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How could it look, how will it look? Forecasting the 2014 playoff

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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If it's the conference-only model, there would have to be a way Notre Dame could qualify. (US Presswire)  
If it's the conference-only model, there would have to be a way Notre Dame could qualify. (US Presswire)  

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- So we now know that there will be a four-team college football playoff after the 2014 regular season, the next question is: How will it look?

Where will the games be played? Will it be limited to conference champions? How will the teams be ranked?

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the commissioners will determine, in order, where the games will be played, what teams will qualify and then what ranking system will be used.

So that's the order I'll present for what likely will be in place after the 2014 regular season.

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Where will the games be played?

The possibilities are semifinals and final rotated among the existing BCS bowl games (Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Rose); semifinals at the existing bowl sites with the final held at a neutral site, sites determined by a bid process similar to how the Super Bowl is awarded; or semifinals held on campuses, with the final played at a bowl site or neutral site.

There are definitely some positives for having the games on campus, but also quite a few challenges, such as not having a predetermined site for a national semifinal until two to three weeks before the game. And, quite frankly, some schools would not be able to host the crush of media. Stadium size also would be an issue. In this case, size does matter.

It's no coincidence the third sentence of the official BCS statement said, "We are also mindful of the bowl tradition and seek to create a structure that continues to reward student-athletes with meaningful bowl appearances." Having the bowls host the semifinals and final on a rotating basis will continue the tradition. While it might be difficult for fans to travel to Miami for a semifinal and then Phoenix nine days later for the final, the games will still be played in traditional bowl sites in pleasant weather conditions.

In 2014, I predict: On-campus stadiums are great for regular season games, but not for the semifinals in a college football playoff. The semifinals and finals will be played at the current BCS bowl sites. But don't discount that they will also allow other non-BCS bowl sites (like Dallas, Indianapolis, San Diego, Tampa, Houston, Atlanta) to bid on the championship game every fifth year.

What teams will qualify?

It's either going to be the highest four ranked teams or conference champions only. If it's the conference-only model, there obviously would have to be a way Notre Dame could qualify.

The most likely "champion-only" model would be with the three highest ranked conference champions qualifying and the fourth spot going to the next highest-ranked conference champion, the highest ranked non-champion or Notre Dame (or independents BYU, Navy and Army) -- whichever team is ranked highest.

Some commissioners, including Larry Scott of the Pac-12, favor this model because it emphasizes the importance of winning a conference championship and pits conference champions against each other.

Some commissioners, including Mike Slive of the SEC, favor the top four ranked teams because in theory it advances the four best teams to the playoff. You could be one of the nation's top four teams without winning your conference (see Alabama 2011).

A commissioner, whose league would benefit from the champion-only model, admitted having the top four teams simplifies things. He said how do you explain a four-team playoff between the nation's Nos. 1-, 3-, 5- and 10-ranked teams (which is exactly what would have happened if this format was in place 2011 with No. 1 LSU (SEC), No. 3 Oklahoma State (Big 12), No. 5 Oregon (Pac-12) and No. 10 Wisconsin (Big Ten).

"I like the simplicity of 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3," he said.

In 2014, I predict: Sorry non-SEC fans, but college football's playoff will consist of the nation's top four teams, whether they won a conference championship of not. So there will be the very real possibility that the four-team playoff will consist of multiple teams from one or two conferences. In fact, that would have happened in the 2007 regular season, with No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 3 Texas from the Big 12 and No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Alabama from the SEC.

What system will be used to determine the rankings?

Well, this much is certain: They need to ditch the Coaches poll, which is a component of the current BCS rankings, for the multiple obvious conflict-of-interest reasons. They also need to computers that are more transparent in what factors they use to rank their teams.

A selection committee is used to determine the NCAA basketball tournament, but that would be a bad idea -- at least in my opinion -- in deciding which four teams play for the national title.

In 2014, I predict: I honestly have no clue what ranking system they'll end up with. I don't think they'll go with the selection committee. There are too many potential issues. So how will the four teams be selected? That’s an unknown, but Dennis Dodd has a plan -- and it’s a pretty good one. Hopefully the BCS folks will give it serious consideration.

What else to expect in 2014

Sources told CBSSports.com one possibility would be holding the semifinals on the Saturday of the final weekend of the NFL's regular season and then having the national title game nine days later on Monday night.

In 2014, that would mean the semifinals would be played on Dec. 29 with the national title game on Jan. 8, 2015.

One last thing: Even though there will be four teams, college football's playoff will not be called the "Final Four." The NCAA owns that trademark.

How about "The Football Four" or "The Phat Four"? Or maybe something else. No matter what they call it, at least it's a playoff.

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