The biggest cheers on Sunday didn’t come from Columbus, Ohio. They came from back rooms and boardrooms in Bristol, Connecticut, where the network tasked with televising the first-ever College Football Playoff celebrated a miraculous (and lucrative) sequence of events.
For the first time all season—and the only time that mattered—the four vacancies in the College Football Playoff were claimed by four eyeball-grabbing, ratings-breeding college football programs. That draft you currently feel is the wind coming courtesy of the aggressive, shoulder-surgery-inducing fist pumps at ESPN.
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be the first four teams to compete for a national championship in the College Football Playoff era.
The nation’s No. 1 team, the Crimson Tide, will meet the No. 4 Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, while the Ducks and Seminoles will compete in the Rose Bowl in the matchup between No. 2 and No. 3.
The elephant in the room—outside of the actual elephant firmly holding on to the top seed—is that No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU were both left out of the playoff entirely.
More matter of fact, the conference-championship-game-less Big 12 will be without a team on New Year’s Day.
There was a strong, convincing case to be made for both Big 12 programs. TCU’s overall resume had the look and feel of a Top Four team. Baylor closed out the season with only one defeat and was the lone team to beat the Horned Frogs.
Both campuses will be coping with the letdown for some time, and understandably so. The same could be said about Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who expressed his disappointment shortly after ESPN unveiled the final rankings.
Big12's Bob Bowlsby: "We were penalized for not having a championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time"— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 7, 2014
The debate that has helped drive interest in this shiny new postseason will continue, although it’s moot at this point. The top four teams—whether you believe they belong or not—are set.
As a result, the storylines, intrigue and interest will follow like an avalanche. Outside of perhaps a Notre Dame cameo, it’s hard to envision a more enthralling way to kick things off from a viewership and watchability perspective.
We have Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer, a heavyweight fight between the two finest coaches in the sport. We have a likely Heisman finalist in wideout Amari Cooper going up against a third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, who looked superhuman in his one and only start.
And there’s Lane Kiffin on his continued path to redemption going toe-to-toe with the spectacular Ohio State defensive line led by Joey Bosa, a sophomore ripe with endless talent and charisma.
Ohio State fans unleashed a “We Want 'Bama” chant in Lucas Oil Stadium as the Big Ten championship was winding down. They got their wish.
This, however, is only half of the heavenly slate.
Florida State and Oregon will be a matchup featuring Heisman quarterbacks. Jameis Winston, last year’s winner, just put together his most impressive single-game performance of the year in the ACC championship game. Marcus Mariota, a lock to win the award next Saturday, just closed out one of the more dominant individual seasons we’ve ever seen.
You have speed versus size. You have traditional and familiar versus neon and bold. You have one program hoping to finally break through and win a national championship going up against an opponent that hasn’t lost a football game in two years.
There are so many subplots to discuss in both of these games with ample time to do so.
And perhaps most intriguing of all, there’s a real possibility that Alabama and Oregon will finally meet in a dream matchup that has been in the making for years, this time for a national championship.
Such potential scenarios will be explored in depth in the days and weeks to follow. Regardless of the outcomes of the two semifinal games, the inaugural College Football Playoff has already won.
You might not agree with what the selection committee ultimately decided, which is understandable considering the unique and controversial circumstances. But given the coaches, players, Heismans, villains, unexpected stars, uniforms and the seemingly endless storylines involved, it's hard not to be captivated by what's ahead.