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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

First-ever ZeLO 64-team CFP

Have you ever looked at the College Football Playoff and thought, “I would love an expanded tournament”? Well, I have good news, this year, it was announced that the CFP would expand to 12 teams, making the CFP much more accessible to more teams.

But what is that? You want even more teams? What if I told you I could offer you a March Madness-style football tournament using ZeLO?

Here is how it works.


To seed teams, I used ZeLO’s Prestige Rankings, which attempt to mimic the CFP Committees’ rankings but rank every single team in the country instead of just the top 25.

A team’s Prestige Ranking is built on the weighted average of three components: Resume (Win-Loss, SOS), ZeLO’s statistic-based ranking, and the average ranking of the AP and Coaches poll (including the others receiving votes).

The Prestige Ranking does an excellent job of ranking teams like the CFP would. The top 25 of the Prestige Rankings contain 23 of the CFP’s 25, albeit the order is shuffled around. JUM (24) and UCF (25) are the two outliers, with the teams they replaced — South Carolina and North Carolina State — both sitting in the top 31.

To pick the field of 64, I decided that teams who won their conference championship would get an auto-bid into the tournament. This year, there was not a Conference Champ outside of the 64, but Ohio (66) and North Texas (75) easily could have been.

And because college football has just 10 conferences, it made sense to me to give berths to teams who made their conference championship game but lost. Those teams are division champions (or an equivalent if a conference does not have divisions) and should be rewarded for that.

To differentiate between a conference champion and a division champion, I rewarded conference champions with an automatic 8th seed. I also gave the first 32 teams a home field advantage for the tournament’s first two rounds. After that, the Super 16 will be played at neutral sites.

On top of getting an automatic 8th seed, conference champions got to leapfrog teams whose Prestige Rating they were within one point of. Utah, originally No. 13 but rising to No. 9, was the biggest beneficiary of this add-on.

That difference did matter for Toledo (64) and Fresno State (38), who both now get a home playoff game. Ohio (66) and North Texas (75) also got the benefit of sneaking in thanks to their bid, edging out bubble teams UAB (62) and Memphis (63).


The tournament’s first two rounds will be played at the higher seed’s stadium. The Sweet 16 through the Elite Eight will be played at different bowls of my choosing (I made it so if I want the Lending Tree Bowl to be the location of a regional championship, it shall be so).

The Final Four and the Championship will be played at a neutral playoff site with no bowl game attachments.

The Mechanics

The obvious starting point is that I will use ZeLO’s ratings to project the odds that each team would win the theoretical game. So, essentially what I have been doing all season, but again theoretical. But how will I determine a winner?

If you remember way back in August, when I talked about ZeLO’s pre-season projections, you will likely remember that ZeLO was reasonably low on USC and Texas. However, I did mention that Texas and USC had breakout years in every few simulations.

I was referring to the ZeLO Monte Carlo simulations, which operate on weighted random probabilities. For the ZeLO tournament, I will do just one simulation of each game (whereas I did 10 sims for each game in the season) to get some random upsets but deep runs by the good teams. 

The Bracket

So, the only thing left to do is present the actual bracket and pairings. Let me know if you think ZeLO snubbed someone or if you disagree with a team ranking. I cannot imagine this paper’s readership will disagree with ND being a six-seed behind Troy and UTSA.

Quad 1

  • No.16 North Texas @ No.1 Georgia
  • No.9 North Carolina State @ No.8 Toledo
  • No.12 Maryland @ No.5 Oregon
  • No.13 Appalachian State @ No.4 UTSA
  • No.11 Florida @ No.6 JMU
  • No.14 Baylor @ No.3 Alabama
  • No.10 Illinois @ No.7 UCF
  • No.15 Washington State @ No.2 USC

Quad 2

  • No.16 Ohio @ No.1 Michigan
  • No.9 Ole Miss @ No.8 Fresno State
  • No.12 Syracuse @ No.5 Texas
  • No.13 Wake Forest @ No.4 Florida State
  • No.11 Minnesota @ No.6 Mississippi State
  • No.14 San Diego State @ No.3 Tulane
  • No.10 Pittsburgh @ No.7 South Alabama
  • No.15 Iowa @ No.2 Kansas State

Quad 3

  • No.16 Kansas @ No.1 Ohio State
  • No.9 Marshall @ No.8 Louisville
  • No.12 Western Kentucky @ No.5 Oregon State
  • No.13 Oklahoma @ No.4 Troy
  • No.11 Texas Tech @ No.6 UCLA
  • No.14 Wisconsin @ No.3 Clemson
  • No.10 Coastal Carolina @ No.7 North Carolina
  • No.15 Kentucky @ No.2 Penn State

Quad 4

  • No.16 Liberty @ No.1 TCU
  • No.9 Boise State @ No.8 Purdue
  • No.12 East Carolina @ No.5 Washington
  • No.13 Duke @ No.4 LSU
  • No.11 Air Force @ No.6 Notre Dame
  • No.14 SMU @ No.3 Utah
  • No.10 Cincinnati @ No.7 South Carolina
  • No.15 Houston @ No.2 Tennessee

Contact Tom Zwiller at

The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.