In past years, I’ve followed the BCS Championship Game by looking ahead to the next season with a list of teams returning enough talent to win a title.
This year, however, is different.
I have no top 10 and no January crystal ball.
That’s because I have absolutely no clue what we’re getting ourselves into with the upcoming College Football Playoff.
What I do know is that somehow, someway, four teams will be in Pasadena, Calif., and New Orleans for the first ever semifinals. And two teams will then end up playing for all the marbles in Arlington, Texas.
After that, I’m lost.
Criteria for picking the four playoff teams isn’t exactly black and white. It’s completely reasonable to believe that the group of people selected to select the system will look at aspects like records, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, conference champions and many other factors.
It’s not like they’re going to just draw names of schools out of a hat. (They wouldn’t do that, right?)
The CFP not only ushers in a new era, it also sets a new precedent. For big-time programs like Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon, it’s boom or bust. Be one of the four teams to impress the committee, and your season is at minimum a success. Miss out on the playoff and it better not happen too often.
For programs looking to get over the hump and become a national power, like Clemson and South Carolina, you can only go so long without making the final four before you have to question the direction of your program.
Coaches have never had to prepare their teams for something like this before.
All of the above reasons are why I’m not making any predictions or trying to do a way-too-early ranking. The teams that should be there are obvious. Defending champ Florida State brings back Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, so the Seminoles are already ahead of the pack. We know at least one SEC team (likely the conference winner) will be there, and the Crimson Tide are favored to take that crown in Atlanta pretty much every season under Nick Saban. The Pac-12 will certainly be well represented. Oregon might be the best all-around program in that league, but that conference is awfully deep so there are no guarantees.
The Buckeyes, fresh off a BCS loss to Clemson, have tons of talent, a title-winning coach and a schedule that doesn’t lend itself to a great deal of competition.
There are other teams, like Oklahoma, Michigan State, UCLA, LSU and Auburn, that can argue they are right there with the best of them.
So what’s the point of figuring out the most likely top four right now? I’ll save you the trouble and tell you that they will all be good in 2014. The rub lies with everyone else.
This time last year, nobody in their right mind would’ve picked FSU and Auburn to meet Monday night in the BCS title game. Upsets will happen. Teams that are currently flying under the radar will become monsters. Heck, just like with Auburn, somebody with a losing record last season very well could find itself playing in the last game of the college football season.
So good luck to the folks in Las Vegas who have to sort out the odds for picking a title winner. And for fan bases looking to spend early 2015 at the Rose Bowl or on Bourbon Street or inside the cozy palace that Jerry Jones built, don’t rush to make travel plans. That goes from now until December, when the first four — and a new era of college football — come to life.