If you haven't read my Season Preview or looked at my Season Projections, that's fine, but I hate you.
The cool thing about the projections is that I can give you every team in the country's probability to make the playoffs, and project out a bracket for November. First step first, the Pool A bids. Which teams are most likely to win their conference? The list below is sorted not by the quality of each team, but by each team's likelihood of winning their conference (which is why the E8 & ODAC are at the bottom; anybody who pretends to know who's winning those conferences is selling snake oil). Teams in bold are those that are the same as the predictions from D3Football.com's Kickoff '17 preview.
The likelihood of this exact group of 25 teams all earning Pool A bids this year is extremely low: about one in 200 million. So when Linfield loses to an undefeated George Fox team this fall, just know that I hedged my bets.
The next step of building the field is the Pool B bids, those for conferences without an automatic bid (the American Southwest & the NEWMAC) or independents (Washington U. and Finlandia, the latter of which isn't even going to be eligible for the post-season). Last fall, I had my model set up to just automatically give the Pool B bid to whoever won the ASC, and I have a bug somewhere in the code this year causing the total probabilities of Pool B teams adding up to around 205% instead of exactly 200%, but these odds are close enough for any practical reading of the data.
The odds of UMHB and HSU both getting Pool B bids is actually pretty good: around 37.5%, or 3 in 8. These are also the same two teams predicted by D3Football.
The last piece of the puzzle is Pool C, or at-large bids. The probabilities shown below are the odds each team gets an at-large bid if the team above wins their conference's Pool A bid, so these numbers won't match those you see on the Season Projection interactive, which shows a team's overall odds of getting in through Pool C.
I would wager that the odds of all five of these teams getting in through Pool C are even lower than getting all of the Pool A bids correct, due to the correlation between UWP, UWO, and JCU. Oshkosh and John Carroll play each other Week 1 (more on that game in a post later this week), and UWP and UWO are obviously in the same conference. The only way I can see this all working out is if JCU beats UWO, the Titans are part of a three-way tie for the WIAC championship, and there are no other viable Pool C teams with only one loss. I suspect that any one of Muhlenberg, Case Western, Salisbury, the NEWMAC champion, or the E8 runner-up would get in ahead of a third 2-loss WIAC school this November if they come in at 9-1.
The playoff team least likely to make it back to the Field of 32 this year is easily Washington University, who has less than a 1% chance according to the model. The move out of the SAA into one year of independence removed their chances of earning an automatic bid, but it also vastly increased their strength of schedule. Only the WIAC schools and Carroll play tougher schedules this season. Besides the obvious choice in St. Louis, the following four teams also have a long road back to the tournament:
Bridgewater State: 19.29%
There's a pretty common theme among all four teams--large senior classes to replace, and a relatively unexpected ride to the playoffs in 2016. Coe had unbelievable injury luck last year helping them win important games in a balanced IIAC. Twenty-one players started in at least eleven of their twelve games last year, and only twenty five different players started a game, easily lowest in the country. Randolph-Macon and Bridgewater State had decent odds in the preseason last year, and stout, experienced, senior-laden defenses were the difference in their conference title runs. Replacing that leadership will be a challenge. Only nine players return from an Alfred squad that ran the table in the regular season last year, including Tyler Johnson, who finished 2016 as the second-most valuable player in the country in terms of Yards Above Average Player per Game.
If you're interested in seeing where your team ranks in terms of playoff odds, see the complete list below.