As I’m sure many of you know Penn State is playing Wisconsin this Saturday in the B1G championship game, and with a win Penn State would be in serious contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. For those who don’t know, the college football playoff is a 4 team playoff to determine the national champion. The four teams are selected by a committee of 12 people who have experience in college football. Before I get into the science of this I want to talk about how incredible this season has been, from starting the season unranked and going 2-2 through the first four games, to now playing for the B1G championship and a spot in the playoff is incredible and I am excited to be a part of it.
Now for the science, Penn State’s situation is this, they are currently ranked #7, with Wisconsin at #6 and Michigan at #5. They play Wisconsin on Saturday, an if they win they will obviously be ranked ahead of them. It is uncertain what will happen with PSU and Michigan, Michigan beat PSU early in the season when PSU was ravaged by injuries, and since that game PSU has looked like one of the best teams in the country, while Michigan lost to Iowa, struggled against Michigan St., and lost to Ohio State, all teams that Penn State beat. It is also unclear if PSU would make the top 4 over a team like Washington, should they win on Friday, if Washington loses and PSU wins PSU would very likely be in the playoff. With all of these scenarios and their varying affects on Penn State, I decided turn to statistics to answer my question.
For this, the null hypothesis is that a PSU win alone will result in the best chances for PSU to make the payoff, the alternative is that Penn State must win and have another top 5 team lose to have the best chance at making the playoff. I personally believe the alternative is true but I will let statistics answer that for me. To get these statistics and probabilities I went to a website called fivethirtyeight.com which specializes in applying statistics to sports and other aspects of life. Specifically I went to their College Football Playoff section. First I found the chance PSU has at the playoff if they win and all other top 5 teams win as well. According to fivethirtyeight, if PSU wins along with all other top 5 teams, Penn State’s chances of making the playoff are 13%. If Penn State wins and all top 5 teams lose, PSU’s chances jump to 92%, however this situation is highly unlikely. The most likely scenario that gives Penn state a more than 50% chance at the playoff is if Penn State wins and Washington loses, this would put Penn States chances at the playoffs at 66%. Based in this information I must reject the null and conclude that a Penn state win combined with one or more top 5 loses will give Penn State the best chance at the College Football playoff.