NCAA Football: National Championship Trophy Unveiling

NCAA Football: National Championship Trophy Unveiling (Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports / July 14, 2014)

Jimbo Fisher's gaze drifted toward the crystal football trophy he held tightly in his hands as he carefully lifted it triumphantly. It was a token of all the hard work and countless hours Fisher's Florida State Seminoles put into winning the national championship.

At that moment, under the stars in southern California, the Bowl Championship Series came to an end.

Unlike college football's previous postseason format, the new College Football Playoff is exactly what it says it is — a playoff. The word is so blasphemous among college football purists, just the mere mention would spark protracted arguments about protecting the precious bowl experience.

Like it or not, the new era has arrived.


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Now, instead of selecting the top two teams to play for the national championship, the top four teams in the country will face off in two semifinal games. Those games will rotate among six "access" bowl games: Sugar, Rose, Orange, Cotton, Peach (formerly the Chick-fil-A) and Fiesta.

The Rose and Sugar bowls will host this year's semifinals, with the Orange and Cotton hosting them in 2016 and the Peach and Fiesta hosting in 2017.

"The format is very simple. It's symmetrical. It's really beautiful. It's a four-team bracket," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. "We all love our brackets."

In an effort to restore the importance of New Year's Day in the college football postseason, the six games will be split and played on both Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, with the national championship game set to kick off off a little more than a week later on a Monday night.

"We have planted our flag on Monday night," Hancock said.

This season, for example, the title game will be played on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Title towns

Another new nuance is that the national championship game will no longer just rotate among the "access" bowls, but will instead be bid out to other cities and venues across the country, much like NFL's format for awarding the right to host the Super Bowl.

AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, will host the first championship game under the playoff format in 2015, with the University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.) hosting in 2016 and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa set to host in 2017. Hosts for 2018, 2019 and possibly 2020 title games won't be awarded until early 2015, according to Hancock.

It's good news for cities like Orlando and Miami, who are hoping to have stadium renovations completed in time to contend for the right to host the title game.

The venues are set, but who decides which four teams qualify for the playoff?

Under the old BCS system, a combination of votes from two human polls – the Harris and USA Today coaches' polls — and six computer polls were used to come up with the final BCS top 25 rankings. The top two teams faced off in the title game. It was a cold system that drew criticism from fans, who lamented it weighed certain elements like strength of schedule too heavily and failed to factor in a more "human" touch.

Well, those fans got their wish.

As part of the College Football Playoff, a 13-person selection committee was created to decide which teams qualify for not only the four-team playoff, but also the remaining "access" bowls not hosting semifinal games. The group consists of members from different walks of life, including former coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners and a former media member.

"We have an all-star team of 13 people of high integrity who know the game, who love the game and are ready to commit the time necessary to do the job," Hancock said.

The biggest criteria needed for being a member on the committee may be thick skin. There's no doubt that once the first rankings are released, there will be people upset with the selection process.