The new College Football Playoff, and what it all means

College Football Playoff 2015

Every team in the top 25 has just enough football acne to require a dab of Clearasil.

– Gene Wojciechowski, “BMOC,” 11/17/2014

If nothing else, the new College Football Playoff system, which replaces the Bowl Championship Series that was used to determine the national champion Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly known as Division I-A) from 1998 through January of this year) team, has gotten fans talking (second-guessing?) the rankings of the March Madness-style selection committee ever since the first poll came out at the end of October.

What about this College Football Playoff, you ask? After years of clamoring by fans, pundits, coaches, and athletic directors, the NCAA and the so-called “Power 5” conferences – the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern, and Pac-12 – joined by the “Group of 5” – the American Athletic, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt – got together and devised a plan which would rely less on computers (as the BCS used) and more on on-field performance.

This new playoff system also created a rotation among six bowls (the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta from the BCS; plus the Chick-fil-a Peach, and Cotton) to create a four-team bracket which would culminate in a neutral-site championship game, much like the NFL’s Super Bowl. The four teams who would play for the title would be ranked by a committee of 12, and these people would rank the top 25 each week starting in Week 10 of the season, which this year was October 26.

When these first rankings came out, there was great anticipation as to who the top four schools would be, so it was no surprise that two of the three FBS unbeatens, Mississippi State and Florida State, would be at the top, followed by Auburn and Mississippi. But since then, Oregon and Alabama have joined the party, while Auburn and Ole Miss fell out due to losses; and Texas Christian made an appearance at No. 4 for one week.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: FSU remains unbeaten (they and Marshall – more on them in a minute), but the Seminoles have been leapfrogged in the CFP rankings by one-loss Oregon; and most recently the Crimson Tide, also with one loss, and who knocked previously undefeated Mississippi State down to No. 4 with their 25-20 win last weekend. Plus there’s the case of TCU, who sits at No. 5 in the latest rankings, despite a three-point loss to No. 7 Baylor earlier in the season.

And then there’s Marshall, who is 10-0 and the other remaining undefeated FBS squad – but not in one of the Power 5 conferences; they’re a longtime member of Conference USA. In previous years, the Thundering Herd would likely have been somewhere in the BCS’s Top 25; to that end, the Herd are ranked 18th by both the Associated Press and USA Today.

So you have two one-loss teams with big, important wins, ranked ahead of one of the two remaining unbeatens, of which four of their wins were by the skin of their teeth; and you also have a situation where one squad just outside of the top four is ranked ahead of the team who beat them. Meanwhile, quietly sneaking up on this group is a team who was not expected to contend for a spot in the playoff after losing their quarterback to injury during fall practice before the start of the season – No. 6 Ohio State, who has an early season loss to Virginia Tech, who was (and is still) unranked.

Where do we go from here, with just two weeks left in the regular season, plus a week of conference championships (or in the case of the Big 12, who has no conference championship game, one last regular-season weekend)? From here, it looks like this.

Control their own destiny

First, No. 1 (CFP) Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, and No. 3 Florida State, all of whom still have their rivalry game plus a conference championship game ahead. FSU has their rivalry game with Florida, plus the ACC championship game with Georgia Tech. While the Gators have had an off year (head coach Will Muschamp is leaving at the end of the season), this is a rivalry game, and the Gators have nothing to lose; followed by Georgia Tech, who run a unique and tricky version of the triple option that is difficult to defend.

After their cupcake weekend against FCS’s Western Carolina, Alabama has the Iron Bowl against Auburn, plus an SEC championship matchup with either Georgia or Missouri. Neither of these games will be gimmes for the Crimson Tide, who memorably lost last year’s Iron Bowl to Auburn on a miraculous last-second return of a missed field goal. Then there’s Oregon, who still has to travel to Corvallis, Ore. to take on 5-5 Oregon State, and despite their record, the Beavers won’t be a pushover by any means after upsetting Pac-12 South contender Arizona State last weekend.

Need some help

In this group, there’s No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 5 TCU, and and No. 6 Ohio State. The Bulldogs not only need to win out – the Egg Bowl with Ole Miss lies ahead after Vanderbilt – they also need Bama to slip up along the way, either against Auburn or in the SEC championship. The Horned Frogs are at a bit of a disadvantage in that the Big 12 does not have a conference championship game, and it will remain to be seen if this will affect how the CFP committee views that. TCU also has a date this weekend in Austin with the Texas Longhorns, who can possibly play spoiler with a win.

The Buckeyes could be a huge wild card in this mix, though they still need to beat That School Up North (never a given, even though the game is in Columbus this year), and a likely date in the B1G championship game with resurgent Wisconsin. Should the Scarlet and Gray take care of business as they have done since their Week 2 loss to the Hokies, it is widely believed that they may appear in the final four on December 7 – however it would definitely help if the Rebels beat Mississippi State, and the Longhorns knock off TCU.

Need lots of help

Finally, we have No. 7 Baylor, No. 8 Mississippi, No. 9 UCLA, and No. 10 Georgia. All four of these schools who round out the CFP top 10 face the difficult task of not only winning out but having multiple teams ahead of them lose games. Ole Miss, UCLA and Georgia are also the highest ranked schools with two losses; given the number of one-loss teams still standing, it’d be a long shot even if all the holes in the Swiss cheese lined up properly.

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