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The Calm Before The College Football Playoff Storm

Last week’s College Football Playoff rankings were all about seeing how the selection committee would respond to one of the wackiest weekends of upsets in modern history. By contrast, this past weekend saw just one upset with major CFP implications — Louisville’s 36-10 loss at Houston — and the committee responded like the pollsters of old: It kept the top four unchanged, dropped Louisville from No. 5 to No. 11, and bumped everyone in between up by one slot.

The result was a week of relatively few changes to our CFP prediction model’s playoff odds report. Louisville predictably lost all 40 percentage points of its CFP probability, Clemson and Ohio State slightly strengthened their positions within the top four, and the large group of outsiders looking to crash the playoff party — most notably, odds-on Big 12 favorite Oklahoma — gained some late-season steam. But for the most part, the model’s overall playoff picture is similar to what it offered up last week:

Alabama SEC 90% -1 36% -2
Clemson ACC 78 +8 16 +3
Ohio State Big Ten 60 +5 19 +2
Michigan Big Ten 37 +1 12
Washington Pac-12 36 +3 7 +2
Wisconsin Big Ten 30 +6 3 +1
Oklahoma Big 12 28 +14 4 +2
Colorado Pac-12 16 +6 2 +2
Penn State Big Ten 15 +6 <1
Okla. State Big 12 7 +4 <1
USC Pac-12 2 -1 <1
Florida SEC <1 <1
Auburn SEC <1 <1
Nebraska Big Ten <1 <1
W. Michigan MAC <1 <1
Tennessee SEC <1 <1
Utah Pac-12 <1 -2 <1
Wash. State Pac-12 <1 -4 <1
W. Virginia Big 12 <1 -6 <1
Louisville ACC <1 -40 <1 -9
2016 College Football Playoff predictions update, Nov. 23

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

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Obviously, this upcoming weekend of games will bring far more significant changes. The biggest matchup is Michigan at Ohio State on Saturday, and the winner of that game will see its CFP odds soar north of 80 percent, while the loser will have almost no chance of making the playoff. But Washington could also give itself better than a coin flip’s shot at the playoff if it beats Washington State on Friday, regardless of what happens in Columbus the next day. And Penn State (which holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio State but not Michigan) could still play spoiler in the Big 10’s East division with a win and a Michigan loss — although in that event, our model still gives the Buckeyes a 94 percent CFP probability even without them appearing in the conference championship game.

With either Michigan or Ohio State practically certain to drop out of the CFP running after a loss Saturday, the main question coming out of the week, assuming all the top favorites win, will be who — whether it be Washington or Wisconsin, or perhaps even Oklahoma, Penn State or Colorado — emerges as the most likely candidate to join Alabama, Clemson and the Ohio State/Michigan winner among the top four going into conference championship weekend.

And if any of the favorites lose? Then everyone’s favorite feature of late-season college football — pure chaos — will win the weekend.

FiveThirtyEight: Is Alabama a lock?

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.