Breaking down the most likely College Football Playoff combinations

Let's talk College Football Playoff combinations.

With the playoff picture starting to come into focus now, there are specific playoff foursomes that now have a non-trivial chance of occurring. The most likely combination of four teams being selected by the playoff committee -- more on that in a minute -- has a 1-in-10 chance of coming to fruition, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. There are now seven combinations with at least a 1-in-20 shot.

So let's break them down. What are the most likely sets of four-team playoff combinations, how likely are they, and how does that combo come to be the one ultimately picked on selection day? In all cases, these combinations are regardless of seeding order among the four. Teams are listed below in alphabetical order.

1. Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia, Oklahoma
Chance of occurring: 10%

Wow, has Cincinnati come a long way. The predictor was incredibly skeptical of the Bearcats entering the season, giving them less than a 1% chance to reach the playoff. Can you blame the model? The committee had shown again and again that even an undefeated Group of 5 team was going to have a very hard time breaking through to the top four. We haven't seen the committee's rankings yet this year, but this time it does seem different.

Cincinnati is the sixth-best team in the country, per the Football Power Index, and has a 54% chance to win out -- better than any other undefeated team. If it does that, the Bearcats are projected to rank fourth in strength of record -- that's the big one. Though the AP poll is not the committee, it can't hurt that Cincinnati is already getting significant respect from those voters, who have the Bearcats at No. 2.

So how does this specific group make its way in? The most obvious path is: Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Alabama win out, with Georgia only losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game, plus a two-loss Big Ten champion.

Even though the predictor thinks that, say, one-loss Ohio State would be ahead of undefeated Cincinnati in the pecking order, the latter is more than twice as likely to occur as the former. A one-loss Big Ten champion Michigan would make the picture very murky between five teams fighting for four spots.

Lastly, if we move over to the SEC, could this combination happen if an undefeated Georgia gives Alabama its second loss in the SEC championship game? That would probably require a little more chaos but it does seem feasible.

2. Cincinnati, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma
Chance of occurring: 7%

This is fairly straight forward after the first combination. Oklahoma and Cincinnati win out, plus this time Georgia wins the SEC and Michigan wins out.

Would Michigan or Oklahoma get in even with a loss? Very likely yes. The only question would be in the aforementioned scenario in which Alabama beat Georgia and Cincinnati won out, leaving five teams for four spots, and it's unclear which way the committee would lean in determining the odd team out.

3. Cincinnati, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma
Chance of occurring: 7%

Identical to combination No. 2, just with Ohio State subbing in for Michigan. The Buckeyes, of course, already have a loss and really can't afford to drop another game, however. But because Ohio State is better and is slightly favored in its game at the Big House, this has almost the same probability of occurring as the version with currently undefeated Michigan.

4. Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma
Chance of occurring: 6%

In this case, a similar set of circumstances played out that we've been discussing, but one of two things happened. Either:

1. Cincinnati lost or ...

2. The committee is really steadfast in its disdain for the Group of 5.

Either could absolutely happen.

5. Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia, Ohio State
Chance of occurring: 6%

This is what happens when Oklahoma flames out.

Does it take two Sooners losses for this precise foursome to earn the selection? Probably, but not definitely?

A one-loss champion Ohio State is, in the predictor's mind, ahead of a one-loss champion Oklahoma. A one-loss Oklahoma would probably be battling an undefeated Cincinnati and a non-champion, one-loss Georgia, and, again, this is where things are murky. It's also a situation that is too unlikely to occur for the predictor to make a specific call on.

6. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma
Chance of occurring: 6%

See: combination No. 4, replacing Michigan with Ohio State.

7. Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia, Michigan
Chance of occurring: 5%

See: combination No. 5, replacing Ohio State with Michigan.

After the seventh-most likely scenario, there's a huge drop-off: Every other combination has less than a 2% chance of occurring. If you're thinking that these all seem like the same teams but just reshuffled around -- you're right. And in fact, the eighth- and ninth-most likely combinations also feature these same teams. The next team to get in the mix? That would be Pitt. We recently covered why the Panthers are long-shot playoff contenders. Heading into a huge game against Clemson, Pitt cracks the 10th-most likely playoff combination.