 9-1 17 9 15 36% 9% 21 1%
TCU 9-1 18 12 6 5% 5% 21 2%
Utah 8-2 13 26 23 12% 1% 21 <1%
USC 7-3 24 17 7 34% 1% 21 <1%
Houston 10-0 19 14 37 39% 1% 21 <1%
Navy 8-1 16 16 44 22% <1% 21 <1%
Florida State 8-2 14 19 16 0% <1% 21 <1%
Mississippi 7-3 22 28 9 4% <1% 21 <1%
Wisconsin 8-2 25 20 24 1% <1% 21 <1%
Oregon 7-3 23 10 28 4% <1% 21 <1%
LSU 7-2 15 24 10 0% <1% 21 <1%
Northwestern 8-2 20 29 61 0% <1% 21 <1%
Memphis 8-2 21 36 43 0% <1% 21 <1%
College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings as of Nov. 17.

Oklahoma might eventually edge out Notre Dame, but they have two awfully tough games remaining: against TCU this Saturday and on the road versus Oklahoma State. While the Sooners are our favorite for the fourth slot, the model still only gives them a 45 percent chance of making it in.

Lurking at the edges are a slew of hopefuls: Oklahoma State and Iowa, though each doesn’t have a loss, stand but a 25 percent and 22 percent chance to make it; one-loss stalwarts Florida, Baylor, and Michigan State — along with two-loss Stanford — all have above a 10 percent shot.

For those of you who want more nitty-gritty about our projections, check out our original methodology manifesto, as well as last week’s methodology update.

Jay Boice is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Andrew Flowers writes about economics and sports for FiveThirtyEight.

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