Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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College Football Playoff is outstanding upgrade

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: January 10, 2014 - 10:41 AM

The BCS didn't deserve the vitriol aimed its way in 16 years as a vehicle to choose a national champion in big-time college football. There was only one disputed champion:

LSU, in 2003, when it defeated Oklahoma in the BCS game, and the Associated Press media panel voted Southern Cal as the national champion.

The BCS went out on a wave of good feeling, as it offered Florida State’s 34-31 comeback victory over Auburn in its last-ever title game.

Now, the climax to the college football season is going to be much-improved, starting with the 2014 season. Not only will there be four teams in a playoff for the national title, but bowl games that carry actual prestige will be more clearly defined.

The improvement starts with the name for the new method of crowning a champion. No BCS. No Bowl Coalition. College Football Playoff. We all can figure out what that means.

The four-team bracket won’t be selected by polls or computers. Much like the NCAA basketball tournaments, the teams will be selected by a committee – in this case, 13 people.

The difference is the NCAA has no input with the College Football Playoff, and no control of the proceeds. As with the BCS, this remains the baby of the five power conferences: SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12, plus Notre Dame.

The former Big East football conference is now the American Athletic Conference, and has been reduced to being bracketed in the “Group of Five’’ with the Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Conference USA. The Group of Five is being treated as the equivalent to the  basketball mid-majors, and those conferences will be guaranteed one berth combined in a major bowl game.

Previously, there were four bowl games tied in with the BCS: Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta. The Cotton Bowl, played in Jerry Jones’ stadium in Dallas, and the Chick-fil-a Bowl (formerly the Peach), played in Atlanta, are now part of the mix.

The College Football Playoff committee will seed four teams for the playoff. There is no limit on the number of teams per conference. In other words, Alabama and Auburn – both from the SEC West – would have made the playoff this time.

Two of the six bowls will be bracketed together to serve as sites for the playoff semifinals: Rose and Sugar for the 2014-15 playoff, Orange and Cotton for 2015-16, Fiesta and Chick-fil-a in 2016-17, and then continuing forward in that pattern through 2025 season.

That’s how long the deal between the College Football Playoff power brokers and ESPN runs. If the conference partners decide to expand the playoff from four teams to eight sooner rather than later, ESPN figures to be willing to negotiate.

What the four-team playoff does is what the big-dog conference always have insisted they want to do: preserves the bowl system. For that reason, I think there's a better than 50-50 chance that the playoff stays at four teams for the full 12 years of this deal.

You can debate that, but this system is going to be an outstanding upgrade -- both for creating an initial playoff for the major colleges, but also for the four bowls that won’t be hosting one of the semifinals in a given year.

The bowls are going to bill themselves as the “New Year’s Six.’’ In the years it isn't hosting a semifinal, the Rose Bowl will have call on teams from the Big Ten and Pac 12, the Sugar Bowl will have call on the SEC and the Big 12, and the Orange Bowl on the ACC.

Part of the new deal appears to be that the Orange Bowl becomes the likely landing spot for a Big Ten team in the years that the Rose Bowl is hosting a semifinal.

The “New Year’s Six’’ bowl games will be played on back-to-back days (when possible) in tripleheaders. And the title game will be played on a Monday night, six or more days after the New Year’s semifinals. The first title game is set for the Cowboys’ stadium in Dallas next January.

This is the way the College Football Playoff system and the New Year’s Six bowls would have looked if this system had been in effect for this past season.

Semifinals: Rose Bowl-Michigan State (No. 4 seed) vs. Florida State (No. 1). Sugar Bowl-Auburn (No. 2) vs. Alabama (No. 3), in a rematch of their epic regular-season finale.

CFP Championship Game: Jan. 13.

And the eight teams playing in the Fiesta, Cotton, Orange and Chick-fil-a Bowls would have been Stanford, Baylor, Ohio State, South Carolina, Missouri, Oregon, Central Florida and either Oklahoma or Clemson.

Not much different, except when your local team tries to claim great prestige for having reached a New Year’s Bowl, you’ll now be able to say, “Was it a New Year’s Six bowl? If not, it doesn’t count.’’

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