Navigate’s College Football Playoff Projections

AthleticDirectorU has partnered with Navigate to present a rich prediction model for this season’s College Football Playoff. From which blueblood programs are most likely to make the CFP to chances for the likes of Cincinnati and BYU, as well as scheduling reworks that could improve the Cougars’ odds. Notably, Navigate’s predictions are based on 3,500 simulations of the rest of the season. Dig in.





  • These are NOT rankings. They are the projected chances of each school making the CFP once the regular season is completed and the conference championship games have been played. 
  • Our CFP Projection Model works by inputting actual results – currently through Nov. 29 – and then running 5,000 simulations of the rest of the 2020 season to determine the likelihood each school is selected based on how the CFP committee has made its decisions in the past
  • Our standard model is 24-for-24 in identifying the CFP’s top 4 after the conference championship games. However, we have made a few initial tweaks to account for the oddities of 2020 – for example, a penalty for playing less than 7 regular season games – and we might make additional updates based on the CFP committee’s rankings and comments.
  • These results do NOT reflect whether we think a school is good or bad or deserving of a CFP selection. Our opinion is NOT reflected in these predictions and is completely moot. As stated above – and worth repeating – our model’s sole purpose is to reflect how the CFP committee has made selections in the past (and how they seem to be treating 2020) in order to predict the future.




  • There is a Clear Big 3. Unsurprisingly – and reassuringly for the architects of our model – there appear to be three schools who should make the CFP, barring any major upsets: Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Even if Notre Dame were to lose to Clemson in the ACC title game, our model predicts BOTH Notre Dame and Clemson would be selected for the CFP 21% of the time. 
  • The SEC Remains No. 1. Our model projects the SEC to put two teams in the CFP more often than the ACC (30% to 21%). The reason: Besides Alabama, the SEC has two strong contenders in both Florida and Texas A&M, whereas there is a major drop-off in the ACC after Notre Dame and Clemson.
  • The Pac-12 is Likely Out. Only USC has any chance, and it’s not a strong one at 5%. Essentially, USC must finish undefeated and there needs to be incredible chaos for the committee to consider them for the final spot.
  • The Big 12 is Still Alive. Iowa State has a 24% chance of getting in and Oklahoma has a 14% chance. Essentially, if the second-best team from the ACC and SEC do not finish the season strongly, and the Pac-12 champion is indeed punished for a severely truncated schedule, the decision could come down to the Big 12 champion or Cincinnati if it runs the table. It’s not extremely likely to happen for the Big 12, but our model does put them in the CFP 38% of the time.
  • If the Group of 5 is Ever Getting In, This is the Year. Cincinnati has an 18% chance according to our model, although when we dig deeper, it’s a 34% chance if Cincinnati goes undefeated. Our model only has the Bearcats running the table 55% of the time, though, because they will likely need to face a fairly good Tulsa team twice – first at the end of the regular season, then in the AAC title game.
    • In a normal year, our model has told us that the only recipe for a Group of 5 school to get into the CFP would be the following ALL happening:
      • An undefeated season 
      • At least one win over an above average Power 5 school 
      • A fairly strong season for the Group of 5 school’s conference (e.g. at least one or two other schools in the conference also beat a Power 5 school)
      • At least one Power 5 conference, if not two, producing a relatively weak champion
    • UCF has come the closest of any Group of 5 school by putting together undefeated seasons in 2017 and 2018, with Power 5 wins in both of those years (albeit against Power 5 schools that were not ranked). But UCF was ranked 12th and 8th by the committee in those years, respectively (our model had them ranked 10th and 8th), which only reaffirmed that numerous ingredients are necessary for a Group of 5 school to even come close to the CFP’s top 4 spots.
    • Because Cincinnati’s schedule does not have a Power 5 opponent this year and the AAC isn’t having an exceptionally strong year relative to norms, our model would normally not see a way for Cincinnati to get in. But this is where we made a couple of 2020 adjustments. 
    • With the committee clearly punishing truncated schedules and NOT punishing the Group of 5 as harshly as normal years, we added a penalty for shorter schedules (as mentioned earlier) and softened the penalty that we use to separate the Power 5 from the Group of 5. And yes, our standard model – the one that is 24-for-24 in predicting the CFP – is most accurate when we have a factor that pushes the Group of 5 scores down.
  • BYU Needs More Power 5 Games. As of now, our model has BYU going undefeated 89% of the time and never making the playoff. Its average final CFP ranking is 9th. It would likely require a win over a top Power 5 team, or two wins over middle-of-the-road Power 5 teams to have any shot at bridging that gap from 9th to 4th. 
  • Some Long Shots Are Alive. A few Big Ten teams – Northwestern (5%), Indiana (4%), and Iowa (2%) – need to run the table and root for complete chaos to get in. It’s highly, highly improbable, but not impossible. And in that same vein, there’s still a 3% chance for Miami (FL) to find a way in.






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