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PFF College Football Playoff predictions ahead of Week 8

We have officially reached the halfway point of the college football regular season. With quality matchups continuing to happen every weekend, we wanted to take the opportunity to pause and evaluate the current college football playoff landscape. We rely heavily on our PFFELO rankings and subsequent Greenline model to simulate out the remaining schedule to predict which teams most often fall into the top four playoff bracket. Below we list the eight teams who have the best opportunity to get into the playoffs and win the College Football Playoff National Championship as of right now. 

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Clemson – 95.1% Playoffs – 31.9% National Title

WHAT HAS US CONFIDENT

Among Power 5 schools, Clemson has the easiest schedule remaining. Their opponent’s average ELO ranking is below a median FBS team in our system. Wake Forest is possibly the only team in the Top 25 they will see until the College Football Playoff. The ACC Coastal Division has completely imploded with zero teams in the Top 25 to face off against the Tigers in the ACC Conference Championship. If Clemson doesn’t roll through their ACC schedule, they don’t deserve to get into the playoff picture.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

People will point to the UNC scare as a word of caution. My money would be on Clemson not getting anywhere close to being burned like they did against UNC. They should be at least two-touchdown favorites in all of their remaining games before the playoffs. If they drop one, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Alabama – 86.7% Playoffs – 27.7% National Title

WHAT HAS US CONFIDENT

Nick Saban loves how is current offense is playing with a 44-56 run-pass split. The team ADOT of 8.2 means that explosive plays are happening on short and intermediate routes with little downside risk but increased efficiency over running the football. Alabama has easy matchups lined up before their home showdown with LSU. They control their own destiny and simply need to win out to ensure their spot in the College Football Playoff. A possibility does exist of them squeaking in as a one-loss team if other situations break right.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

LSU could easily be the most talented team in the country. Joe Burrow has the current superhuman ability to make any throw on the football field and is rocketing up draft boards in the process. ‘Bama should open around a touchdown favorite against the Tigers. A loss at home or slip up in the SEC Championship could spell defeat to the hopes of a one-loss Alabama team of getting into the playoffs.

Oklahoma – 39.3% Playoffs – 7.4% National Title

WHAT HAS US CONFIDENT

The Sooners have the highest-ranked offense in college football from an opponent-adjusted rating. They have the best average EPA on both pass plays and rushing plays. They outlasted Texas in their most difficult regular-season matchup of 2019. The Sooners play Iowa State at home with their most difficult remaining test at Baylor the week after.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

Due to the setup of the Big 12 Championship Game, the Sooners will get the best shot of the second-ranked team in the conference. Texas has the inside track at running it back against Oklahoma in the title game. The Longhorns showed the ability to compete with the Sooners already. If the Sooners' offense struggles early, Texas may not allow eight sacks while keeping Sam Ehlinger clean enough times to pull off the upset.

Ohio State – 35.8% Playoffs – 7.1% National Title

WHAT HAS US CONFIDENT

If not for the play of Joe Burrow, everyone would be raving about Justin Fields being the best quarterback in 2019. Fields' 93.9 passing grade when clean is the seventh-best mark ever in the PFF College era. As good as their offense is, the Buckeyes might be even better defensively with the best NFL prospect in college football in Chase Young. Ohio State gets both Wisconsin and Penn State at home before facing off with a less than impressive Michigan squad to close the regular season.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

Despite three tough opponents remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Buckeyes have a favorable stretch with two of those three games at home. The lone road matchup is against Michigan who looks like the worst of the three teams in the Big Ten. Ohio State could easily have a rematch of the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game on a neutral site. Wisconsin has the defensive ability to keep it close with any team in the country. Getting two cracks at the Buckeyes could result in one game breaking the right way for the Badgers. With the quality of play throughout college football, one loss should be enough to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoffs.

LSU – 27.1% Playoffs – 5.6% National Title

What has us confident

Joe Burrow has come out of nowhere to become the best player in college football through the first seven weeks. His 97.4 passing grade on throws targeted 10 or more yards downfield ranks third for a season in the PFF era behind two quality years of Baker Mayfield. Their matchup in Tuscaloosa against No. 1 Alabama is the make-or-break game for both teams.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

A loss to Alabama on November 9th could be all that is needed to keep the Tigers out of the playoffs. LSU simply cannot miss out on playing in the SEC Championship Game and expect to make the playoffs without some upset losses coming in other conferences. If the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 all produce 13-0 conference title winners, then one or even two worthwhile teams from the SEC will be playing in a big bowl game as a consolation prize during bowl season.

Georgia – 27.6% Playoffs – 6.7% National Title

What has us confident

The Bulldogs are still in control of their own destiny despite a slip up at home against South Carolina. Jake Fromm had a horrendous game but is much closer to the quarterback with a 93.4 passing grade than the one who graded at 60.1 last Saturday against South Carolina. Their coverage unit has the fifth-best grade in the nation. They play press coverage at one of the highest rates in the country while allowing a successful pass play from an EPA standpoint on 38% of dropbacks. They have talented players at the game's most important positions and are playing with their backs to the wall as one final letdown could cost them relevance in the College Football Playoff selection process.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

Georgia could be as bad as they flashed in their home loss to South Carolina. Jake Fromm was abysmal from a pressured pocket with just a 37.7 passing grade against the Gamecocks' defense. They still have regular-season matchups on the road against Florida and Auburn. Both teams rank inside the top 25 for total pressure percentage forced on dropbacks. With Fromm’s recent struggles under pressure, it could be a dicey proposition to even assume the Bulldogs make it to the SEC Championship Game to redeem their loss.

Penn State – 16.8% Playoffs – 2.9% National Title

What has us confident

KJ Hamler is capable of taking any play to the end zone. He has 12 explosive plays while averaging 13.6 air yards per target. Defensively, they are stout where it matters. Their coverage unit has the third-best mark in the FBS in percentage of successful EPA plays allowed from passes. The Nittany Lions' pass-rush has also registered a pressure on 61% of pass-rushing snaps.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

Their remaining schedule is far from rosy. They should open as more than a touchdown dog to Ohio State on the second to last regular season week of the season. If they cannot pull off the upset in Columbus, their playoff chances will crumble alongside them. Easier said than done, but they need to slow down the Buckeyes' offense and allow for the team's passing attack to make enough big plays downfield to keep the game close throughout.

Wisconsin – 11.8% Playoffs – 1.8% National Title

What has us confident

According to most measurements, the Badgers have the best defense in college football. First in most meaningful coverage metrics means the Badgers should be able to stay close with almost anybody. Zach Baun could easily be the second-best edge defender in the country. His 91 overall pass-rush grade has resulted in 26 total pressures. Their reliance on Jonathan Taylor has paid dividends so far but could come back to bite them in their biggest spots of the season.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG

A ground-and-pound, defensive-focused running team is not built to thrive in today’s football game. Although the Badgers are a very good iteration of this idea, they are still heavily focused on establishing the run and playing quality defense. Those focuses typically result in more downside then a team capable of making any throw. If the Badgers fall behind Ohio State early next week, they may not have the offensive firepower to make up enough ground to keep the game close.

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