Florida State is a runaway favorite to make the inaugural College Football Playoff, clocking in with an 83.5% chance according to our calculations, which at this point are based entirely on our pre-season projections for the FBS. Florida State ranks #1 in our Pre-season Top 128.
Alabama, Baylor, and UCLA all have odds above 50% and are projected to round out the 4-team field. They are the #2, #5, and #3 teams in our pre-season rankings.
Florida State is expected to easily win the ACC championship, while Alabama, Baylor, and UCLA are our favorites in the SEC, Big Twelve, and Pac-12 respectively.
While the Seminoles have little competition in the ACC—the next ACC team in the list is Clemson at #21—the other teams all lead a tight race in their conference. The SEC has seven teams in the top 25 while the Big Twelve and Pac-12 each have three. Though the Big Ten's top team comes in at #10 there are six teams in the top 25. There are also four teams outside the "power" conferences, including two independents.
All four of the top teams are favored to win every game they play this season as well as their conference championship games (the Big Twelve does not have a championship game). When cumulative odds are used, all four are still expected to have at least 10 wins this season.
SportsRatings Projected College Football Playoff Teams - Top 25 (pre-season projections)
"Others receiving votes": Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Louisiana-Lafayette, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Stanford, and Missouri
The next two most likely teams to make it are Oklahoma and Georgia. The Sooners are our #2 Big Twelve team and if Baylor doesn't make it, Oklahoma probably does. The same goes for Georgia; as the favorites in the SEC East, they have an easier path to the SEC title game than teams in the West that have to compete with Alabama.
Next are two teams that barely make an impression in the AP poll but we expect them to be good and furthermore, they have easy schedules. Marshall is a surprise at #7 but other than FSU no team is more likely to go undefeated this season. That might not get the Thundering Herd into the top four, however, and their odds of getting there are around 16%. The same holds true for BYU; though the Cougars have a tougher schedule, it doesn't have a majority of "Power 5" opponents; they have around a 12% chance.
Don't assume that if teams above Marshall and BYU lose that the Herd and Cougars will move up. Most likely other Power 5 conference teams will leapfrog them. Even if they win out, they might end up staying exactly where they are, unless they are so dominant they can't be ignored (or every Power 5 teams has 2 or more losses).
Oregon is our pre-season #4 team but is only #9 here, mainly because they would have to face UCLA twice to make the playoff and we rank the Bruins higher. Beating UCLA is their key.
Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State come in at #10, #11, and #12. The Badgers are our #3 Big Ten team but they're in the West division, meaning OSU and MSU have to fight it out to get to the Big Ten title game. The other Big Ten teams—the two surprise teams Indiana and Maryland, as well as Michigan—are also in the East division, making things even harder for the Spartans and Buckeyes.
At #13 Houston is the sole representative from the American Athletic Conference. Ranked #16 in our pre-season rankings, the Cougars are another combination of a good team with an easy schedule. However, they do face BYU in a few weeks. That game should have big ramifications here, if nowhere else!
The only other non-Power Five conference team in the top 25 is #19 Navy; they're only our #48 team but they have a soft schedule in general, but with a couple of games (Ohio State, Notre Dame) where upset wins would put them on the map. Without at least one of those, they won't register on this list.
#14 Auburn, #17 Mississippi, #22 LSU, and #25 Mississippi State are all SEC teams that have to get past Alabama in the SEC West, while #18 South Carolina is Georgia's principal foe in the East.
#16 TCU must deal with Baylor and Oklahoma, and #21 Clemson is in the same ACC division as Florida State.
We will update these projections each week based on game outcomes and our power ratings.