College football finally has a four-team playoff, but it’s uncharted waters

Just when you thought you had the Bowl Championship Series deciphered, college football changed everything.

For years, fans clamored to incorporate a postseason playoff at the sport’s highest level. This season they will get their wish — even if only four programs reap the benefit.

Introducing the College Football Playoff, with a bottom-line format easy to comprehend: The nation’s top four teams at the end of the regular season competing in two semifinals, each played in a bowl game, with the two victors meeting in the national championship at a different site each year.

“It’s uncharted territory for everyone,” said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, whose Seminoles are defending national champs and go into 2014 as the preseason favorite to win another. Fisher said “no one knows’’ what it would be like to play an extra game to get to the championship, “because no one has done it. It’s a two-game deal.

“… Everybody is going to have the same problems and be in uncharted waters themselves. But that’s the goal. If you want to be a champion, you’ve got to get in it, so I think the excitement will override all those things. We’re looking forward to it.”

And in this playoff system, it all comes down to human beings, not computers.

A panel of 13 people, dubbed “college football experts,” by College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, have a mission of ranking the top 25 teams for the ultimate purpose of determining the four that will compete in the semifinals.

The other major bowls affiliated with the new 12-year system will have their participants selected from the final top-25 list.

The 13 handpicked experts: former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice; former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne; College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning; Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez; former superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy Mike Gould; Southern Cal athletic director Pat Haden; former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt; West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck; Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich; former USA Today college football writer Steve Wieberg; former head coach (Notre Dame, Stanford, Washington) Tyrone Willingham; former Big East Conference commissioner Mike Tranghese; and Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long.

The Orange Bowl will be one of six major players in the new system. The others: the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Peach and Cotton.

The inaugural title game, on Jan. 12, will be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with the semifinals Jan.1 in the Sugar and Rose.

The Orange Bowl will have a New Year’s Eve semifinal in 2015, with the Cotton also hosting a semifinal on Dec. 31. The title for the 2015 season will be in Glendale, Arizona.

Selection committee members will meet weekly to generate rankings. The first rankings will be released Tuesday, Oct. 28, after the ninth week of the regular season. Those rankings will be announced on ESPN on the following five Tuesday nights.

“The members of the selection committee are an outstanding group of people with high integrity and excellent judgment, and ultimately the decision will be theirs,” Hancock said when the College Football Playoff released selection details.

According to the procedures of the new system, the selection committee will be provided heaps of information, such as video, statistics and anything members deem important enough to review. The traditional rankings, such as the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and Associated Press Top 25, will still be released but will not be part of any mathematical formula toward the rankings — nor will any computer rankings, as was previously the case with the BCS.

Committee members must recuse themselves from voting for any teams they have ties to in a number of specified ways.

Emphasized in the decision-making will be win-loss records, strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head results and results against common opponents.

Like Fisher, University of Miami coach Al Golden isn’t sure exactly how the process will work. Golden just hopes it’s fair and there’s some quantitative measure.

“I don’t know what all that means yet,” Golden said during fall camp. “I just think we want to know for sure what all the criteria are, and strength of schedule and how that’s going to play in. I hope strength of schedule is important and not arbitrary. We have to get the quantitative side of it.

“But it’s a start, and I’m excited about it. My hope is that it will expand eventually [to more than four teams] and that we’ll continue to support all the communities and bowl games that supported us for a long time in college football.”

Michael Kelly, the former Atlantic Coast Conference senior associate commissioner who now serves as the College Football Playoff’s chief operating officer, is convinced the playoff “is the best of all worlds.”

“All of us … have an opportunity to truly create the next great iconic sport on American soil,” Kelly said last month at the Big Ten Conference Media Days. “We can’t wait to see the players and coaches go out in great big form.”

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