Welcome to the College Football Playoff, a four-team bracket that lends itself to more questions than its elementary name might lead you to believe. (Just how heavily will strength of schedule be weighed? Is it actually possible to eliminate bias from the selection process? How can Condoleezza Rice possibly pay attention to Florida State, Alabama and Vladimir Putin?) How it all unfolds is part of what makes this season so exciting and historic. As we head into a new era of college football, here are a few basics you need to know about the sport's new format:
1. You don't need an advanced mathematics degree to understand it. Unlike the former BCS standings, which used computers, points and percentages to help determine the best teams in the country, there is no math involved. There are 13 people who will decide the best four teams in college football. Period. The group is composed of varying backgrounds, including current athletic directors, former coaches, administrators, one former sports writer and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the lone female. Their common denominator? Integrity. Speaking of ...
2. Recuse me, please. Of course, each of those 13 people has some sort of tie to at least one conference or school. In an attempt to remove any perceived bias from the voting process (hey, at least they tried), committee members are not allowed to vote for a team if (a) they or their immediate family members are paid by that school, (b) they "provide professional services" to that school, or (c) they are a coach, administrator or student-athlete at that school. To put it simply, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long cannot vote for Arkansas. And no, Tom Osborne cannot vote for Nebraska.
3. Only one poll matters. You will still see the USA Today Coaches Poll. You will still see the Associated Press Top 25. They're fun fodder, but they don't count. The question is how much they'll influence the committee members, who don't reveal their first ranking until Oct. 28. New rankings will be released every Tuesday from then through the end of the season. Committee members will have any and all data on every team at their fingertips. They'll factor in strength of schedule, win-loss records, head-to-head results, conference champions and key injuries.
4. Somebody's still gonna be mad. Namely No. 5. And possibly Nos. 6, 7 and 8. Sort of like in 2008, when 10 schools had zero or one loss. Replacing computers with a subjective panel of humans will not end the debates. Instead, it will fuel more of them. Will the SEC's reputation allow a one-loss team to supersede an undefeated Boise State? What will it take for the conferences outside the Power Five to crash the playoff party? There's no limit to how many teams from one conference can be in the playoff. Officials within the College Football Playoff offices insist this format isn't going to change anytime soon -- not with a 12-year deal in place. And university presidents and academia types abhor the idea of making the season any longer. So get used to it.
5. And the winner is ... This season, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will host the College Football Playoff semifinals. It's No. 1 versus No. 4, and No. 2 versus No. 3. The national title game will be played Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. The fanfare will begin on New Year's Eve with the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl, and it will continue on New Year's Day with the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Consider it college football's version of a New Year's resolution.