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

Rankings vs. forecasts

The Playoff Selection Committee’s rankings yield the ranking right now, which only gives insights into who would be in a playoff if it were held today. Our method simulates the rest of the season to forecast who might be in the playoff at the end of the season by taking the remaining schedule (and strength of schedule) into account.

Here are the mLRMC rankings and forecasts

Rankings right now Forecasted rankings at the end of the season
1. Clemson 1. Clemson
2. Alabama 2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma 3. Oklahoma
4. Notre Dame 4. Michigan State
5. Michigan State 5. Iowa
6. Ohio State 6. Notre Dame
7. Iowa 7. Stanford
8. Florida 8. Florida
9. Michigan 9. Ohio State
10. Stanford (no other teams have >1% chance of making the playoff)

First, I would note that the rankings right now are close to the forecasted rankings. This makes sense because the season is almost over. Two teams–Notre Dame and Ohio State–have a lower forecast than their current rankings suggest because they have a tough path to the playoff. Notre Dame has to play Stanford and Ohio State can only make the B1G championship game if Michigan State loses (and then OSU will likely have to win the playoff).

Other teams have a better forecast than their current rankings suggest because they have an easier path to the playoff. Iowa has to play Nebraska and then just has to win the B1G championship game. They will be underdogs, but they still will have a chance. Likewise, Stanford has a tough final game against Notre Dame but will then play in the PAC 12 championship game, where another win will boost their chances.

The differences between the current and final rankings is accentuated earlier in the season when there are more future games to play. I like the focus on the future because this is something industrial engineers do. We don’t just study the past using statistical methods, we build models to guide decisions in the future.