I love the work that really talented probabilities guys do with football. (Honestly, I love the work that all probability guys do. That's why I'm currently reading Nate Silver's, The Signal and the Noise, which is fascinating. As a general rule we consistently underrate the likelihood of upsets in college football. Especially with our predictions.
That's why a guy using probabilities in sports is so fascinating. After all, any sixty minute game is just a small representation of what could have happened in a game. Big upsets are just outliers.
The guy I love the best of all when it comes to computing sports probabilities is Paul Bessire at Prediction Machine. Paul's method is to input his data to a computer and run his simulations 50,000 times. His outcomes reflect the odds of what will happen in any given game. He then sells betting advice when his formulas show the greatest differential with the existing line.
He's been really successful with his predictions against the spread.
Now that there are four undefeated teams left in major college football -- Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon -- I wondered what the odds were that all four teams would finish undefeated. So I asked Paul to run the probabilities for me.
And if you're a data geek like me, you're going to love what his results showed.
The result that's the most surprising: It's 15 times as likely that all four of these top teams will lose as it is that all four of these teams will win out.
There is just 1.22% chance that Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame all finish undefeated and there is a 15.75% chance that all four teams lose.
But that's just one of the fascinating details that Paul spins out of this year's college football data.
"There are currently six undefeated teams in FBS – Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Louisville and Ohio State. Before we get into hypothetical BCS title matchups, let’s review the remaining schedules for each undefeated team to look at the realistic chances that the teams finish the season without a loss. While Louisville would not realistically make the BCS championship unless the next most likely participant has two losses and Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play, we will at least address the chances that those teams finish undefeated.
The six undefeated teams have 25 remaining games combined (assuming both Alabama and Oregon make their conference championship games). In all 25 of those games, the current undefeated team is favored in our projections. However, both Ohio State @ Wisconsin (November 17) and Louisville @ Rutgers (November 29) are essentially 50/50. Among the top four teams (in our rankings and the BCS standings), the closest remaining game is Notre Dame @ USC, which the Fighting Irish win 65.7% of the time.
Here are the chances that each current undefeated FBS team wins all of its remaining regular season (and conference championship) games:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Games Remaining: 5 (with conference championship, though one of those games is against FCS Western Carolina)
Games Remaining: 5 (including conference championship game)
Undefeated Chances: 20.2%
Closest Remaining Game: at USC (November 2 – at Oregon State is close)
Games Remaining: 4
Undefeated Chances: 16.6%
Closest Remaining Game: at Rutgers (November 29)
A few notes on the undefeated odds above:
Chances there are still six undefeated FBS teams on December 2 (after conference title games): 0.06% (or 1-in-1718)
Chances Alabama, Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon are undefeated on December 2: 1.22% (or 1-in-82)
Chances Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon are undefeated on December 2: 2.23% (or 1-in-45)
Chances Oregon is undefeated and Kansas State and Notre Dame are not on December 2: 8.79% (or 1-in-11)
Chances Notre Dame is undefeated and Kansas State and Oregon are not on December 2: 22.96% (or 1-in-4)
Chances Kansas State is undefeated and Oregon and Notre Dame are not on December 2: 13.31% (or 1-in-8)
Chances that Louisville is the only undefeated FBS (BCS eligible) team on December 2: 2.62% (or 1-in-38)
Chances that Alabama is the only undefeated FBS (BCS eligible) team on December 2: 15.83% (or 1-in-6)
Chances that both Alabama and Oregon lose in their respective conference championship games: 4.28% (or 1-in-23)
Chances that no FBS team is undefeated on December 2: 9.35% (or 1-in-11)
Chances that Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State all have at least one loss on December 2: 15.75% (or 1-in-6)
Hypothetical BCS Championship Games:
While it is difficult (impossible) to project exactly what the computers (who do not have to disclose their formulas) or pollsters (who have historically proven an inability to act rational) are going to say at the end of the season, we use Todd Furhman’s possibilities and speculative lines here to present our projected results from 50,000 simulations of potential BCS Championship Games:
And, finally, the poll question on the Dan Patrick Show today was whether Alabama would win the BCS national championship or the “field.” The results were essentially 50/50 from voters. Alabama is the prohibitive favorite over any other individual team right now (at least two, if not 2.5 times more likely than anyone else). But, based on these odds and projections, I would put the Crimson Tide’s chances at around 35-40% (37.4% if I have to put an exact figure on it, but there is so much uncertainty with the BCS process that adds error to that confidence).
Also, a prohbitive favorite in any game against an FBS opponent, Alabama would be a 21 point favorite over Ohio State (36-15 average score) if the two could play.