College football playoff chaos? Bet on it

Pittsburgh’s Elijah Zeise (25) and teammate Shakir Soto (52) celebrate with fans on the field after defeating Clemson 43-42 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Clemson, S.C.
Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt / AP

A collection of powerhouse teams had prevented college football’s usual craziness this year. And then the levees broke during Week 11.

The regular season will no longer coast into the College Football Playoff on calm waters. Chaos now reigns after three of the four teams projected to make the postseason tournament fell in a perfect storm of upsets last Saturday.

No. 2 Clemson started the cascade, losing 43-42 to Pittsburgh as 21.5-point favorites. No. 4 Washington fell next, succumbing 26-13 to USC as 10-point favorites. And No. 3 Michigan finished it off with the most surprising upset of all, 14-13 to Iowa as 24-point favorites.

A $10 parlay wager on all three upsets occurring would have paid out $5,270. The odds implied around a 99.8 percent chance that at least one of the three teams would win.

Now, the sport is left swimming in a much wider sea of possibilities with only two full weeks left of the regular season, and the fluctuation of future odds to win the College Football Playoff illustrate as much.

As the last unbeaten team in a major conference, Alabama has separated itself at the top. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook lists the Crimson Tide as the prohibitive favorite at minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1), the lowest price a team has reached in the regular season since the playoff was implemented three years ago.

Before the triumvirate of upsets, four additional contenders stood at 7-to-1 or better—Clemson, Michigan, Washington and Ohio State. Now only Ohio State (2-to-1) and Louisville, (6-to-1) fall within that range.

Meanwhile, the next tier of contenders has swelled. There are now a total of 12 teams at 50-to-1 or less in the future odds, three more than the previous couple weeks, with long shots Penn State, Washington State and West Virginia even sneaking within range.

No team with two losses has ever made the playoff field, but now Wisconsin (8-2), 15-to-1, appears to control its own destiny on being included. Oklahoma (8-2), 20-to-1, won’t need much help to potentially reach its second-straight playoff appearance.

Odds to win the championship change every week, but not usually so seismically. It takes multiple upsets to shift the prices to this extent. But no one could have forecasted what happened in Week 11.

For bettors, it’s a reminder never to assume anything in college football. Unpredictability reigns supreme.

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