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VOL. 129 | NO. 173 | Friday, September 5, 2014


One Week Into Season, Playoff Resembling BCS

By Don Wade

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The scoreboard at Brice-Williams Stadium in Columbia, S.C., was not yet a sparkle in Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill’s eye when Bill Hancock, executive director of the new college football playoff, gave us this:

“The format is very simple. It’s symmetrical. It’s really beautiful. It’s a four-team bracket. We all love our brackets.”

See what he did there, that oh-so-sly reference to March Madness? It’s a card that college football’s grand poobahs love to play: We’re just like the NCAA Basketball Tournament! Anything can happen! David vs. Goliath and a true champion, too!

Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill entered the college football scene with last week’s statement win at South Carolina’s Williams-Bryce Stadium. It also helped alter the early college football playoff picture, which is sure to constantly change throughout the season.

(Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

But after just one week of the college football season, it’s quite possible that a disappointing reality is sinking in: The new system for determining a national champion is still a close blood relative of the old Bowl Championship Series system.

“It’s the BCS doubled – in access, but also, probably, in controversy,” said George Schroeder, national college football writer for USA Today Sports and a past president of the Football Writers Association of America. “We’ve gone from computer rankings and human polls to 13 humans (the selection committee) in a room.

“But it’s still all about preconceived notions,” Schroeder said. “And the argument over No. 4 and No. 5 (or No. 6), may be much more heated than the old 2 vs. 3.”

The selection committee is a stellar group, no doubt. Archie Manning; Pat Haden, who not only is the USC athletics director, but a former Rhodes Scholar and NFL quarterback; even Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state. Each member has impressive credentials.

But each is connected to one or more universities past and present and one or more conferences past and present. Rice, for instance, has a degree from Notre Dame and is on the faculty at Stanford. Manning is SEC through and through. Barry Alvarez is from Pennsylvania, graduated from Nebraska, coached at Wisconsin and is now AD there.

So biased views are unavoidable, even with built-in safeguards that would keep Manning out of an improbable Ole Miss discussion and Haden out of a USC conversation. The committee will issue its first rankings in late October, after the season’s ninth week.

Meanwhile, back on the field in week one, South Carolina was more than a 10-point favorite at home against Texas A&M. The Aggies’ Kenny Hill set school records with 44 completions and 511 passing yards in a dominating 52-28 victory. Johnny Who?

South Carolina was considered a strong contender for the SEC title. Not now. And if the Gamecocks tank, that will hurt the Aggies going forward. For the moment, though, Texas A&M vaults into the top four polls put together by media types – from sportswriters and broadcasters to homeless guys with iPhones.

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit had one projected Final Four before the season: UCLA, Michigan State, Alabama and Florida State. After a week, Herbie has an update for us: 1. Georgia. 2. Florida State. 3. Oklahoma. 4. Texas A&M. And he’s sure about this, you know, until next week.

“Week one is one data point,” Schroeder said.

Back to Hancock, making the rounds at the five power conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC) preseason media days: “The committee will select the four best teams, period, no strings attached.”

Sounds good, but outside of Bill Hancock who truly believes that? At SEC Media Days, everyone got a little card that has the College Football Playoff basics on it. One of the categories on that card is Universal Access: “Every FBS team will have equal access to the playoff based on its performance. No team will qualify automatically.”

That laughter you hear is coming from Big Ten country, where everyone just assumes it is SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s party and they might not be invited.

“I think it’s safe to say the SEC champion will be in the final four,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

“I would hope that no conference would have two teams in the four,” former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr told The New York Times in what the newspaper called “pre-emptive lobbying.”

In the end, the only certainty is that there will be semifinal games on New Year’s Day – the Sugar and Rose Bowls – and the national championship game will be played on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.

And by the way, the College Football Playoff’s 12-season contract with ESPN is worth more than $5.6 billion.

“One more game, so that’ll be good,” Georgia running back Todd Gurley said. “Business-wise and just the excitement of college football.”

Actually, two more games. Which is really good business-wise. Even if the selection committee gets it wrong.

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