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Ohio State and Alabama are easily the top playoff contenders


NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The data suggests that teams have to recruit at a certain baseline to contend for the national title. The blue chip ratio puts that at about 50% -- that is, at least 50% of a team’s roster has to be blue chip talent.

Every year, only 10-15 teams have a blue chip ratio over 50%. So despite 128 teams, the champion will likely come from a pretty short list every year. Last year only 13 teams met the criteria. The championship was between Alabama (77% ratio) and Clemson (52%), while Ohio State had a 70% ratio as well. Washington, the final playoff team, was 24th in blue chip ratio at 26%.

Bud hasn’t calculated his blue chip ratios for 2017 yet, but I decided to do a rough estimate and include the top 16 teams from Bill’s S&P+ recruiting rating. The chart below takes those teams, organized by recruiting (the chart goes from Stanford at 16th in recruiting impact to Alabama at 1st), and compares the three components of the 2017 projected S&P+: returning production, 5-year S&P+ performance, and recruiting.

The Playoff Race

This chart makes it easy to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of the top recruiting teams — which should then be our top projected playoff contenders.

UCLA, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Georgia have all recruited well, but have poor returning production. Those five teams average 42nd in returning production, due to a combination of poor play on one or both sides of the ball last year and losses to graduation or the NFL. Excellent recruiting is needed to counteract poor returning production, and while all are top-16 recruiters, it remains to be seen whether any have the stockpiled talent necessary to really challenge for a playoff spot.

Of those five teams, Notre Dame and Georgia stick out. Many are high on Georgia for next season (and it’s not like they lost a ton to graduation or the NFL, with just a single NFL Combine invite), but their S&P+ ratings last season were very poor. Notre Dame should rebound from a 4-8 season that included seven losses by eight or less points (their second order win total was 3.2 higher than their actual total).

Eight teams have a weighted 5-year ranking lower than 10th: Texas A&M, Clemson, USC, Michigan, Florida, UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee. So these teams have had obviously had a ton of success, but only Clemson has reached the playoff from that group.

Only seven teams are ranked in the top-15 in all three metrics: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Clemson, and USC. If I had to put money down on a playoff top-4, it might just be four of those seven. Only Alabama and Ohio State rank in the top 3, or even top-5, of the three metrics.

2017 Playoff Contenders

S&P+ Rank Team Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
S&P+ Rank Team Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
1 Alabama 1 1 1 34
2 Ohio State 2 3 3 26
3 Florida State 3 2 7 25.7
10 Michigan 4 13 17 19.8
4 LSU 5 8 2 23.3
20 Georgia 6 41 8 13.4
7 USC 7 10 14 22
15 Florida 8 15 18 17.8
9 Auburn 9 12 23 20
17 Notre Dame 10 29 9 14.7
5 Oklahoma 11 6 5 22.8
19 Texas A&M 12 34 11 13.4
6 Clemson 13 5 13 22.3
24 Tennessee 14 37 26 11.2
34 UCLA 15 70 22 7.5
12 Stanford 16 14 6 18.6

So, surprise! Ohio State and Alabama should have a great chance of making the playoff next season.