Monday, January 27, 2014

College Football Playoffs explained

2014 is here, and that means one thing.  We have playoffs!  The official title is the College Football Playoff, and I'm sure there's a small TM next to it.  We'll probably refer to it as the CFP at times.

Does anyone else see the irony that the name "Bowl Championship Series" actually would have been more appropriate with this new system than what we just got rid of?

Like any football system, the playoffs can seem complicated, so we're here to simplify things.  Keep in mind that the CFP system is only currently set up for 12 years, at which point it will be renewed or expanded.

The Players:  Power Conferences and the "Group of 5"
Where there were six BCS conferences, we only have five power conferences guaranteed to make appearances in the six CFP bowls:
-Big Ten
-Big 12

The "Group of 5" includes:
-American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East)
-Conference USA
-Mountain West
-Sun Belt

"Group of 5" is another name for mid-major or non-AQ conferences.  The highest ranked champion out of this group will be guaranteed a spot in one of the spotlight bowls, unless they qualify for a playoff appearance.

The only major change here is that the American has dropped down from a power conference to a mid-major.

The Setting:  Bowl Games
Six bowls are part of the College Football Playoff rotation, all played on two days around New Years.  Two of the bowls will be semi-final games, both played on the same day, either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.  The other four bowls will be spotlight games showing off the other conference champions and highly ranked teams, similar to the BCS system.

There will be a seventh CFP game to serve as the championship, played about 10-12 days later.

In the years that the bowl in question does not host a semi-final game, they will host the following teams:
Rose Bowl - Big Ten vs. Pac-12 champs
Sugar Bowl - SEC vs. Big 12 champs
Orange Bowl - ACC Champ vs. a pool of SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame (explained below)
Cotton, Fiesta, Peach Bowls - at-large teams, including the "Group of 5" qualifier

In years where one of those bowls is a semi-final game, the teams that would have appeared will be moved to another bowl.  That setup is similar to how the BCS worked prior to the addition of the fifth game.

The Peach Bowl has regained its proper name after being the Chick-fil-a Bowl for the last 8 years.

Semi-final Rotation
Each bowl will host a playoff semi-final every three years, as part of a paired rotation.

Year 1:  Rose and Sugar
Year 2:  Orange and Cotton
Year 3:  Fiesta and Peach

Championship Rotation
The CFP championship game will be shopped out to the highest bidder, similar to how the NFL rotates the Super Bowl location.

So far, the first three championship locations have been selected:
2014 - AT&T Stadium (aka Cowboys Stadium or Jerryworld)
2015 - University of Phoenix Stadium (site of the Fiesta Bowl)
2016 - Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

The semi-final sites are allowed to put in bids for the championship game in years in which they do not host a semi-final, as seen by the Fiesta Bowl site being used the year before it will be a semi-final.

Selection Process
Instead of polls and rankings, the College Football Playoff will be determined by a committee.  That committee not only selects the four teams for the playoff, but also the at-large teams available for the spotlight bowls.

It is not completely clear if the committee will create the spotlight bowl matchups, or just generate the list of available teams for the bowls to pick.

Also, there is no limit on how many teams from one conference can participate among the six bowls.

The committee will release rankings several times during the season, but it does not look like we will have a weekly list, like we had with the BCS.

The semi-finals will work as #1 vs. #4, and #2 vs. #3.  The committee will seed the teams so the top two seeds will not play in a "road" environment.

For example, I suspect that means that if an ACC team is in the top two, they would play in the Sugar, Orange, or Peach Bowl, while a Pac-12 team would be more likely to be in the Rose, Cotton, or Fiesta Bowls.  If an SEC team is in the top two, they would play in either the Sugar or Peach Bowls in years 1 and 3.  In year 2, it could depend on which team is playing, as an SEC East team would be closer to the Orange Bowl, but an SEC West team would be closer to the Cotton Bowl.

The Orange Bowl
While the other bowls are fairly straightforward in their selection of teams, the Orange Bowl is a little more complicated.

Basically, they put the ACC champ against a team from the SEC or Big Ten or Notre Dame, and they have first pick out of that pool of teams after the semi-finals have been set, and the Rose and Sugar Bowls have picked their teams.

We've put together a more detailed example here.

Now, there are still a few other rules and qualifiers that have to be implemented.

Rematch rule:  If the highest ranked team would result in a regular season rematch, the Orange Bowl can skip down to the next team on the list.  The team that is skipped over would then be guaranteed a spot in one of the other bowls, if they qualify for a spotlight bowl.  For instance, if Clemson is the ACC team, and South Carolina is the highest ranked team on the list, SC would probably be skipped, since they always play Clemson in the final regular season game.  However, SC will be guaranteed a spot in one of the other spotlight bowls.

SEC/Big Ten Champs:  When the Rose and Sugar Bowls are semi-final games, and the SEC and/or Big Ten champs are displaced, they cannot go to the Orange Bowl.

During the 8 non-semifinal years of this first 12 year cycle, Notre Dame can only appear a maximum of twice, while the SEC and Big Ten are both guaranteed a minimum of three appearances each.  I'm sure things could get interesting in the final years of the cycle, when the quotas start coming into play.

There was also talk that Notre Dame might have access to ACC bowls with their status as a partial member of the conference.  It is possible that they could take the ACC spot if the ACC champ is in the playoffs, but nothing has been confirmed on that front.

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