Advanced outlook: Playoff scenarios after 1st ranking, Clemson-NC State projections


by - Staff Writer -
Clemson has responded after the UNC game and its Playoff path was left unchanged by the first committee rankings.
Clemson has responded after the UNC game and its Playoff path was left unchanged by the first committee rankings.

Clemson looks to be only the second team to start outside College Football Playoff committee's top-four and win the national title.

First, they have to crack the top-four and that path really wasn't affected at all by Tuesday's first CFP rankings.

In case you missed it (and you probably didn't), Clemson's 24-ranking run in the CFP top-four ended with a No. 5 initial ranking, behind Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and then Penn State. ESPN's FiveThirtyEight updated its Playoff projections after the rankings and Clemson's FBS-leading projection saw a lone percentage-point drop (82 percent). Ohio State bumped up the most, by four percent (67), and Alabama (50) and LSU (38) each dropped by two percent. 

No. 2 LSU heads to No. 3 Alabama on Saturday (3:30 p.m./CBS) and the game represents a near must-win for the Bayou Bengals, whose projection drops to 20 percent with a loss and 18 percent if Alabama wins out. Despite its No. 4 CFP ranking, Penn State still has the eighth-best odds currently (24), per 538, and is virtually eliminated if Ohio State wins out (6 percent) -- the two meeting in Columbus, Ohio on Nov. 23. First, the Nittany Lions take on fellow unbeaten Minnesota on the road this week (noon/ABC). 

ESPN's Football Power Index, which ranks the Tigers No. 3 behind Ohio State and Alabama currently, gives Clemson an over 95 percent win projection in its final two ACC games versus NC State (97.4) and Wake Forest (95.9) and just under 90 percent at South Carolina (89.1). 

As it stands now, next week's opponent Wake Forest is one of 12 teams that are given a 70 percent or better shot to make the Playoff if they win out (independent of other teams' results, obviously outside of Clemson since they play). The other teams in that list include all the unbeatens, Baylor the team not mentioned so far (96 percent if wins out), and one-loss teams in Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia and Utah. 

Clemson-NC State projections

If motivation was even remotely an issue as a 32-point favorite at NC State this week, Tuesday's news certainly didn't aid the Wolfpack, which come in nursing a slew of injuries and just not playing well at all.

Here's how they shape up:

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU SP+ ranks (No. 5 overall): 7 | 5 | 120

NCSU SP+ ranks (No. 65 overall): 92 | 46 | 35

CU ESPN ranks (No. 3 overall): 7 | 1 | 116

NCSU ESPN ranks (No. 88 overall): 108 | 63 | 41

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers.  ESPN’s Football Power Index-based metric has similar statistical factors weighing together).

Football Outsiders' FEI projection picks Clemson by six touchdowns on Saturday (42 points), while former partner and now ESPN-metric SP+ sees a closer game and the Wolfpack covering the number (26 points). TeamRankings.com sees a game right around the number, picking Clemson 42-11

Clemson is 6-3 against the spread this year and 3-0 versus Power 5 teams since the North Carolina game.  

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 93% Clemson (Tigers by 26)

ESPN FPI: 97.4% Clemson

FEI: 99% Clemson (Tigers by 42)

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