The College Football Playoff comes full circle in January.
On Jan. 1, 2018, the national semifinals return to the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, where they were played the first year of the CFP, back in 2015. The national championship game moves to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, set for one week later on Jan. 8.
Time may tell that the CFP should park its semifinals in New Orleans and Pasadena and never leave. It’s so hard to get a parking space in the French Quarter and Los Angeles, anyway.
That’s never going to happen, of course. The Cotton, Peach, Orange and Fiesta bowls have scrambled and schemed to get themselves in the six-bowl semifinal rotation, just like the others. As a reminder, the CFP championship game is awarded randomly on a bid basis like the Super Bowl or the Final Four.
But in the three-year cycle of the CFP carousel, which begins its second rotation with the semifinals in the Sugar and Rose, this is the only year in which the semifinals are played Jan. 1. The other two years in the rotation, the semifinals are played earlier.
The CFP, facing slumping ratings and rising criticism, decided to shift the semifinals after the 2018 and 2019 seasons to the Saturday after Christmas. The Cotton and Orange bowls will host the semifinals Dec. 29, 2018, followed by the Peach and Fiesta bowls Dec. 28, 2019. Those semifinals will feed into the CFP championship game Jan. 7, 2019, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California (home of the San Francisco 49ers), and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 13, 2020.
While lots of fans, media and coaches clamored for years for a playoff, is this what everyone wanted? How anticlimactic does it make the post-semifinal bowls in 2018 and 2019? Isn’t this putting the whole bowl system in jeopardy, with oversaturation, diminishing attendance and teetering TV ratings major problems?
Well, perhaps you'd argue that at least part of the bowl schedule is finally about to be eclipsed by an expanded playoff with eight teams. CFP executive director Bill Hancock issues a Lee Corso-like “Not so fast, my friend” on that subject.
“There’s no talk of expansion of the field among our board,” Hancock said during SEC media days. “We have a 12-year contract for this four-team event with nine years to go.”
Hancock said the current four-team playoff model fits best into the overall picture for the college game.
“Four lets us keep the focus on the regular season,” he said, “the best, most compelling regular season in sports, a regular season that every other sport in America would love to trade for. Why monkey with a good thing?”
Meanwhile, Hancock said bidding is about to begin for the next four to six CFP championship games after the 2020 game in the Superdome. He said the organization hopes to name those sites by the first quarter of 2018. Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said officials in New Orleans “will review any opportunities with the CFP,” but there’s no guarantee New Orleans will be part of the bid process for the next round of championship game sites.
Hancock, for his part, said he isn’t campaigning but “wouldn’t be averse” to a northern city hosting the CFP title game. Don’t be shocked if a Midwestern city with a domed stadium like Indianapolis, Minneapolis or Detroit is among the sites selected.
The CFP selection committee is getting a makeover for 2017 as Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt takes over as chairman for Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who remains on the committee through February. The committee is back to 13 members with some new additions, the first time that has been the case since former Saints quarterback Archie Manning stepped down in 2014 from the original committee, citing health reasons.
The CFP’s first top 25 ranking will be released at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31 on ESPN and on the next four Tuesdays leading up to the selection show Sunday, Dec. 3 at 11 a.m.
Which teams will the CFP committee be selecting? Alabama is the only team to make all three CFP semifinals, but the ACC has claimed two of the past four national titles. Clemson exacted revenge on Alabama 35-31 in January in Tampa, Florida, in a championship game rematch, while Florida State beat Auburn in the final BCS title game in January 2014 at the Rose Bowl.
Does this mean the SEC has slipped off its perch as the mightiest conference in college football, supplanted by a basketball league? Perhaps, but perhaps not. It’s worth remembering that Clemson beat Bama on a touchdown pass with 1 second remaining, that small tick of the clock separating the Crimson Tide and the SEC from yet another title.
That said, since Auburn’s appearance against FSU four years ago, thanks in large part to a couple of miracle finishes against Georgia and Bama, the SEC has been dominated by the Crimson Tide. At least the ACC can claim a pair of national-title contenders, while there’s a pretty big gap in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll between No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 LSU, the SEC’s second highest-ranked team.
That said, it would be surprising not to see the SEC champion among the final four CFP teams. Whether that champion can restore the SEC’s national dominance is another matter.