News & Analysis

Simulating the 2020 college football season

While uncertainty currently shrouds the NFL season, college football appears to be even more difficult to project in 2020. Will there be fans in the stands?  Will some of the less-endowed schools be able to withstand the impact of COVID-19?

[Editor's Note: Check out PFF's 2021 Mock Draft Simulator as well as 2020 NFL Draft grades for all 32 teams. And if you haven’t already, be sure to pick up a copy of PFF’s 2020 NFL Draft Guide by subscribing to PFF EDGE or ELITE.]

Those are bleak questions. I’m going to ignore some of them right now and assume that the schedule is played as slated while simulating it 10,000 times.  While there are still many starting quarterback jobs to be determined, we know which teams have changed coaches, who has recruited whom, and what the market thinks of each team in terms of pre-season odds. While these simulations rely heavily on our PFF ELO model for college, the projections will shift with changes in recruiting- and market-level data, so make sure to check back in on them later this offseason. Here are a few things to note from our initial simulation:

While LSU is the reigning national champion, Alabama is the favorite in the SEC

With Joe Burrow on his way to Cincinnati, Nick Saban, Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith are projected to win the best conference in college football 32% of the time, with LSU coming in second at 22%.  

Clemson has a win total of 11.5 (-110 to the over and under), and this number is pretty fair

With Dabo Swinney, Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross returning, Clemson's path to return to the College Football Playoff is a pretty clear one. We have them with 11.6 wins on average, with the majority of simulations projecting them to finish with a 12-0 regular-season record.

Ohio State is roughly 3-1 to win the Big Ten and the second-most likely team to make the College Football Playoff behind Clemson

Ohio State, also returning a top-five prospect in the 2021 draft in Justin Fields, wins the Big Ten 78% of the time in our 2020 simulations.

Oklahoma’s season win total is 9.5 (-200 to the over). Our simulations have Spencer Rattler and Lincoln Riley going over that total roughly 45% of the time

We’re a bit lower on the fourth quarterback in as many seasons for Lincoln Riley than the market, which might be the kiss of death.  However, the 6’0’’ sophomore has just 23 snaps to his name, and the prospects of an abbreviated season might break the Oklahoma string of brilliance at the position.  

The Pac-12 is wide open — no team has more than a 27% chance to win the conference

Oregon (27%), Utah (24%), USC (12%) are the favorites to win the Pac-12, which has been regarded as the worst Power-Five conference for a couple of years now.  

The best Group-of-Five team in the projections is Boise State, with a projected 8.9 wins (their Vegas total is 9.5 (-145 TO THE OVER)

The reigning Mountain West champion Broncos repeat in roughly 40% of our simulations, followed by Air Force (22%).  

Win Total Bets I Like:

Appalachian State UNDER 9.5 (+100)
Florida UNDER 9.5 (+180)
Temple OVER 5.5 (-110)
Texas UNDER 8.5 (+170)

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