Category Archives: College Football

Patrick Mahomes Is Proving That QBs From Gimmicky College Offenses Can Succeed In The NFL

When the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in the 2017 draft, scouts lauded his work ethic and impressive arm strength — but they still had doubts about Mahomes’s NFL future. It wasn’t personal; it had to do with the high-flying college offense Mahomes played in at Texas Tech and old misgivings about how quarterbacks from pass-happy systems would translate to the pros.
All of that seems silly now, of course. In truth, Mahomes came along at just the right moment: the moment when NFL teams are finally embracing offensive elements they used to consider mere collegiate gimmicks. Now Mahomes and his MVP-caliber performance through eight games have the potential to forever eradicate questions about air-it-out college passers.
The history of college QBs with video-game statistics traces its way back decades before Mahomes lit up Big 12 defenses for 5,052 yards as a junior for the Red Raiders in 2016. According to Sports-Reference.com’s data, the first modern1 major-college quarterback to break 4,000 yards in a season was BYU’s Jim McMahon in 1980 — one of multiple passers to crack the milestone in Provo under the guidance of innovative coach LaVell Edwards. (Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer — three times! — and Steve Sarkisian would also break that barrier over the next decade-and-a-half, while future Hall of Famer Steve Young barely missed it in 1983.)
Around the same time, other similarly pass-centric offenses were piling up big numbers, too. As the 1980s came to a close, Houston run-and-shoot passers Andre Ware and David Klingler racked up stats that still defy the imagination. That same offensive scheme would migrate to the NFL in the 1990s and find new life in the 2000s with Hawaii coach June Jones, who turned Warriors QBs Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan into ultra-prolific passers. Elsewhere in the spread, Utah’s Scott Mitchell had a field day in Jim Fassel’s wide-open system in 1988, while Drew Brees, Chris Redman and Tim Rattay thrived in the ’90s while running various versions of the single-back scheme championed by coaches such as Purdue’s Joe Tiller.
And we haven’t even gotten to the quarterbacks who played in the air raid system of Hal Mumme and his many proteges. The air raid borrowed elements from both the run-and-shoot and Edwards’s BYU offense, forging a passing playbook that has obliterated opposing defenses. Playing for Mumme at Kentucky, Tim Couch threw for 4,275 yards and 36 TDs in 1998, while Kliff Kingsbury joined the 5,000-yard club directing Mike Leach’s Texas Tech offense in 2002. Leach was just getting started: From 2002 to 2008, five different Red Raider QBs broke 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, with Graham Harrell tossing for 48 TDs and 5,705 yards (second-most in the FBS modern era) in 2007 and fifth-year senior B.J. Symons, Kingsbury’s former backup, going for a ridiculous 52 scores and 5,833 yards (first in the modern era) in 2003.
Leach was no longer in Lubbock by the time Mahomes arrived on campus — the coach had moved to Washington State, where he’s been rewriting the Pac-12 record books — but the young QB learned from the next-best thing: Kingsbury himself, now Texas Tech’s head coach. Kingsbury is part of a whole generation of quarterbacks-turned-coaches who came up in the air raid and spread it like wildfire across the college and high school ranks. Coaching the Red Raiders, he helped Mahomes become one of the most prolific passers in Big 12 history.
As the author S.C. Gwynne wrote about in his excellent book “The Perfect Pass,” these similar (yet distinct) strains of aggressive passing all came together to change the sport forever, dragging it out of an antiquated era of primarily run-based football and making it into the aerial showcase we see today. Nowadays, the college game is a passing game, one in which 86 percent of snaps come in the shotgun, and even Alabama — long religiously balanced on offense — is averaging nearly 350 yards per game in the air.
Just how much have extreme pass-first philosophies taken over college football in recent years? Kingsbury became only the third modern member of the 5,000-yard club (joining Detmer and Klingler) when he broke that barrier in 2002. Sixteen years later, the group has expanded its membership fivefold (including Mahomes), with current Leach QB Gardner Minshew on pace to join this season as well.2
But for all the collegiate success these prolific passers enjoyed, pro front offices became fearful of handing them the keys to an NFL offense. And not without cause: In the 1980s and ’90s, a number of the wide-open college passing game’s early adopters were picked highly in the draft, at least partly on the basis of their big NCAA numbers — and few were especially successful in the NFL. BYU’s Marc Wilson and McMahon, Houston’s Ware and Klingler, plus Trent Dilfer (who played at Fresno State under Tiller’s mentor, Jim Sweeney), Ryan Leaf (who starred at Washington State under spread-passing guru Mike Price), Kentucky’s Couch and Marshall’s Chad Pennington were all taken among the draft’s top picks. Pennington and McMahon had the best careers of the bunch with more than 60 points of Approximate Value (AV) apiece — the mark of a solid, if not Hall of Fame-worthy, career — while the rest went varying levels of journeyman or bust in the NFL.3
(Young, it bears mentioning, is a special case. Because he went to the USFL out of BYU, he was selected in the NFL’s supplemental draft, so he doesn’t get lumped in with the group above. Young easily had the best career of any pass-happy college product since the 1980s.)

Most stat-stuffing college QBs of the 1980s-90s fizzled out
Career NFL Approximate Value (AV) for college passers who had at least 150 more adjusted yards per game than the Division I-A average and played in a notable college offensive system, 1975-2000

Best College Season
NFL Draft

Player
College
System
Year
Yds
TD
Year
Pick
NFL AV

Chad Pennington
Marshall
Spread
1999
3799
37
2000
18
62

Chris Redman
Louisville
Spread
1998
4042
29
2000
75
10

Tim Couch
Kentucky
Air raid
1998
4275
36
1999
1
32

Tim Rattay
La. Tech
Spread
1998
4943
46
2000
212
13

Ryan Leaf
Wash. St.
Spread
1997
3968
34
1998
2
1

Danny Wuerffel
Florida
Fun ‘n’ gun
1996
3625
39
1997
99
6

Josh Wallwork
Wyoming
Spread
1996
4090
33


0

Mike Maxwell
Nevada
Pistol
1995
3611
33


0

Trent Dilfer
Fresno State
Spread
1993
3799
30
1994
6
60

Jimmy Klingler
Houston
Run and Shoot
1992
3818
32


0

Craig Erickson
Miami-FL
Spread
1990
3363
22
1992
86
22

David Klingler
Houston
Run and Shoot
1990
5140
54
1992
6
11

Ty Detmer
BYU
Vertical
1990
5188
41
1992
230
15

Andre Ware
Houston
Run and Shoot
1989
4699
46
1990
7
5

Anthony Dilweg
Duke
Fun ‘n’ gun
1988
3824
24
1989
74
4

Scott Mitchell
Utah
Spread
1988
4322
29
1990
93
53

Robbie Bosco
BYU
Vertical
1984
3875
33
1986
72
0

Steve Young*
BYU
Vertical
1983
3902
33


171

Jim McMahon
BYU
Vertical
1980
4571
47
1982
5
71

Marc Wilson
BYU
Vertical
1979
3720
29
1980
15
40

* Selected in NFL Supplemental Draft
Sources: pro-football-reference.com, sports-reference.com/cfb

Over time, the prevailing notion became that a quarterback’s college statistics were as much a liability as an asset, a sign that some coach’s gimmicky scheme had propped up a mediocre talent, giving him numbers he had no real business producing — ones that almost seemed like they were specifically designed to deceive scouts. And in fact, Mumme did base the air raid in part around the notion of making an elite quarterback talent unnecessary for passing success. “If he could design a system that featured passing and could be run by average or sub-average football players who could not throw like Dan Fouts or Jim McMahon,” Gwynne wrote of Mumme’s philosophy, “he could truly change the game of football.”
Eventually, NFL teams all but gave up on drafting air raid or run-and-shoot products. When Kingsbury broke the 5,000-yard barrier, all it got him was a lousy sixth-round draft slot. (Unlike that other Patriots sixth-round pick, Kingsbury’s career transitioned to coaching not long thereafter.) Chang and Brennan combined to throw 248 college touchdowns at Hawaii … and neither threw a pass in the NFL. Likewise, Symons and Harrell both nearly cracked 6,000 yards in a season … and Symons wasn’t taken until the eighth-to-last pick of the 2004 draft, while Harrell wasn’t drafted at all. The system was unstoppable, but the players in it were easily brushed off.

For most of the 2000s, big college numbers got you nowhere
Career NFL Approximate Value (AV) for air raid or run-and-shoot passers who had at least 150 more adjusted yards per game than the Division I-A average, 2000-07

Best college Season
NFL Draft

Player
College
System
Year
Yds
TD
Year
Pick
NFL AV

Graham Harrell
Texas Tech
Air raid
2007
5705
48


0

Chase Holbrook
NM State
Air raid
2006
4619
34


0

Colt Brennan
Hawaii
Run and shoot
2006
5549
58
2008
186
0

Cody Hodges
Texas Tech
Air raid
2005
4197
31


0

Sonny Cumbie
Texas Tech
Air raid
2004
4742
32


0

B.J. Symons
Texas Tech
Air raid
2003
5833
52
2004
248
0

Kliff Kingsbury
Texas Tech
Air raid
2002
5017
45
2003
201
0

Nick Rolovich
Hawaii
Run and shoot
2001
3361
34


0

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, sports-reference.com/cfb

Here’s how Gwynne summarized the attitude surrounding air raid passers by 2008, the season in which Leach and Harrell’s Red Raiders pulled off a monumental upset over No. 1-ranked Texas: “The proof that this was a ‘system,’ commentators all agreed, was that hardly any of Leach’s players, and none of his quarterbacks, ever made it in the NFL,” he wrote. “They were merely products of a scheme that magically spun dross into gold, mediocre quarterbacks into NCAA record-holders.”
Because of that perception, the early to mid-2000s were a wasteland for QBs from wide-open college offenses. Some more traditional spread passers got more traction — Byron Leftwich and Rex Grossman were both first-round picks out of vertical passing systems in college, though neither ultimately lived up to early expectations. A feedback loop was established in which the shortcomings of past system passers were used as an excuse to discount current ones, whose lack of NFL success was in turn held up as further evidence that the model simply couldn’t work in the pros.
But more recently, the tide has begun to turn in favor of the college spread passer. First, Sam Bradford of the Oklahoma Sooners — where Leach worked as offensive coordinator in 19994 — was picked No. 1 in the 2010 draft. Bradford wasn’t highly regarded out of high school, either, but he passed for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns while leading the Sooners to the 2008 BCS title game. More importantly, he had the size and other attributes to quell concerns about the system he came out of. While Bradford’s NFL career hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of the No. 1 overall pick, his acceptance by the scouts — and his subsequently decent NFL career — began to usher in the era of collegiate system passers as legitimate NFL prospects.
Around the same time, the NFL itself began to change. In a shocking upset in 2008, the Dolphins famously used the Wildcat — a literal college scheme — to run roughshod over the New England Patriots. Spread formations featuring the shotgun and/or the so-called 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers — started being used on the majority of NFL plays. The lines between “pro-style” and college offenses began to blur even further with the quick success of mobile, read-option QB prospects such as Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, each of whom thrived with plays that borrowed heavily from university playbooks. While defenses ended up adapting to some of these innovations — and Griffin and Kaepernick’s careers have fizzled due to, respectively, injuries and politics — the Philadelphia Eagles used college-style run-pass option tactics to win the Super Bowl with a backup QB in February.
As Kevin Clark recently wrote for The Ringer, the NFL’s scheme wars are over, and the spread — with its influences ranging from Edwards at BYU to Tiller at Purdue, Jones at Hawaii and Mumme at Kentucky — won the day. Against this backdrop, former big-number college passers have begun to thrive at the game’s highest level. Case Keenum, whose resume in Houston’s air raid system included a 5,631-yard, 48-TD season in 2011, went from an undrafted backup to one of the NFL’s best passers last season.5 Jared Goff, who starred in Cal’s “Bear raid” offense under coach Sonny Dykes (a Leach disciple), has a 104.6 passer rating and a 19-4 record over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. Oklahoma product Baker Mayfield parlayed his college performance in Lincoln Riley’s system into the No. 1 overall pick in the draft; he’s currently holding his own as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns.
All of this might culminate in the success of Mahomes, whose 22-AV pace this year would place him second only to Steve Young (peak AV: 23) among the best NFL quarterbacking seasons by pass-heavy college-system products. Between Mahomes’s own considerable skill set, the amazing amount of talent around him in Kansas City and the coaching genius of Andy Reid — himself drawing on many tricks and ruses from the college game — the Chiefs’ young passer is off to maybe the best career start of any quarterback ever, establishing himself as the MVP front-runner in the season’s first half. In the process, he may be driving the final stake into the heart of the myth that crazy college passing stats are the harbinger of NFL failure, or that playing QB in a wide-open scheme makes you unfit to run an offense in the pros.
If so, it would be the crowning moment of a trend decades in the making. We can trace the rise, fall and return of the spread-system quarterback prospect if we map out the career-high AV and draft value invested in FBS (or Div. I-A) passers who averaged at least 150 more adjusted passing yards than the NCAA average in a season and played in an air-it-out college scheme — whether it be the air raid, run-and-shoot, spread option, single-back, Fun ’n’ Gun, pistol or BYU vertical offense:

After the stellar success of Young and some decent seasons by Mitchell and McMahon, the failures of Klingler and Ware set off a long drought for prolific college system passers. But the recent rehabilitation of the archetype is evident on the right side of the timeline, with Mahomes currently soaring highest.
Fewer than 10 starts into his pro career, it may yet be premature to anoint Mahomes as the college-style passing attack’s permanent NFL savior. But as systems such as the air raid spread further throughout the college ranks, and as NFL teams show more and more willingness to embrace those same offensive concepts, it seems likely that traditional concerns about spread-system quarterback prospects will fade into oblivion. All it took was four decades of ups and downs, changing schemes and adapted attitudes — and miles and miles worth of college passing stats.


3 Games This Week Could Tell Us Who Will Make The College Football Playoff

Rivalry week, college football’s cancel-all-plans showcase in late November, is perennially viewed as having top billing on the sport’s calendar — chock-full of postseason implications in addition to bragging rights. But this year, there might be a challenger to rivalry week’s throne: There may be no more pivotal slate of games this season than that of Week 10, with three games on the Nov. 3 docket with critical consequences for the College Football Playoff.
Our playoff model simulates every game of the season, extracting the likelihood of each outcome as well as the probability of every team to reach the final four. To help you prepare for Week 10, here are the games that matter most, as defined by their potential cumulative effect on the entire nation’s playoff chances.

No. 1 Alabama (8-0) at No. 3 LSU (7-1)
Favorite: Alabama (69.4 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 43.6 points
The stakes: With both programs having two weeks to prepare, the Crimson Tide and Tigers will clash in a matchup that has often decided the SEC West division. This year’s installment pits one of the best LSU defenses in recent years against potentially the best offense Alabama has ever fielded.
After losing to then-No. 22 Florida in Gainesville, LSU rebounded with consecutive wins over ranked opponents: a 36-16 disposal of then-No. 2 Georgia and a 19-3 thrashing of then-No. 22 Mississippi State. Four wins over ranked opponents charmed the College Football Playoff committee into putting the Tigers third in the first iteration of its rankings.8
Behind Heisman front-runner Tua Tagovailoa and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s run-pass option attack, Alabama’s point margin is plus-252 in first halves this season, nearly 100 points better than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. In most seasons, it would be absurd to label a team as two-touchdown favorites against the third-ranked team in the nation, a team with a 1-in-5 chance of reaching the playoff — but that’s how good Alabama is. It’s been 21 years since LSU was this big of a home underdog.
Even though the Tide have been unquestionably the most dominant team this season, a loss would still hurt — dropping their likelihood of reaching the playoff by nearly 30 points. An LSU win would give the Tigers nearly coin-flip odds (49.8 percent) of reaching the playoff, and it would provide a bump for Georgia (from 32.2 percent to 35.9 percent) and Kentucky (from 6.8 percent to 8.1 percent) because it would likely mean that neither of those SEC East leaders would face Alabama in the conference championship game. Should Alabama win, the Tide’s odds of reaching the playoff would spike to 79 percent. A loss for LSU would drop the Tigers’ chances to 7.1 percent, effectively removing the team from contention.

How Alabama-LSU swings the playoff picture
Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Alabama-LSU game

Change in odds if Alabama…

Team
Current Playoff %
wins
loses
Weighted Difference*

LSU
20.2%
-13.0
+29.6
+/-18.1

Alabama
66.8
+12.2
-27.8
17.0

Georgia
32.2
-1.6
+3.7
2.3

Ohio State
23.9
+0.7
-1.5
0.9

Oklahoma
35.3
+0.6
-1.4
0.9

Kentucky
6.8
-0.6
+1.3
0.8

Total †

43.6

* Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.
† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 6 Georgia (7-1) at No. 9 Kentucky (7-1)
Favorite: Georgia (70.8 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 36 points
The stakes: For the better part of three decades, Kentucky has served as the doormat of the SEC East, while Georgia has routinely contended for conference championships. So while it’s no surprise that the loaded Bulldogs have a 1-in-3 chance of returning to the playoff, few preseason prognosticators would have guessed that the Wildcats would be relevant this late in the season. But here we are, with coach Mark Stoops crowd-surfing in locker rooms as his team rattles off victories. The winner of Saturday’s ground-and-pound clash is guaranteed a spot in the SEC title game.
Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm, who last season led Georgia to the national championship game as a true freshman, has withstood ample criticism and an eye-gouging in his sophomore campaign. As it stands, the Justin Fields experience is on hiatus. Across the field, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson is largely tasked with getting the ball to Benny Snell Jr. ad nauseam. The sophomore has attempted only 153 passes this season — one more than Tagovailoa, who largely sits the second half of games.
Saturday should be a blistering defensive fight. Kentucky has held seven consecutive opponents to fewer than 20 points, a feat last accomplished by the Wildcats nearly six decades ago. Both teams rank in the top 20 in opponent adjusted quarterback rating and in the top eight in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Whoever loses this game will see the near-annihilation of its playoff hopes: Kentucky’s odds would drop to 0.1 percent, and Georgia’s odds would drop to 2.1 percent. A win would improve the Wildcats’ odds to 16.2 percent, while Georgia’s odds would spike by 12.4 points to 44.5 percent. Kentucky toppling Georgia would greatly benefit just about every other team in the running: Alabama’s odds would jump to 73.2 percent, Notre Dame’s to 51.1 percent, Oklahoma’s to 36.7 percent, Ohio State’s to 25 percent and LSU’s to 22 percent.

How Georgia-Kentucky swings the playoff picture
Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Georgia-Kentucky game

Change in odds if Georgia…

Team
Current Playoff %
Wins
Loses
Weighted Difference*

Georgia
32.2%
+12.4
-30.1
+/-17.5

Kentucky
6.8
-6.7
+16.2
9.5

Alabama
66.8
-2.7
+6.4
3.8

LSU
20.2
-0.8
+1.8
1.1

Oklahoma
35.3
-0.6
+1.4
0.8

Ohio State
23.9
-0.5
+1.1
0.6

Total†

36.0

* Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.
† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 4 Notre Dame (8-0) at Northwestern (5-3)
Favorite: Notre Dame (70.7 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 31.4 points
The stakes: Few teams can challenge Northwestern for the national lead in inconsistency. The Wildcats have pirouetted to double-digit victories over two ranked opponents and come within fourth-quarter scoring drives of losses to upset-minded-but-inferior Nebraska and Rutgers. After dropping three of its first four games — including home losses to Duke and Akron — Northwestern responded by winning four straight Big Ten contests to occupy the driver’s seat of the Big Ten West.
Notre Dame has handled its business — and still had to watch as one-loss LSU was ranked ahead of it on Tuesday night. Through no fault of its own, Notre Dame’s victories over then-No. 7 Stanford and then-No. 24 Virginia Tech haven’t exactly aged well. Now under the guidance of dual-threat quarterback Ian Book, Notre Dame’s offense has improved substantially, and Brian Kelly is shepherding one of his top defenses since his arrival in 2010.
Considering that no team with three losses has qualified for the College Football Playoff in its four-year history, Northwestern faces long odds. But because of the imbalance in the Big Ten, the Wildcats have a clear path to the Big Ten championship and a resume-boosting opportunity to play a top-tier opponent, likely either Michigan or Ohio State, at the end of the season. So a loss this weekend would serve as a death knell, but a win keeps those slim hopes alive at 1.4 percent.
Every team on the outside looking in is pulling for Northwestern, who could provide a huge odds boost to the other contenders with a win. Notre Dame controls its destiny, with a win improving its odds to 61.1 percent. But a loss would drop the Irish’s chances to 23.3 percent, suggesting that even with only one loss, it would need serious help to maintain its spot in the top four.

How Notre Dame-Northwestern swings the playoff picture
Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Notre Dame-Northwestern game

Change in odds if Notre Dame …

Team
Current Playoff %
Wins
Loses
Weighted Difference

Notre Dame
50.0%
+11.1
-26.7
+/-15.6

Michigan
26.6
-2.0
+4.8
2.8

Oklahoma
35.3
-1.1
+2.8
1.6

LSU
20.2
-1.1
+2.6
1.5

Georgia
32.2
-0.9
+2.1
1.2

Alabama
66.8
-0.8
+1.9
1.1

Total†

31.4

* Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.
† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

Check out our latest college football predictions.


How LSU And Oklahoma Can Still Make The College Football Playoff

A week ago, we kicked off our College Football Playoff prediction model by talking in part about the handful of teams that were in great shape — provided they just kept winning ballgames. Then Saturday came around, and just like that, two of those squads (LSU and Oklahoma) were knocked down more than a few rungs on the championship ladder. So how can the Tigers and Sooners climb their way back toward the top?
In each remaining week of the season, we’ll break down what one team — or, in today’s case, two — needs to have happen in order for it to make the College Football Playoff. Primarily, we’ll be looking at how much each remaining game on the team’s schedule (and other teams’ schedules as well) potentially swings its playoff probability.

Louisiana State
Current playoff chances: 4 percent
What it can do: Losing to Florida dropped LSU’s playoff chances from 11 percent to 4 percent, giving the Tigers very little margin for error from here on out. The good news in Baton Rouge, though, is that they still basically control their own destiny — one of the fringe benefits of having an impossibly tough SEC schedule. If LSU wins out, our model says it would have a greater than 99 percent chance of making the playoff, making it one of only five schools (joining Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson) whose playoff chances are that high if they go the rest of the season without a loss. Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done: Even after putting the Gators behind it, LSU still has four more ranked opponents left on its regular-season schedule, plus whomever it might play in the SEC title game (if the Tigers get there). At the same time, just one more loss would basically doom LSU, leaving its playoff probability at the end of the season at just 16 percent even if it finishes 10-2. Practically speaking, Ed Orgeron’s team really does have no choice but to keep winning.
Who can help it: After allowing LSU to storm back from down 21-10 to beat it in September, Auburn could end up doing its SEC West rivals yet another favor by winning the Iron Bowl over Alabama in late November. LSU’s chances of making the playoff are about 3 percentage points higher in our simulations where Auburn beats Alabama than vice versa. In fact, any Alabama loss would generally help LSU’s chances of making the playoff because it would give the Tigers the edge over the Tide in the division (assuming they beat the Tide themselves in Death Valley on Nov. 3). One other thing is also clear: Alabama and Georgia’s playoff bids are basically incompatible with LSU’s. Conditional on the Tigers making the playoff, there’s only a 23 percent chance that Alabama also makes it and a 14 percent chance for Georgia. Even the SEC can contain only so many playoff contenders. Outside the conference, Texas and Penn State are teams with similar playoff bona fides who would theoretically be competing with LSU for an outside shot at the final playoff slot, so slip-ups by the Longhorns or Nittany Lions also slightly help the Tigers. But even so, most non-LSU games won’t move the Tigers’ needle much, meaning they’ll mostly have to forge a path to the playoff for themselves.

Which games hold the most weight for LSU?
Remaining 2018 college football games with the biggest effect on LSU’s playoff chances*

DIff. in LSU Playoff Odds

WK
Team
Opponent
w/ Win
w/ Loss
Weighted

10
LSU
Alabama
+10.6%
-3.5%
+/-5.3

7
LSU
Georgia
+7.1
-3.0
4.2

13
LSU
Texas A&M
+3.7
-3.5
3.6

8
LSU
Mississippi St.
+2.6
-3.4
3.0

11
LSU
Arkansas
+0.7
-3.4
1.2

13
Alabama
Auburn
-0.5
+2.6
0.8

7
Alabama
Missouri
-0.3
+2.3
0.5

10
Florida
Missouri
-0.3
+0.7
0.4

11
Texas
Texas Tech
-0.4
+0.4
0.4

10
Penn State
Michigan
-0.3
+0.4
0.4

* Relative to the team’s current odds
Based on two sets of simulations: one in which the team wins and one in which it loses. Differences are weighted by the likelihood of each outcome happening. Numbers may not add up exactly because of rounding.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information group

Oklahoma
Current playoff chances: 17 percent
What it can do: After losing the Red River Showdown to Texas on Saturday, the Sooners are less in the driver’s seat than LSU in terms of controlling their own postseason destiny. Even if Oklahoma wins all its remaining games, our model still gives the Sooners only an 85 percent chance of making the playoff. That’s not too terrible, though, given that Kyler Murray and company have a relatively manageable remaining schedule that includes only one ranked opponent. That matchup — a Nov. 23 battle against West Virginia in Morgantown — could swing Oklahoma’s season more than any other game, with our model calling for an average change to the Sooners’ playoff chances of plus or minus 13 percentage points, depending on whether they can beat the Mountaineers. In the universe where OU does win that one, the Sooners make the playoff 29 percent of the time; in the ones where they don’t, that number is 2 percent.
Who can help them: Because they’re not quite the locks that some other top teams are, Oklahoma will probably need another big-time contender to falter. And according to our model, that team is most likely Notre Dame. Aside from West Virginia and Texas, whose hopes each rest on outdueling the Sooners for the Big 12 title, the Fighting Irish are the team whose playoff chances drop the most in simulated universes where Oklahoma makes the playoff. Unfortunately for the Sooners, Notre Dame has a 39 percent chance of navigating the rest of its schedule undefeated — tops among any team in the nation — while Oklahoma’s chances of winning out are only 14 percent. (That discrepancy is a big reason for Notre Dame’s 46 percent chance of making the playoff, while Oklahoma sits at 17 percent.) But a Notre Dame loss — most likely to Syracuse, USC or Northwestern — would do the Sooners a big favor in their struggle to regain position in the playoff race.

Which games hold the most weight for Oklahoma?
Remaining 2018 college football games with the biggest effect on Oklahoma’s playoff chances*

DIff. in Oklahoma Playoff Odds

WK
Team
Opponent
w/ Win
w/ Loss
Weighted

13
Oklahoma
W. Virginia
+12.2%
-14.2%
+/-13.1

10
Oklahoma
Texas Tech
+6.7
-12.4
8.7

8
Oklahoma
TCU
+5.4
-11.8
7.4

11
Oklahoma
Oklahoma St.
+4.4
-13.4
6.6

9
Oklahoma
Kansas St.
+1.4
-13.9
2.5

12
Oklahoma
Kansas
+1.0
-13.6
1.8

9
Texas
Oklahoma St.
-1.4
+1.7
1.6

12
Texas
Iowa St.
-1.1
+2.9
1.5

13
Notre Dame
USC
-0.9
+2.4
1.3

12
Notre Dame
Syracuse
-0.8
+3.3
1.3

* Relative to team’s current odds
Based on two sets of simulations: one in which the team wins and one in which it loses. Differences are weighted by the likelihood of each outcome happening. Numbers may not add up exactly because of rounding.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information group

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