How strength of record could determine the College Football Playoff field

The only college football résumé that matters is the one on selection day.

Don't get me wrong: Current résumés are helpful for debate and analysis. But the ultimate goal is to get into the playoff, and the easiest way to do that is with a strong measure of accomplishment -- once conference championships have wrapped up. Twenty-four of the 28 teams that have reached the College Football Playoff have had a top-four strength of record at the time of selection. And it's the most important factor in the Allstate Playoff Predictor.


As a refresher: Strength of record is the probability that an average top-25 team could achieve a team's record given the particular schedule that team has faced. So, for example, Michigan State currently has a strength of record of 19%, which ranks second, meaning an average top-25 team would have a 19% chance to go 8-0 against the Spartans' schedule just like they did.

But again, we want to know strength of record on Selection Day, so we thought we'd ask: What are the chances of a contender having a top-four SOR on Selection Day given a particular record? Can a 13-0 Cincinnati crack the top four? Is a 12-1 Oregon assured a playoff-caliber résumé? Let's dive in, in order of the current CFP rankings.



1.Georgia Bulldogs



Top-four SOR chance at 13-0: >99%

Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: >99%

Top-four SOR chance at 11-2: 41%

It's going to be a major upset if Georgia doesn't have a top résumé when it's all said and done. The Bulldogs have so much wiggle room they could even lose twice and still have a shot ... though they probably won't need to find out.



2.Alabama Crimson Tide



Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: >99%

Top-four SOR chance at 11-2: 94%

Wow, that second number is very interesting. There was some backlash to Alabama's current rank at No. 4 given a loss ... I can't even imagine how college football fans -- especially non-SEC fans -- would feel if an 11-2 Crimson Tide team got a berth. But in both cases, strength of record backs up Alabama's selection.

Alabama currently is No. 4 in SOR with one loss. At 11-2 its average strength of record rank would be 3.2, with, again, a 94% chance to be in the top four in SOR.

How can that be? Alabama plays a tough schedule. The fourth-hardest total schedule in the country, in fact. By the time Selection Day comes around an 11-2 Alabama team will have (almost certainly) played four games against FPI's top 13 teams: Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and -- and this is the big one -- Georgia.

Not to spoil what's coming later in this story, but the chance of an average top-25 team going 11-2 or better against Alabama's schedule is 22%. The chance of that same average top-25 team going 13-0 against Cincinnati's schedule? 26%.

Will the committee give Alabama as much leeway as SOR? It's hard to say. But from a résumé standpoint the Crimson Tide would have a strong case, even with a second loss.



3.Michigan State Spartans



Top-four SOR chance at 13-0: >99%


Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: >99%

Someone is going to emerge from the Big Ten. And if that team can do it with only one loss, it'll have a top-four résumé. That much seems clear.



4.Oregon Ducks



Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: 72%

Hmmm. I think this number here highlights just how bizarre it was for Oregon to be ranked in the top four now, with a strength of record at No. 10. What this number shows is that even if the rest of the season goes perfectly for the Ducks and they end up as 12-1 Pac-12 champions, they would still need help from elsewhere.

So what couldn't happen?

Reading the tea leaves, it looks like the Ducks need to avoid the following also existing on Selection Day: a one-loss or better Georgia, a two-loss or better Alabama, a one-loss or better Big Ten champion, and an undefeated Oklahoma. In addition, if that same scenario occurred but Oklahoma had one loss it would be really close between the Sooners and Ducks, résumé-wise.



5.Ohio State Buckeyes



Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: 97%

Much like the Spartans, Ohio State will have a top-four résumé if it wins out from this point on. The only reason its projected SOR is ever-so-slightly lower than Michigan State's? The Buckeyes don't get the benefit of playing themselves, the third-best team in college football, per FPI.



6.Cincinnati Bearcats


Top-four SOR chance at 13-0: 55%

This is the big one. The answer to the question: Will 13-0 be enough for the Bearcats? Unfortunately this number is less of an answer and more of a coin flip. It could be enough to boast a playoff-worthy résumé. Or it could not be. It depends on what happens elsewhere. Those team and record combinations listed with 90+% chance at a top-four SOR? The Bearcats need no more than three of those to come to fruition.

What can't happen for Cincinnati? It's a similar story to a 12-1 Oregon, except that the Bearcats are probably just a bit behind that 12-1 Ducks team and a 12-1 Oklahoma.

The good news for Cincinnati is that with some chaos the Bearcats really do have a shot at a top-four strength of record on Selection Day. That's something UCF never managed to pull off in its seasons as a playoff contender.




7.Michigan Wolverines



Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: >99%

Same as the other Big Ten teams: a 12-1 champion Big Ten squad will have a playoff-caliber résumé.



8.Oklahoma Sooners



Top-four SOR chance at 13-0: >99%

Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: 85%

Say what you want about how Oklahoma has gotten its wins, but being undefeated always leads to an impressive résumé. The question is: What do we make of Oklahoma at 12-1? What's interesting here is that the Sooners likely would be neck and neck with a 12-1 Oregon ... though early on the committee has shown a preference for the Ducks over the Sooners.

Oklahoma's schedule is weak enough that it controls only its own destiny, résumé-wise, by winning out. But a single loss probably wouldn't keep it out, at least on paper.



9.Wake Forest Demon Deacons



Top-four SOR chance at 13-0: >99%

Top-four SOR chance at 12-1: 37%

Here's where we see a weaker schedule being costly. Wake Forest can have a playoff-caliber résumé if it wins out, but a loss would likely push the Demon Deacons to the outside looking in. That's a reasonably strong difference from, say, Oklahoma, which has an 85% chance at a top-four strength of record with the same record.

The sharpest contrast comes against 11-2 Alabama, and this just hammers home how much more difficult the Tide's schedule is. Again, that's not to say an 11-2 Alabama necessarily gets in, it's just indicating it's objectively more difficult to go 11-2 with Alabama's schedule than 12-1 with Wake Forest's.



10.Notre Dame Fighting Irish



Top-four SOR chance at 11-1: 32%

The lack of a 13th game certainly hurts the Fighting Irish's case here. And so to reach that top-four strength of record Notre Dame is going to not only need to win out, but get chaos elsewhere. The Fighting Irish are looking for, say, a two-loss Big 12 champion, Oregon to drop another game and Cincinnati not to go undefeated. It's not impossible, but they certainly need some help in order to sneak into that No. 4 strength of record spot.

Lauren Poe contributed to this article

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