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Thursday, May 22, 2014
The playoff is not all about progress

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

The College Football Playoff may look like a Gulfstream jet, all modern and sleek and fast, but in the long view, it's one step past the horseless carriage. The playoff is Phase II, and let us pay respects to the late, sort of lamented BCS. Anyone old enough to remember the beginning years of the BCS should reach for the Zantac now and beat the rush.

Jimbo Fisher
Jimbo Fisher, coach of the last BCS champion, Florida State, has reservations about the effect the playoff will have on college football.

The Organized Postseason is 17 years old, and if you ever were a 17-year-old, or the parent of one, you know what a hot mess that is. The playoff may look and sound as if it has all the answers. In reality, it is young, naive and about to step headfirst into trouble it never saw coming.

A 13-person committee, most of them with full-time jobs, are about to add the weight of the college football world onto their already overtaxed shoulders. Their decision-making process has been adapted from the methods used in NCAA basketball. But that's no guarantee it will be effective. As we said at the outset of this week, picking 68 teams is a national pastime. Picking four teams is a march toward madness.

The playoff is supposed to be the greatest thing since the Internet, the vehicle that will change college football's life immeasurably for the better. That thought has occurred to at least one person in Tuscaloosa.

"Last year, when we got knocked out, we could have gotten right back into it," Alabama safety Landon Collins said.

But the playoff will create casualties. Just as the Internet left a few institutions for dead -- newspapers, attention spans, privacy -- the playoff is going to make us give up parts of the college football life that we take for granted.

"When I was a kid," said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, 48, "and I say this all the time, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar, the Cotton, you knew who won 'em, whether they were national champions or not. It mattered. Your fan base [was] happy. ... There was still something about college football that you could have a successful season without winning a national championship."

Yes, that's a coach talking, and coaches love the offseason bounce that goes to a bowl winner. It can deliver a shot of confidence to a team that will propel it through the drudgery of winter workouts and the grind of spring practice. But Fisher is talking about an interest bigger than his own.

"I think it will eventually hurt college football, in my opinion," he said. "Because let me tell you something: A lot of these programs wouldn't have been built without this bowl system. Because back in the day, all these teams that have built their programs up? ... [They] wouldn't have been in a 16-team playoff that everybody wants to push for. I think it's a sad thing, a slippery slope that we're going down, that I hope we don't. I hope we don't ruin it. I'm a traditionalist, I guess. I believe winning the conference and being 11-2 and winning the Orange Bowl, that's still pretty daggone good."

The FBS commissioners have, after years of trying, corralled the bowls and stripped them of their power. The legacy of men in garish sport coats slapping backs and picking up checks is over. The Fiesta Bowl, which picked up a few checks too many, has eliminated two-thirds of its staff.

The new format may make the Fiesta and every other bowl leaner and meaner. Or it may turn them into college football's newspaper, a relic of a foregone era.

There are the practical matters of preparing for a two-game playoff. From decades of trial and error has evolved the discipline of bowl preparation. Coaches have learned (some of them the hard way) how to prepare their team over four weeks, how to sell out for one game over that long of a period.

Now, two coaches who do that will have to put their teams back together to play an even bigger game the following week.

"I think being able to manage that time is going to be different than it's ever been," Fisher said, "no matter what you say. No one's ever done this. You gotta really put some time and thought into that, your practice times and how much the body can take and the wear and tear, to peak the guys at the right time."

It is going to take some getting used to. UCLA coach Jim Mora, discussing quarterback Brett Hundley's decision to return for his fourth season with the Bruins, said, "I think he's going to get hopefully 14 more games under his belt before he goes to the NFL."

Actually, Jim, you want him to play 15 games this year: 12 regular-season games, a Pac-12 championship, and two more afterward. "There's playoffs," Mora said, laughing. "That's right. Change that. Hopefully, 15 games."

Whether this vehicle is a Gulfstream or not, buckle your seat belts. There just may be turbulence ahead.