College Football Playoff Structure: Rules, Schedule And Format For The 2014 Season

BCS Field
The College Football Playoff will replace the BCS this season.

After years of tireless debate and perpetual controversy, college football begins the 2014 season with a new system in place to determine the national champion with a first-ever playoff format. After 16 seasons, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been abolished and now the four best schools in the nation will compete for the national title.

For years, sports fans and members of the media have called for a college football playoff system to be put into place to replace the computer selection methods of the BCS. As a candidate during the 2008 campaign, President Obama even voiced his frustration with the BCS system, and his administration looked into the legality of the system in 2010.

Under the BCS, computers and polls determined the top two teams in the nation before bowl games were played. Without any type of playoff, there was often heated debate about teams that weren’t given a chance to play for the title. There were consistent wranglings from pundits and fans over one program's strength of schedule and win-loss record at home and on the road over another's. The debates prompted calls for change from the NCAA, which remained stubborn to keeping BCS system. The NCAA finally caved in June 2012 when they announced the four-team playoff, but only after years of outcry about the obvious flaws. 

In 2003, LSU and USC were named split champions. Both teams ended the regular season with one loss, but the Trojans were not chosen to play in the national championship game. After LSU won the BCS title game and USC won the Rose Bowl, USC was voted the country’s top team by the Associated Press, while the computer gave the honors to the Tigers. The following year saw a similar controversy, as undefeated Auburn wasn’t given a chance to play for the national title. USC and Oklahoma, who also went 12-0, faced off for the championship, relegating Auburn to the Sugar Bowl.

In 2014, all three undefeated teams would be given the opportunity to make the playoffs and compete for the title. The new system isn’t perfect, and there’s almost certain to be a debate about which teams deserve to make the postseason, but it should be a vast improvement from a system that faced constant scrutiny.

How do teams make the College Football Playoff?

The College Football Playoff is much smaller than the NCAA basketball tournament, which sees 68 teams make the field, or the NFL playoffs, which allows 12 teams to compete for a title. Only four teams will be selected to the new playoff system.

A selection committee will determine a top 25 during each week of the season, and the list will be released every Tuesday, beginning on Oct. 28. Once all the conference champions have been determined, the top four teams will reach the playoffs.

The committee is made up of 13 people. It includes athletic directors, two former coaches, a former sportswriter and a former conference commissioner. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ex-NFL quarterback Archie Manning also make up the group. They will use a subjective voting system, which in addition to overall win-loss record, will focus on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponent results and league championship wins.

How does the playoff system work?

In the semifinals, the No.1 seed will face the No.4 seed, and the No.2 seed will take on the No.3 seed. The two winners will go on to face off in the national championship game, guaranteeing one true champion.

If the playoff system had been in place last season, Florida State and Auburn might not have ever met in the final contest. The top-ranked Seminoles would have taken on Michigan State in the semifinals, while Auburn would have played Alabama. There won’t be any limit regarding the number of teams from one conference that can be in the top four, so it’s conceivable that the playoffs could have multiple rematches from the regular season.

What happens to the bowl games?

Just like any other year, the bowl games will continue in 2014. Each year, two bowls games will be used to host the semifinals. This season, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will get the honors. In the next two seasons, the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl will also get the chance to host a semifinal matchup.

Both semifinal games will always be played on the same day. This season, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are scheduled for New Year’s Day, and the 2015 National Championship Game will be held on Monday, Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The next two national title games will be held in Glendale and Tampa Bay, respectively. A triple-header will be scheduled on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, featuring the top six bowl games.

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