WhatIfSports 2015 College Football Playoff Prediction
With the college football season set to begin, WhatIfSports.com is fast-forwarding to December 31, 2015, when the second year of the College Football Playoff will commence.
We selected the top four teams from the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 – Ohio State, TCU, Alabama and Baylor – and used our college football simulation engine to play each matchup 1,001 times, advancing the team with the highest winning percentage. While using the AP’s top-ranked teams may not seem like the most creative selection process, the strategy was a success in 2014, when we accurately picked three of four playoff participants.
Semifinal I: Baylor vs. Ohio State
The defending champs were a unanimous pick for the AP’s top team and they’re rewarded with a matchup against No. 4 Baylor. The two schools are unfamiliar foes, having last played in 1982 (a 21-14 victory for the Buckeyes), and yet it’s a bit of a grudge match for the Bears, who were excluded from the inaugural College Football Playoff in favor of Ohio State.
Baylor graduated quarterback Bryce Petty, but backup Seth Russell has gotten some reps the past two seasons and should be poised to keep the Bears offense chugging. Russell has two excellent targets in K.D. Cannon and Corey Coleman, who each accumulated 1,000 receiving yards in 2014. He’ll also have the support of junior running back Shock Linwood, who totaled 1,252 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago. While not known for its defense, Baylor is successful against the run. Last year’s squad finished 16th in the nation with 117.7 rushing yards allowed per game and their 3.15 yards per rush ranked 7th.
Ohio State returns its trio of talented quarterbacks, with Braxton Miller moving to receiver to clear the way for J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Also returning is running back Ezekiel Elliott, whose 1,878 rushing yards in 2014 ranked third nationally. The defense brings back many key pieces as well, including Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks) and Joshua Perry (124 tackles).
We played the matchup and the simulation engine favors Ohio State, with the Buckeyes winning 54.1 percent of simulations by an average score of 31.3-30.0.
Semifinal II: Alabama vs. TCU
Our second semifinal pits No. 2 TCU against No. 3 Alabama. Like Baylor, TCU felt slighted by its omission from last season’s College Football Playoff. Had the Horned Frogs been selected, their likely semifinal opponent would have been Alabama. A year later, TCU has an opportunity to prove it belongs.
For the second year in a row, Alabama has a new quarterback calling the plays. But unlike last year, Amari Cooper isn’t around to ease the transition. Bama’s ground game remains strong though, with leader rusher Derrick Henry returning. The defense will also fit the mold of recent renditions. For seven consecutive seasons, the Crimson Tide have been in the top 10 nationally for fewest points allowed.
The TCU defense will have a difficult time replicating the success it achieved in 2014, when opponents scored just 19.0 points per game against the Horned Frogs. The biggest void to fill is that of linebacker Paul Dawson, who led the Big 12 in tackles with 136, but has moved on to the NFL. If it takes the defense some time to adjust, the offense is more than capable of carrying the load. Trevone Boykin will look to build off his 3,900 yards and 33 touchdowns. The team’s leading rusher and top three receivers are back as well.
We played Alabama vs. TCU 1,001 times and the Horned Frogs were victorious 52.1 percent of the time, outscoring the Crimson Tide by an average score of 28.8-28.2.
Championship: TCU vs. Ohio State
Our title bout features Ohio State and TCU. For the Buckeyes, a second national championship in as many years would mean supplanting Alabama as college football’s most dominant team. It’s the kind of win that would result in streets named after Urban Meyer (well, more streets anyway). For TCU, a victory would be a culmination of a journey that began when Gary Patterson took over the program at the end of the 2000 season. The team’s upward rise has spanned four leagues – the WAC, C-USA, MWC and Big 12 – during which Patterson has accumulated a 132-45 record.
So who comes out on top in our championship game? Our simulation engine likes the Horned Frogs in a nail biter, with TCU winning 50.8 percent of the time by an average score of 30.9-30.8.