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Wednesday roundtable: How realistic are Cardinal’s Playoff chances?

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With two games remaining before the College Football Playoff selection committee releases the bowl matchups, Stanford sits at No. 9 in the committee’s rankings, tops among all Pac-12 teams. Though all other Power Five conferences have at least one team ranked higher, Stanford still has an outside shot at the Playoff — statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight gives the Cardinal a 16 percent chance to make it. How realistic is Stanford’s shot at making the Playoff?

Michael Peterson: Don’t get your hopes up for the Playoff, Stanford fans. First things first, Stanford has to beat Notre Dame and beat the Pac-12 South champion. From a pure statistical approach, odds are Stanford doesn’t even win out.

Stanford needs multiple results to go its way in each conference in order to have an argument. In the SEC, Florida would need to lose to Florida State then beat Alabama, or Ole Miss would need to win the conference. In the Big 12, both Oklahoma and Baylor need to lose, and even then it’s questionable with one-loss Oklahoma State. In the ACC, Stanford might have an argument against one-loss ACC Champion North Carolina, but to be sure it would need to have North Carolina finish with two losses and still win the ACC. I could keep going on about the different scenarios, but they start to become even more ludicrous and unlikely. Stanford’s best shot involves the SEC being completely shut out of the Playoff — that’s a scary thought.

Point is, the Playoff is a long shot. Should Stanford win out, it will more than likely finish ranked fifth, which I unknowingly wrote about before the season. But that’s perfectly okay.

If I told you that Stanford could make a Rose Bowl after it was 0-1 with an offense that scored just six points against Northwestern, would you be mad? If I told you before the season that Stanford would lose to Oregon and still win the Pac-12 North, would you be sad that the team just controls its Rose Bowl hopes and not its Playoff hopes? Perspective, perspective, perspective. To even be talking about a playoff possibility is a luxury.

Stanford fans, hope desperately for a Rose Bowl appearance, and should Stanford wake up on Dec. 6 with a spot in the top four, be deliriously surprised.

 

Winston Shi: I agree with Michael that the odds of Stanford making the Playoff are really low. I also believe that if we’re complaining about a scenario where Stanford controls its Rose Bowl destiny, we’re on the road to being Oregon, and nobody wants to be Oregon. But for the sake of argument, let’s do some calculations.

Chaos in the ACC – Clemson loses to both South Carolina and North Carolina. The Tigers would still be in the Playoff over Stanford if they beat USC and lose to UNC unless the Tar Heels annihilate them, and they would almost certainly be in the Playoff if they beat UNC and lose to USC. FSU is only ranked No. 13, so it will not jump Stanford. (10 percent x 35 percent)

Chaos in the B1G – It’s tough to imagine the B1G getting shut out of the playoff in favor of the Cardinal. In any Pac 12-Big Ten argument with equal-loss teams, despite Utah’s win over Michigan, the Pac-12 has the two big anchors of Stanford’s loss to Northwestern and Oregon’s loss to Michigan State. Moreover there is no way that the Big Ten champ emerges with three losses. Unless Stanford bombs Notre Dame back to the Stone Age, you’re basically hoping that:

      a) Iowa loses to Nebraska, wins the conference championship and gets utterly hammered by the committee, even as a one-loss team, for losing to the Huskers (unlikely, given that Nebraska would be a 10-win team if they’d executed in close losses)

      b) Michigan, the only potential two-loss Big Ten champ ranked below Stanford, wins the conference championship. You’d be asking for Penn State over Michigan State and Michigan over Ohio State and then Iowa. Plus the committee would have to pick Stanford over Michigan — and that, I’d say, is a coin flip. (35 percent x 45 percent x 55 percent x 50 percent)

Chaos in the SEC – There’s only one way: Three-loss Ole Miss is the conference champion. A two-loss SEC champ, even with a very unimpressive set of close wins against bad teams (Florida), would make the playoff. So basically, you’re hoping for Ole Miss to beat Mississippi State, Auburn to beat Alabama, and Ole Miss to beat Florida. (70 percent x 15 percent x 40 percent).

Chaos in the B12 A one-loss Oklahoma State, with wins over Oklahoma and TCU, gets the nod over Stanford, which would have better wins but two losses. Regardless of who wins Bedlam, the Big 12 is getting into the Playoff unless Oklahoma gets utterly and irredeemably jobbed by the refs (and we are talking Colorado Fifth Down levels of being jobbed) in a close loss to Oklahoma State. Also, Baylor would need to lose to TCU. The Frogs might well beat the Bears, but the first condition…nah. (All together, 1 percent)

Quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: Stanford has a 10.49 percent chance of making the Playoff.

That’s actually better than I thought. It’s still not great. But there’s hope. (Forget for a moment that it’s the hope that crushes you in the end.)

 

Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu and Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.