EVEN THE FEW of us opposed to a College Football Playoff must admit the powers that be got this one right, mostly because the new four-team playoff retained the best elements of the old BCS system.
The bowl system remains virtually intact. The postseason was not lengthened in terms of the calendar year. The regular season’s importance continues to be greater than in any other major sport.
They may not agree on many other subjects, but when it comes to the College Football Playoff, Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are of one mindset.
“I think it’ll be tremendous for college football,” Spurrier said. “I really do.”
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Swinney added: “With four teams, we’re going to get it right. It expands it a little bit, maybe gives teams a little more room for error than in past years, but I think it combines the best of both worlds and is going to make college football that much more popular.”
That said, there are a few changes that will occur as a result of the four-team playoff. Losing one game no longer will eliminate a team from the playoffs, particularly if that team plays in one of the five power conferences. Also, the national disputes will shift from who was the third-best team that got left out of the playoffs to who was the fifth-best team omitted.
Finally, the teams on the fringe of the playoffs will get slotted into different, and perhaps, better bowl games. This is an area that could most benefit USC and Clemson, should those teams not make the playoffs.
The 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee is charged with producing a final poll that will, first and foremost, name the four teams participating in the playoff. The committee also will slot eight teams into the four remaining major bowl games.
Under the old system, the bowls worked with conference commissioners to fill postseason games. Conference bowl affiliations took precedent over all other factors. Thus, USC has played in the Outback and Capital One in six of its past 10 bowl appearances. Clemson, when it has not qualified for the Orange Bowl, has mostly played in the Chick-fil-A or Music City bowls.
The bowl slotting became tiresome for fans of the two schools who had their fill of visits to Tampa or Orlando for USC postseason games, and Atlanta or Nashville for Clemson games.
Under the new system, conference affiliations with bowl games will remain in play, but there are many other factors the selection committee will consider in slotting the teams.
A College Football Playoff official mapped three mock bowl lineups during the recent ACC media kickoff event in Greensboro, N.C. Those projections were based on previous final Associated Press polls. Recent bowl projections by The New York Times and Phil Steele in his preseason magazine were based on what both believed would happen this postseason.
None of the five scenarios had either USC or Clemson in the College Football Playoff. Since the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl are hosting semifinal playoff games this season, the selection committee will slot teams for the Orange, Peach, Fiesta and Cotton bowls.
Only one of the three College Football Playoff mock scenarios had either USC or Clemson in one of the major bowl games. That one had the Gamecocks playing Virginia Tech in the Fiesta Bowl. The New York Times projections had USC meeting Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and Clemson playing Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Steele’s magazine did not have either USC or Clemson in a major bowl.
The point is that if USC or Clemson fail to win their respective conferences, the chances of each or both playing in a major bowl game are much increased under the new system. Or, even better, their chances of returning to the Outback and Music City bowls, respectively, are decreased greatly.
Again, all of the bowl talk hinges on how the two programs perform during the regular season, which is not any different from the way it has been over the past four decades.
In that sense, the institution of the College Football Playoff has changed very little about the game, particularly during the regular season. Truer words were never spoken than those from Swinney on Tuesday:
“We already have playoffs,” he said. “Every week is a playoff.”