Sports analytics from Laura Albert's team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering


Q: How does the NCAA playoff work?

A: A committee of 13 experts will select and seed the four teams that will play in the playoff (a four team bracket). The committee replaces the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) method that relied on computer rankings and polls to select the teams.

Q: Does your method seed the teams in final bracket?

A: Yes and no. Our method provides a ranking of the four teams that are in the playoff. However, we mainly focus on which teams get invited to the playoff, since every team in the playoff has a chance at the national championship whereas the uninvited teams do not. Getting into the playoff is a big hurdle to clear in pursuit of a national championship.

Q: Why don’t you use the spread in your model?

A: Two main reasons. First, our main focus is to forecast game outcomes and then the playoff, not assist with gambling. Second, we are forecasting game outcomes weeks in advance when accurate spreads are not available yet.

Q: Why do your results differ from those in the national ranking polls?

A: The polls give a ranking of the teams today. The top four teams in the NCAA selection committee’s ranking can be viewed as the playoff if the playoff was held today. Our method takes each team’s wins and losses and strength of schedule that are used in the ranking polls and then forecasts how the team will finish the season. Highly ranked teams with a difficult remaining schedule can therefore finish lower than their current rankings suggest. Additionally, the committee may select the most deserving teams rather than the best teams, whereas we focus on identifying the best teams.

Links about ranking teams:

Links about NCAA football playoff:

Places to learn more about football analytics