In a season that began with the feeling that Alabama-Clemson V was an inevitability, neither are as likely now to win it all as Ohio State. That's according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, which gives the Buckeyes a 30% chance to win the College Football Playoff, a decent distance beyond the 24% and 18% chances it gives the Crimson Tide and Tigers, respectively.
Ohio State is also the most likely team to reach the playoff (77%). And the most likely national championship games are Ohio State vs. Alabama (16%) and Ohio State vs. Clemson (12%), ahead of another Nick Saban-Dabo Swinney rematch at just 10%.
So what has put the Buckeyes on top? There are a few factors.
Ohio State is the best team
That's the other big proclamation out of our metrics this week, as the Buckeyes moved atop FPI's rankings, sliding ahead of Alabama for the first time this season.
That's because Ohio State's season can be summed up in one word: domination. Though the Buckeyes haven't faced the stiffest competition so far this season, they have obliterated those that have had the misfortune of landing on their schedule. There is a signal in blowing out even middling competition, which is why FPI has upgraded the Buckeyes so substantially from its rather bearish preseason expectations.
The Buckeyes have won every game by at least 24 points. They've controlled the game early, covering the first-half spread in all seven of their contests. Led by Justin Fields (QBR rank: 3) at quarterback, they have been the best offense in college football according to our unit efficiency metric, which adjusts for opponent strength and garbage time. And they're well-rounded, with a defense almost as good as their offense. Chase Young has a pressure rate of 24% -- which blows away the rest of the country (Boise State's Curtis Weaver is the next highest at 20%).
If we're splitting hairs between Ohio State and Alabama, we've got to look at all three phases of the game, and Alabama's infamously poor kicking game does have an effect. FPI estimates that Ohio State's special teams unit is worth about one point per game more than Alabama's. The overall difference between the two teams, according to the model, is less than two points.
Ohio State has a slightly better path
Ohio State's schedule became, in FPI's eyes, easier after last week. That's because Wisconsin's surprising loss to Illinois revealed the Badgers as a less threatening opponent than the model previously presumed -- and that's a team that the Buckeyes might well end up facing twice.
The Crimson Tide have an overall tougher schedule than the Buckeyes and also a slightly tougher remaining schedule, taking into account who each team could play in the conference championship games.
Since we consider Ohio State to be a slightly better team with a marginally easier schedule, it also is more likely to win out, though both teams have possible paths to the playoff with a loss.
Clemson's schedule, in contrast, is so easy that the Allstate Playoff Predictor is skeptical (23%) of its chances of reaching the playoff even if it finishes 12-1 with a loss to South Carolina.
Is Tua Tagovailoa's injury a factor in these projections?
Mostly (but not entirely) no.
In-season injuries are not explicitly accounted for in FPI (and as a result, the Allstate Playoff Predictor). If Tagovailoa were to end up missing Alabama's game against LSU in a couple of weeks, or were to play but not be 100 percent healthy, FPI would have no knowledge of that.
However, it does take careful notice of each team's performance. After a 35-13 victory (partially without Tagovailoa) over Tennessee that FPI considered a disappointment for the Crimson Tide, the model did downgrade Alabama's offensive rating a little, which helped Ohio State take over the No. 1 slot.
This week's stakes
Though a loss to Wisconsin in Columbus on Saturday would be a blow to the Buckeyes, it would not be devastating. Because Wisconsin is in the opposite division, the Buckeyes would still have a 71% chance to win the Big Ten East and a 51% shot to reach the CFP. Should the Buckeyes lose on Saturday but win out after that as a 12-1 Big Ten champ, it would have an 88% shot at the playoff.
Of course, Ohio State is a two-touchdown favorite over the Badgers, per FPI. So in the much more likely result that it wins at home this weekend, its chances to reach the playoff would jump over 80%.
The point is: Get ready for Ohio State to not just be in the playoff but contend for a title. It's not just Clemson and Alabama anymore.