Finally, college football has a playoff. Finally, the BCS reign of terror is behind us. Finally, we're one step closer to the results on the field truly deciding who the best team in the country is, not a series of rankings.
While college football's new system likely isn't perfect in the eyes of many, it's a huge step in the right direction. Below, we'll break down how the new system works and will be implemented in the 2014 season.
It's pretty simple, really—the team deemed to be No. 1 in the country at the end of the season will play the team deemed to be No. 4 in one semifinal, while the Nos. 2 and 3 seeded teams will play in the other semifinal. The winners of those games will compete for the national championship.
As per the old bowl format, the semifinal games will be played on a rotating basis at one of six traditional bowl games—the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. These games will be played on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. This year, the semifinals will be the Rose and Sugar Bowls on New Year's Day.
The national title game will be held on Monday, Jan. 12th this year, giving the competing teams a little under two weeks to prepare. Each national championship game will be played at an independent site.
It's important to note that there are no automatic bids or limits on the four teams that reach the playoffs (though the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-12 all are guaranteed at least one team in one of the six major bowls, while the best team out of the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American will receive an automatic bid to one of the six big bowls).
Winning a conference title does not automatically mean that a team will be one of the top four in the rankings. In fact, while unlikely, four teams from the same conference could theoretically comprise the four playoff teams.
It's also important to note that the major bowls that aren't a part of the semifinals will revert to traditional pairings. So, for example, while the selection committee will generally choose the teams for the major bowls, the Rose Bowl will remain a Big Ten versus Pac-12 matchup in years it isn't hosting a semifinal.
The Selection Committee
Ah, but how will the top four teams be decided?
Rather than rely solely on a complicated computer program to determine rankings, under the new system a selection committee has been put in place to rank the teams in the country on a weekly basis and ultimately decide who the top four teams in the nation are at the end of the season.
1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by more than three members will remain under consideration.
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.
This year, the first rankings of the year will be released on Oct. 28, with new rankings being released every week on Tuesday until the end of the season. The 13-member committee is comprised of Jeff Long, Pat Haden, Dan Radakovich, Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham, Archie Manning, Mike Tranghese, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Tom Jernstedt, Steve Wieberg and Condoleezza Rice.
It's a diverse group of folks with various experience levels in the college game, so there should be plenty of differing perspectives. And of course, the group will be privy to top analytics and trends throughout the year, helping them come to a decision.
"I think the powers to be will do a good job and figure out who those top four teams are," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said at the Big Ten media days, via Erik Prado of The Daily Illini. "But I think it will add another element to college football that'll be exciting at the end of the year."
That is certainly the hope. It's a new day for college football, and for fans who want the championship to be decided on the field, it's a better day as well. Plus, with two semifinal games and the four biggest bowls all coming in two days around New Year's, the start of January will truly be college football's holiday.
At some point, perhaps we'll get an eight- or 16-team playoff. With the current system likely locked in place until 2026, it will be awhile until that potentially happens. But this is certainly a step in the right direction.