As you may have heard, we’re on the verge of a new era in college football.
Yes, 2014 will mark the first season since 1997 not played under the old and almost universally despised — and, thankfully, very much dead — Bowl Championship Series that had been used to determine an FBS champion. Conversely, it will mark the first-ever four-team playoff dubbed, appropriately enough, the College Football Playoff, a system unveiled in June of 2012.
There are many questions and some trepidation as we enter a new frontier for the sport, one which will play for the right to hoist the Dr Pepper College Football Playoff trophy at season’s end..
Below I’ll attempt to answer some of those questions — and alleviate some of the fear and angst to some degree — some may have over the most exciting development in the game since the forward pass was legalized. Take a deep breath, though; this is a long one.
The College Football Playoff, a four-team — for now — mini-tournament that will feature two semifinal games played under the flag of a pair of so-called “contract bowls” and “host bowls,” with a stand-alone contest, having no ties to a current bowl other than potentially the venue, serving as the championship game. A 13-person committee will determine the four playoff participants and seed them as well, with the No. 1 seed facing the No. 4 seed in one semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 squaring off in the other.
And, for those who are wondering: there is no rule that would prevent a team from one conference facing a team from the same conference in a semifinal game. Nor is there a hard, fast rule that would preclude a rematch from the recently-completed regular season in a semifinal. Of course, it’s possible the committee could steer the selections away from such scenarios — even by way of seeding — but there is no concrete rule in place that would prevent it.
Case in point on rematches and two playoff teams from one conference in one fell swoop? Those associated with the CFP have already stated that, if this new system were in place last year, Florida State (#1 seed), Auburn (#2), Alabama (#3) and Oregon (#4) would have been the four playoff teams. In other words, the SEC would’ve had two teams, including a non-champion, while the champions from the other two Power Five conference — Big Ten (Michigan State) and Big 12 (Baylor) — would’ve been shut out. At least one Power Five conference will miss the playoff every year, and, as evidenced by last year, possibly two. After X amount of time and missed playoffs, expect a conference or conferences to begin making noise very publicly about expanding the field to at least eight — and pushing their agenda that the system should consist of each Power Five conference champion to go along with three wildcards.
The initial phase of the CFP is a contract for 12 years in length — through the 2025 season — and for just four teams for those dozen seasons. However, many observers expect that, due to the lure of the almighty dollar and pissed-off leagues, the playoff will be expanded to eight teams at some point before the end of the 12-year contract. If it doesn’t expand prior to the end of the first contract, just about anyone connected to the sport firmly believes it will be expanded for the beginning of the second contract.
All three of the CFP games will be televised annually on ESPN, which paid in excess of $7 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — for the rights to the playoff for the entire length of the contract. Roughly 75 percent of that money will go to the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, which will split their cut up amongst their various members. While the Non-Power Five conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt along with independents Army and BYU (Navy’s moving to the AAC in 2015) — will receive just a 25-percent(ish) cut of the billions, they will receive roughly five times as much per league as they did under the BCS.
In the first year of the CFP, the Power Five conferences are expected to make $50 million each, while the Non-Power Five conferences will share $75 million; in the final year of the BCS, those “mid-major” conferences split $15 million. Over the course of the 12-year contract, the top five conferences are expected to receive an average of $90 million annually from the CFP. By Year 12 of the first contract, the Power Five conferences are expected to see revenue in excess of $150 million per league.
Such a figure would be the starting point for Year 1 of the second contract, a starting point that would increase dramatically with the addition of four more teams and four additional (quarterfinal) games.
The “who” is the key, the linchpin, to the whole process. How successful the CFP can end up being will in large part be determined by how the committee as a whole leaves its collective biases — or at least most of them, and as much as humanly possible — at the meeting room door.
As mentioned above, the committee that will select the four teams will consist of 13 members. Five of those members will be current athletic directors from each of the Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, with Arkansas’ Jeff Long serving as the chairperson. Below is the entire 13-member committee and their respective affiliations, with tenure expiration listed in parentheses:
— *Jeff Long, Arkansas athletic director (February 2018)
— *Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletic director (February 2017)
— Lieutenant General Mike Gould, former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy (February 2016)
— Pat Haden, USC athletic director (February 2016)
— Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president (February 2018)
— *Oliver Luck, West Virginia athletic director (February 2017)
— Archie Manning, former Ole Miss quarterback (February 2017)
— Tom Osborne, former head coach and athletic director at Nebraska (February 2016)
— *Dan Radakovich, Clemson athletic director (February 2018)
— Condoleezza Rice, Stanford professor, former Stanford provost and former United States Secretary of State (February 2017)
— Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner (February 2016)
— Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter, USA Today (February 2018)
— Tyrone Willingham, former head coach Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington (February 2018)
Earlier we mentioned committee members leaving their biases at the meeting room door; there are provisions in place that should, in theory, aid in that part of the process. Specifically, a recusal policy, the terms of which the CFP describes as “a recused member shall not participate in any votes, nor be present during deliberations involving the team’s selection or seeding, but may answer factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused.”
Of course, all five current athletic directors — denoted by asterisks above — will be recused when the conversation turns to their respective football programs. Additionally, the following recusals were announced earlier this month:
– Lieutenant General Mike Gould, Air Force: the former superintendent of the Colorado Springs service academy.
— Archie Manning, Ole Miss, former Rebels star quarterback who still maintains deep ties to the school and the football program.
— Tom Osborne, Nebraska: former head coach and athletic director for the Cornhuskers
— Condoleezza Rice, Stanford, current professor and former provost at the university
There is no conference-wide recusal policy, meaning that, for example, Long would be permitted to stay in the room if Alabama is being discussed.
Additionally, the 13 committee members receive no pay for their services, which will consist mainly of watching football and committee meetings. The first in-person set of meetings will be Oct 27 (Monday) and Oct. 28 (Tuesday), with the first set of what are described as “interim rankings” released Oct. 28. In-person meetings will be held every Monday and Tuesday thereafter, with the final set of meetings coming after the conclusion of the regular season, conference championship games included but excluding the Dec. 13 Army-Navy game. The final set of rankings, including the seedings of the four playoff teams, will be released Sunday, Dec. 7. There’s even a specific time for the release: 12:45 p.m. ET that Sunday afternoon.
The committee will also be responsible for slotting teams into the remaining four contract or host bowls that aren’t part of the semifinals a particular year. The contract bowls are: Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) and Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame). The three host bowls are: Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A. If a conference champion from one of the contract bowls does not qualify for the playoff, they will be automatically slotted into their respective postseason game, provided it’s not a semifinal game that year. If conference champions from the contract bowls — more years than not this will involve multiple leagues — qualify for the playoffs, the committee would choose replacement teams.
The team with the highest CFP seeding will be placed in the closest semifinal game to it geographically. For example, if Florida State is the No. 1 seed this year, they would go to the Sugar Bowl as that bowl is closer to Tallahassee than the Rose Bowl. Same for a team like Alabama. Should, say, Oregon earn the top seed, they would play at the Rose Bowl against the No. 4 seed, with the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds going to the Sugar Bowl.
As for the host bowls, the CFP “Frequently Asked Questions” describes it best, including how one Non-Power Five member will play in one of the marquee bowl games every year:
The highest ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee, will play in one of the six New Year’s bowls. Other available berths will be awarded to the teams ranked highest by the committee. The committee will assign teams to bowls.
When the Fiesta, Cotton and Atlanta bowls are not hosting semifinal games, their participants will come from three sources: (1) The highest ranked champion among the five conferences listed in the paragraph above, (2) conference champions that are displaced when their contracted bowls host semifinals and (3) the remaining teams ranked highest in the committee’s rankings.
How will the committee fill the slots in the marquee bowls? Again, from the FAQ:
The committee will assign teams to the non-playoff bowls to create the most compelling match-ups, while considering other factors such as geographic proximity, avoiding rematches of regular-season games and avoiding rematches of recent years’ bowl games.
The semifinals will rotate through six bowl games: the Rose (Pasadena, Cal.), Orange (Miami, Fla.), Sugar (New Orleans, La.), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Cotton (Arlington, Tex.) and Peach (Atlanta, Ga.). When those games don’t host a semifinal, they will serve as the so-called “marquee bowls.” The semifinals this season will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the semifinals moving to the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl for the 2015 season and the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl for the 2016 season before rotating back to the first two semifinal bowl games for the 2017 season.
The championship game will be bid out and played all across the country. The first stand-alone title game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the Cotton Bowl. University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was awarded the 2015 title game (played in 2016) while Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. submitted the winning bid for 2016 (played in 2017).
An announcement on the host stadiums for the 2017 and 2018 seasons likely won’t be made until sometime after the first CFP championship game is played in early 2015.
The semifinal games will both take place either December 31 or January 1 of their respective years and on the same day, with the former serving as game days for the 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2024 and 2025 seasons and the latter for the 2014, 2017, 2020 and 2023 seasons. For the 2014 season, the Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls will be played Dec. 31, while the Cotton Bowl will be played Jan. 1, prior to the two semifinal games.
The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, incidentally, will be played on Jan. 1 every year, which is why most of the semifinal games will be played Dec. 31.
Below are the future dates for the 12 CFP championship games that have already been scheduled. One thing to note is that every title game through this 12-year cycle will be played on a Monday night:
Jan. 12, 2015
Jan. 11, 2016
Jan. 9, 2017
Jan. 8, 2018
Jan. 7, 2019
Jan. 13, 2020
Jan. 11, 2021
Jan. 10, 2022
Jan. 9, 2023
Jan. 8, 2024
Jan. 13, 2025
Jan. 12, 2026
Hope you brought a lunch, because the “How” could take a while.
First of all, we’ll give you the CFP’s official qualifier/disclaimer as to the selection process in which the four playoff teams will be decided:
Ranking football teams is an art, not a science. Football is popular in some measure because the outcome of a game between reasonably matched teams is so often decided by emotional commitment, momentum, injuries and the “unexpected bounce of the ball.” In any ranking system, perfection or consensus is not possible and the physical impact of the game on student athletes prevents elaborate playoff systems of multiple games. For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.
Now, with that out of the way, on to the meat & taters of the process.
As I noted up above somewhere, the committee will hold meetings every Monday and Tuesday and release a Top 25 every week, with the first set of rankings scheduled to be released Oct. 28. “How exactly will the committee arrive at its weekly Top 25?” you may be asking yourself. I’m glad you asked.
1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.
It should be noted that, at no point in that five-step process, are committee members permitted to include any team from which they are recused on any of the lists mentioned above.
Of course, there were also notes attached to the five-step voting process (notes A-C dealt with recusals):
D. Between each step, the committee members will conduct a thorough evaluation of the teams before conducting the vote.
E. After the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.
F. After the first nine teams are seeded, the number of teams for Steps No. 2, 3 and 4 will be increased to eight and four, respectively.
G. At any time in the process, the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.
H. All votes will be by secret ballot.
There is one more important aspect of the CFP process that I haven’t mentioned yet which supersedes just about everything else mentioned thus far: criteria utilized by the committee members in their rankings. As previously noted, ranking football teams is more art than science, but there is some specific data on which the committee will lean.
The official CFP protocol states that the committee “will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie-breaker; apply specific guidelines).” Why pedigree — i.e. history, and whether said history is positive, negative or somewhere in between — should have anything to do with a specific year is a significant unknown.
Additionally, a company called SportSource Analytics will be providing the committee with an expansive and extensive statistical database on which to rely. Harkening back to the dark and dreary days of the BCS, CFP executive director Bill Hancock has stressed that analytics — i.e. computers — will not be a part of the equation. Rather, the committee will be receiving raw data that they, not a computer or company, will analyze and interpret for themselves.
“There’s no analytics,” Hancock said. “Obviously, the word analytics is in the company name, and they might be doing analytics for other clients, but not for us. There’s some hangover from the BCS days of people wanting the data to be manipulated or compiled. But we wanted just raw data. That’s what we asked for, and that’s what they’re giving us.”
In a similar vein, one piece of data that the committee is not permitted to take into account? Polls that are released before any games have been played, which means, technically, the Associate Press and coaches’ polls cannot be a part of the discussion. For that, we should all be thankful.
One piece of data that will be taken into account? “[R]elevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.” In other words, if a star quarterback goes down early and that injury contributes to a loss or two but the team finishes strong down the stretch, that team will remain under consideration for a playoff slot. Conversely, if a star player or players goes/go down with an injury late in the season, that would be a factor that would permit the committee to disregard that team regardless of the record. That’s a slippery slope, one that could come back and bite the committee specifically and the CFP as a whole.
Also, the CFP explains that “[c]omparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)” will be a principle that guides the committee.
So, with the minutia out of the way, on to the stuff that will cause the most bitching and/or whining and/or moaning: predictions!!!
If you look at most of these types of predictions, there is pretty much a consensus on three teams most feel will be a part of the four-team playoff field: last year’s BCS champion Florida State, Oregon and Alabama. After that, it runs the gamut from Michigan State to Oklahoma to 2013 BCS runnerup Auburn to UCLA to South Carolina to Baylor as possibilities nationally. Ohio State would’ve been a part of the discussion as well prior to The Injury, and could very well be a part of it by season’s end if they can get past MSU in East Lansing.
Below are how the four of us here at CFT see the first College Football Playoff playing out, with seeds, explanations and everything! Enjoy, and unload on all/some/one of us below that:
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oregon
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama
Florida State enters the season as the team seemingly best equipped for a national title run. Now knowing what it takes to win, the Seminoles bring back a Heisman Trophy quarterback and a roster as deep as almost any in the country thanks to years of solid recruiting under Jimbo Fisher. In the same light, you have Alabama looking to prove it can plug in pieces to Nick Saban‘s program thanks to years of recruiting victories building a massively deep roster. No quarterback? Not yet, but somehow Saban will find a way. Oklahoma surged at the right time last season and enters the 2014 season a favorite in the Big 12, a conference not particularly deep in talent and obstacles this fall aside from a potent Baylor squad. Oklahoma should manage to wiggle out of the Big 12 and sneak in front of any champion from the Big Ten. The same holds true for Oregon, with the Ducks coming off a “down” year in Eugene, which seems silly to say when you look back at the 2013 season. The Ducks took a minor step back in a year of coaching transition, but Year 2 under Mark Helfrich should be better. When it comes down to the match-ups, I think Alabama is better suited for a rematch with the Sooners, if not just better prepared for it, and Florida State’s style will find a way to slow down Oregon’s offensive schemes, setting up what would be an epic Florida State-Alabama match-up for it all.
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Wisconsin
Championship: Florida State vs. Oregon
To be the man, you got to beat the man. And Florida State is the team with the target on its back this season. The Seminoles should be ready for the challenge due to the amount of talent returning to this year’s roster. Florida State will likely cruise through the regular season and retain the No. 1 seed. It doesn’t mean the ACC’s best will be the best team in the country this season. Alabama and Oregon will be nipping at their heels. Alabama is always stacked and the SEC’s champion is essentially guaranteed to get a spot in the College Football Playoff. Oregon, meanwhile, will continue to put up points and receive elite play from its quarterback, Marcus Mariota. The fourth spot is completely up for grabs between the the champions of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. The Big Ten, in particular, is wide open after the devastating injury to Ohio State’s Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller. The Badgers should make a very good impression at the start of the season when they face the LSU Tigers, and their schedule should allow them to remain undefeated in Big Ten play before participating in the conference’s title game. Florida State would easily overpower the Badgers in the Sugar Bowl, though. And Oregon has the edge on offense and athleticism against the Crimson Tide. When the Ducks and Seminoles meet, the two best quarterbacks in college football will be on the field with the opportunity to will their team to the first national championship decided by the College Football Playoff.
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama
I really struggled with the No. 4 team here. I like UCLA more than Oklahoma, but UCLA plays a far tougher schedule with more than enough chances for a slip-up beyond Oct. 11’s showdown with Oregon. Braxton Miller‘s injury puts a serious dent in the Big Ten’s chances of getting a team in unless Michigan State can go to Eugene and win in Week 2. The rest of the SEC — Auburn, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, etc — might eat itself alive. This isn’t to say I don’t like Oklahoma, but the Sooners get Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home and don’t have to worry about a conference championship game. Their path to the final playoff spot is far easier than other teams in the mix, so I’m going with them along with the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 champions.
Rose Bowl: #2 Oregon vs. #3 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship: Florida State vs. Oregon
Heading into the season and at least on paper, most observers agree that Florida State, Oregon and Alabama, in some order, are the class of college football. With Ohio State losing Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury, the fourth spot would now seemingly be up in the air. I almost pulled the trigger on the biggest beneficiary of Miller’s injury, Michigan State, for the fourth seed before settling for an Oklahoma team that smacked Alabama around in the Sugar Bowl. Well, that and I don’t see the Spartans getting past the Ducks early this season, which, combined with a Wisconsin loss to LSU, could damage whoever emerges as the champion of the Big Ten in the eyes of the playoff committee. One additional note on potential semifinalists: if you’re looking for a conference that might have two teams represented in the CFP, look at the Pac-12, not the SEC. Oregon is seemingly a given, and don’t sleep on UCLA. They are a very, very underrated squad who could sneak in ahead of some of the other teams being mentioned as viable candidates for CFP spots — especially if the committee practices what it’s preaching in the preseason. In the end, I see both Florida State and Oregon, the two most-talented squads in the country, trumping whichever team it is they face in the semifinals, setting the stage for an epic first-ever College Football Playoff title game.
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)