Alabama-Clemson V as the national championship game is far from inevitable.
Don't get me wrong, it could happen. It just probably won't. In fact, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, there is just a 24% shot that college football's two heavyweights end up squaring off in New Orleans.
Feel low? Yeah, it did to me too.
But let's think about it. Even though we're very confident that Clemson and Alabama both reach the playoff -- at 84% and 71%, respectively -- the chance that they both make the playoff is 59%.
But then even in those scenarios, they need to be placed in opposite semifinals and both win their semifinal.
That first part is from far from impossible: What if LSU beats Alabama in Tuscaloosa (25% chance, FPI says) and both teams and Clemson win out otherwise? Or if Clemson and Alabama finished 12-1 but, say, Michigan or Oklahoma ended up 13-0? Either of those could easily place our two heavyweights on the same side of the bracket.
As for winning their semifinals, FPI would consider Clemson roughly a touchdown favorite on a neutral field over Georgia or LSU and an eight-point favorite over Michigan right now. For Alabama, the margins are a shade lower. Point is, if they were to play today, last year's finalists would be favored over anyone else, but victory would not be a foregone conclusion.
Ultimately, while Alabama-Clemson is by far the most likely championship pair, a 24% chance is still only a one in four shot. And there are plenty of good teams -- from Michigan to Notre Dame to Oklahoma -- trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Playoff implications, already
It isn't too early to start worrying about the playoff, especially if you're a fan of Oregon or Auburn.
The Ducks-Tigers game is unsurprisingly the Week 1 game with the most on the line, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. For Oregon, a win would give them a 23% chance to reach the playoff, while a loss would drop them to 7%. Auburn's chances range from 3% to 11% depending on the result.
The Pac-12 as a whole has a good bit on the line too. The conference has only a 22% chance to reach the playoff, and Oregon -- which ranks 10th in FPI -- is its best chance. Teams such as Washington and Utah are long-shot contenders, but the Ducks are easily the conference's best bet, especially if they can secure a strong nonconference win.
If Oregon beats Auburn and wins the Pac-12, the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives the Ducks a 53% chance to reach the playoff.
FPI actually respects the heck out of Auburn -- it thinks Gus Malzahn has the eighth-best team in the country on his hands -- but it also respects the heck out of the Tigers' schedule (seventh hardest). Here's the scary thing for Auburn: Even if we lock in wins over Oregon and Georgia, it still would have only a 17% shot at the playoff. Because it still would have to get through not only Alabama, but also games at Texas A&M, Florida and LSU. Sure, it could probably drop one of those and still be a contender, but even still -- that's asking a lot.
Sneaky important game to watch: Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio State
We wrote all about why FPI and the Allstate Playoff Predictor are down on Ohio State (relative to general perception and the betting market) back in our offseason preview. The abridged version: With a new head coach and new quarterback, there's an awful lot of variance for the Buckeyes' season -- and that's not a good thing for a playoff hopeful. The result is not only a low projection for Ohio State to reach the playoff (5%) but also a particularly bullish forecast for Michigan (42%).
Now it's time to find out if we were right about the quality of Ryan Day's team. We won't determine that by whether Ohio State wins or loses against FAU -- well, if it loses that would be a pretty big clue -- but rather by how it wins. If the Buckeyes win by a lot more or a lot less than the 23 points FPI expects them to, their rating going forward will likely adjust (assuming the result wasn't based on all quirky special-teams stuff) accordingly.
If Ohio State ends up being much better than the 13th-best team in college football, as FPI has it now, that will help its playoff chances and hurt Michigan's. No matter what, though, the fact Ohio State has to go to Ann Arbor this year will make its path tough, regardless of the rivalry's recent history.