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College Football Playoff Simulations

How would a real football playoff have played out?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, I put together two different brackets showing what a D1 college football playoff might look like this season - IF D1 had a "real" playoff system.  One bracket was modeled after D2, the other after FCS.  Well, that was so much fun, I thought I'd head over to and use their free simulator to fill out the brackets.

TL;DR - Basically, the top four teams this year seem to be the best teams, as in our two simulations, all four advanced in the FCS model and three of the four (sorry Clemson) advanced in the D2 model.

Disclaimer: I spent WAAAAAY to much time on this.

Second Disclaimer: I think I like the FCS model best.  It would be easier to arrange for conference champs to get first round home games.

Third Disclaimer: Yes, I will do this for 2007 at some point.

I looked up historical weather using for the dates listed on the brackets for each location. However, the Final Four and championship games I assumed would be played in domes or someplace like the Rose Bowl, so I went with 70 degrees, no wind, and no rain for those games.

I tried to adjust for injuries (Baylor's QBs, TCU's WR) but I’m sure I missed some.

I simulated each matchup 10 times so we could get an idea of what the math says the better team is. But what’s a playoff without a little madness, right?  So therefore, whichever team won the first simulation in each matchup advanced to the next round.

In order to save space, I'll link the box scores instead of displaying them.

Click here for the D2 bracket games.

Click here for the FCS bracket games.

Fourth Disclaimer: Even so, it's still pretty long.


- D2 Bracket -

2015 D2 Sim


Houston 34 @ Oklahoma State 30

12/12/15, 70 degrees, light wind

We got the madness started right away, as Houston picked up a win in Stillwater.  However, OSU reeled off nine straight victories in the follow-up tests to go 9-1 in their 10 games.  But since these games aren't played on paper - and are only played once - the Cougars move on.

Temple 10 @ Florida State 40

12/12/15, 75 degrees, no wind

FSU won all 10 matchups vs Temple, several by blowout, none by less than 10 points.  Yeah, who knows if Everett Golson would have played in a playoff situation; I'm guessing he would have.

Western Kentucky 13 @ Notre Dame 27

12/12/15, 60 degrees, light wind

Notre Dame went 8-2 in the 10 games against WKU, but most were close games within a 10 point margin of victory.

LSU 30 @ Northwestern 13

12/12/15, 50 degrees, no wind

LSU went 9-1 versus Northwestern, with the result you see being one of the larger point differentials, but only a couple of games were within a single score.

Navy 17 @ OIe Miss 31

12/12/15, 65 degrees, light wind

Ole Miss went 9-1 against Navy, with Navy's only win coming in triple overtime.

Arkansas State 0 @ Iowa 36

12/12/15, 50 degrees, no wind

Iowa "only" went 9-1 against the Red Wolves, and while a couple of the simmed games were close, most were blowouts, and two were shutouts, like the score you see here.

Florida 17 @ Michigan 21

12/12/15, 60 degrees, no wind

The Wolverines scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come back and beat Florida in this hotly anticipated matchup.  Michigan went an astounding 9-1 against the Gators, but almost every game was close, as in, single digits.

Utah 23 @ TCU 31

12/12/15, 70 degrees, medium wind

TCU is missing Josh Doctson, and Boykin really spread it out to his different receivers.  TCU went 7-3 against Utah even without their star receiver.

San Diego State 13 @ Stanford 31

12/12/15, 55 degrees, no wind

The Aztecs took 3 out of 10 from the Cardinal in our little simulation, but Stanford moves on courtesy of winning the first game.

Baylor 36 @ Oregon 30

12/12/15, 45 degrees, light rain, medium wind

Apparently the broken of ankle of Jarrett Stidham was tested by Art Briles at some point.  Hey, it's the playoffs!  A little broken bone isn't gonna stop these guys.    Shock Linwood was your Player-of-the-Game.  Apparently the Baylor kicker attempted seven field goals?  I'm not sure he had that many attempts all season... Anyway...  Interestingly, Baylor only won one of the ten games I simulated, but luckily for them, it was the first one.

Tennessee 24 @ North Carolina 35

12/12/15, 70 degrees, no wind

These teams were pretty even, with Carolina taking 6 of 10 from Tennessee.

Bowling Green 28 @ Ohio State 10

12/12/15, 65 degrees, light wind

In the shocker of the first round, Bowling Green State University marches into the script Ohio and demolishes it.   JT Barrett couldn't figure out who was on his team and it cost tOSU bigtime.  The Buckeyes won 9 of the 10 matchups, but most were within two scores with the exception of one 73-0 blowout.


Houston 17 @ Clemson 22

12/19/15, 50 degrees, light wind

Clemson scored the go-ahead, game-winning touchdown with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter.  Maybe they were a little rusty after the bye week.  (Or maybe Houston deserved a shot at the national title.)  Clemson won 9 of 10 simulations, but none by more than 17 points.

Florida State 48 @ Notre Dame 43

12/19/15, 25 degrees, light wind

The Seminoles gave up all of a 35-10 lead, but came back to knock off the Irish in an exciting game.  FSU won 8 of 10 of the simulations, but almost all were close games.

LSU 23 @ Oklahoma 31

12/19/15, 55 degrees, medium wind

Leonard Fournette is a beast.  LSU may have only won 1 of 10 games, but Fournette was never held to under 100 rushing yards, and had over 200 in four of the simulated matches.

Ole Miss 40 @ Iowa 10

12/19/15, 30 degrees, light wind

Wow.  Ok then.  Big 10 sucks I guess (cuz tournament performance is everything, right guys?).  Ole Miss won 7 of 10, but most were less than two score games.

Michigan 23 @ Alabama 25

12/19/15, 50 degrees, no wind

In the most exciting game of the tournament so far, Michigan scores a 29-yard touchdown with no time remaining, but can't convert the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.  ‘Bama's kicker got a workout in this one, nailing 6 FGs, but apparently Michigan couldn't tackle Derrick Henry.  Alabama won all 10 simulations, but most of them were close games.

TCU 20 @ Stanford 26

12/19/15, 55 degrees, light wind

Stanford was able to hold off TCU, who was still missing Josh Doctson.  This game appears to be a coin flip, as the teams split the 10 matchups with 5 apiece.

Baylor 13 @ Michigan State 48

12/19/15, 30 degrees, medium wind

Baylor finally ran out of gas in East Lansing, as neither a hobbled Jarret Stidham nor the WR-turned-QB Chris Johnson were effective for the Bears.  MSU won 7 of 10, most of which were much closer than this score, including one that went four overtimes.

Bowling Green 28 @ North Carolina 35

12/19/15, 45 degrees, light wind

The Falcons couldn't pull off two stunners, but they made a game of it.  Carolina won 8 of 10, but two of those wins were in multiple overtimes.


Florida State 38 @ Clemson 27

12/26/15, 70 degrees, no wind

Clemson beat FSU at home in the regular season, 23-13, but Florida State gets revenge.  #Motivation, amirite?  The ‘Noles only took 2 of 10 from the Tigers, but hey, you only need one.

Ole Miss 20 @ Oklahoma 31

12/26/15, 40 degrees, light rain, heavy wind

Not a good day for kickers, but the Sooners advance to the Final Four.  The Sooners took 7 of 10 from Ole Miss.

Stanford 18 @ Alabama 41

12/26/15, 70 degrees, light wind

The Tide rolled into the national semifinals with a big win here.  Alabama won all 10 simulations, with most being comfortable 2-3 touchdown spreads.

North Carolina 37 @ Michigan State 56

12/26/15, 40 degrees, light rain, light wind

Someone woke up MSU's offense on a cold, windy, rainy day in Michigan.  However, overall these teams come off as fairly even, as they split the 10 games I simulated.


So Clemson was the only one of the "real" final four participants to not make our fake Final Four.

Florida State 34 vs Oklahoma 33

The Sooners blew a 33-21 fourth-quarter lead as FSU advanced to the national title game.  Ultimately, OU took 6 of 10 in our simulations.

Michigan State 14 vs Alabama 50

Apparently Nick Saban really wants to win that first "true" national title.  MSU was only able to take 2 of 10 from the Tide.


Florida State 27 vs Alabama 41

Congrats to Alabama, the computers love you.  Derrick Henry is not only your Heisman winner, he's also most likely the tournament MVP.  FSU only took 2 of 10 from the Tide.

- FCS Bracket -

D2 FCS Sim Bracket


Arkansas State 13 @ Baylor 55

12/12/15, 70 degrees, medium wind

The Red Wolves just had no answer for Shock Linwood.  Baylor took 9 of 10 from the Wolves.

Northwestern 12 @ Ole Miss 47

12/12/15, 65 degrees, light wind

The number say that the Wildcats just can't compete with the Rebels; Ole Miss took all 10 simulated matchups, and most of them weren't close.

Western Kentucky 24 @ LSU 38

12/12/15, 75 degrees, light wind

This actually seems to be a bit of an upset, as the Hilltoppers took 6 of 10 from LSU in the simulations.

Oklahoma State 6 @ Florida State 30

12/12/15, 75 degrees, no wind

FSU took 8 of 10 from the Cowboys, but almost all of them were much closer than this score indicates.

Bowling Green 26 @ Florida 31

12/12/15, 60 degrees, light wind

The Falcons made a late run, but saw their fourth-quarter comeback fall short in Gainesville.  BGSU only took 3 of 10, but almost every loss was within a touchdown.

Oregon 34 @ North Carolina 55

12/12/15, 70 degrees, no wind

The visiting Ducks were only able to walk out of Chapel Hill as victors once out of 10 tries.

San Diego State 27 @ Houston 24

12/12/15, 75 degrees, medium wind

In a mild upset, SDSU surprises Houston.  The Cougars took 6 of the 10 simulations.

Michigan 24 @ TCU 42

12/12/15, 70 degrees, medium wind

Who needs Josh Docston?  TCU didn't, at least not against Michigan, taking 8 of the 10 sims.


Baylor 13 @ Clemson 41

12/19/15, 50 degrees, light wind

Clemson ends up only taking 6 of the 10 simmed games, with most of the Baylor losses with closer scores than this one indicates.

Ole Miss 20 @ Notre Dame 34

12/19/15, 25 degrees, light wind

This was a comfy win for the Irish; they also took out the Rebels 7 of 10 times in the other simulations.

LSU 20 @ Oklahoma 34

12/19/15, 55 degrees, medium wind

Fournette tore up the Sooners in this bracket as well, but it's a team game (or something).  OU won all ten sims this time out, only holding Fournette in check once.

Florida State 41 @ Iowa 23

12/19/15, 30 degrees, light wind

The Hawkeyes only managed 2 wins in 10 tries vs FSU.

Florida 10 @ Michigan State 28

12/19/15, 30 degrees, medium wind

Sparty knocked off Florida 9 of 10 times in our simulations.

North Carolina 7 @ Stanford 50

12/19/15, 55 degrees, light wind

Now this, my friends, is a good ole fashioned blowout.  However, it seems to be the more unlikely scenario, as Stanford only took 6 of the 10 sims.

San Diego State 20 @ Alabama 35

12/19/15, 50 degrees, no wind

And this, surprisingly, was not a blowout, with SDSU within 8 points with 8 minutes left in the game.  The Aztecs didn't win a single sim, but managed to avoid getting blown out in about half of them.

TCU 31 @ Ohio State 26

12/19/15, 30 degrees, light wind

OVER RATED... TCU took 6 of 10 from the Buckeyes.


Notre Dame 24 @ Clemson 29

12/26/15, 60 degrees, no wind

Clemson hosted and won a regular season matchup between these two squads, and the rematch went their way as well, as the Tigers came back from a 24-7 deficit to shock the Irish, scoring the go-ahead TD with 2:02 to go in the game.  Clemson took 8 of 10 sims, with most of them being by a touchdown or less.

Florida State 13 @ Oklahoma 38

12/26/15, 40 degrees, light rain, heavy wind

In a beautiful day in Norman, OU broke open a close game in the fourth quarter to head to the Final Four.  Overall, OU only took 6 of 10 from the ‘Noles.

Stanford 14 @ Michigan State 23

12/26/15, 40 degrees, light rain, light wind

In another competitive matchup, MSU got to advance even though the Cardinal managed to take 4 of the 10 sims.

TCU 10 @ Alabama 27

12/26/15, 70 degrees, light wind

Injuries finally caught up with the Frogs, as they just couldn't hang with ‘Bama, dropping 9 of 10 sims, including suffering a couple of blowouts.


Maybe the committee got it right after all...

Oklahoma 24 vs Clemson 20

OU advances 9 of 10 times, and most of the time, it wasn't a very close game.

Michigan State 21 vs Alabama 16

Sparty punches one in the end zone with 1:32 left in the game to steal it away from the Tide.  Alabama won 8 of 10 sims, but Sparty heads into the title game.


Oklahoma 34 vs Michigan State 31

OU won 8 of 10 sims in this national title game, bringing a nice trophy back to Norman and Big 12 country.