How bowl season is different due to the College Football Playoff

BY Stewart Mandel • December 11, 2014

This being the first year of the College Football Playoff, there’s a lot of newness to this bowl season. In the past we never would have seen TCU play in the Peach Bowl, what with its longstanding ACC-SEC partnership, or Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, previously a Big 12-SEC game.

What you might not realize, though, is that those teams wouldn’t necessarily be playing in those games next year, either, if the same rankings held true. Or two years from now for that matter.

Going forward the College Football Playoff will operate on a three-year rotation, with different bowls hosting the semifinal games each season. This year it’s the Rose and Sugar Bowls, but next year it’s the Cotton and Orange, and in 2016, the Fiesta and Peach. Just that simple change would cause the committee to move the bowl teams around, and, in one case, pick a different team entirely.

For pure curiosity’s sake, I used this year’s rankings to seed and place teams into hypothetical lineups the next two seasons, to get a sense of how much change we can expect from one year to the next. But first, a quick review of this year’s CFP bowl lineup and how we got there.

2014 CFP bowls

DATE BOWL MATCHUP
Dec. 31 Peach No. 6 TCU vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
Dec. 31 Fiesta No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State
Dec. 31 Orange No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech
Jan. 1 Cotton No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Jan. 1 Rose No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Jan. 1 Sugar No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

With two of the three “contract” bowls hosting the semifinals this year, only one game, the Orange, had locked-in participants. As the ACC’s partner, the bowl was obligated to take that conference's highest-ranked team, Georgia Tech, to replace Florida State. Its opponent, Mississippi State, was the highest-ranked available team from the SEC or Big Ten.

The remaining pool for the three “access” bowls was displaced Big 12 champ Baylor (the league’s automatic representative), Group of 5 champ Boise State and the four highest-ranked at-large teams left on the board, No. 6 TCU, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 9 Ole Miss and No. 10 Arizona. Boise vs. the home-state Wildcats in the Fiesta was a no-brainer, as was placing the Big 12 champ in the Cotton. From there, the committee simply gave No. 5 Baylor (vs. No. 8 Michigan State) and No. 6 TCU (vs. No. 9 Ole Miss) the highest-ranked opponents possible.

So now, let’s take a stab at 2015.

2015 CFP bowls

DATE BOWL MATCHUP
Dec. 31 Peach No. 6 TCU vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
Dec. 31 Cotton No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Dec. 31 Orange No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Jan. 1  Fiesta No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 20 Boise State
Jan. 1  Rose No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Arizona
Jan. 1  Sugar No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 7 Mississippi State

The most noticeable difference, of course, is that next year’s semifinals are on New Year’s Eve, not New Year’s Day. As for the locations, No. 1 seed Alabama is closer to Arlington, Texas, than it is Miami, but not by much. So while I did put the Tide in the Cotton Bowl, you wonder whether the committee would swap the matchup so that Oregon isn’t stuck playing the lower-seeded ‘Noles in the state of Florida. To this point the committee has been vague about those hypotheticals.

Meanwhile, TCU, Ole Miss and Boise State would be the only teams to play in the same bowls. The Rose (Big Ten-Pac-12) and Sugar (Big 12-SEC) nab the highest-ranked teams from their conference partners, with the Sugar even getting one of its champions, Baylor. And because the Orange Bowl is not an ACC bowl next year, Georgia Tech would not be protected. Say hello instead to higher-ranked Kansas State, which logically goes to the Fiesta Bowl. And poor Arizona. It’s still never been to the Rose Bowl, but it would if this were next year.

Is it just me or are these better matchups on the whole?

On to 2016:

2016 CFP bowls

DATE BOWL MATCHUP
Dec. 31 Orange No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech
Dec. 31 Peach No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Dec. 31 Fiesta No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Jan. 1 Cotton No. 6 TCU vs. No. 20 Boise State
Jan. 1 Rose No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Arizona
Jan. 1 Sugar No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 7 Mississippi State

The differences from Year 2 to Year  3 aren’t as dramatic. In this case all three contract bowls get their regular conferences. Alabama’s and Oregon’s placements are more clear-cut. And in the weirdest quirk of the entire arrangement, once every three years there will only be one at-large spot. It’s in the Cotton Bowl, which gets nearby TCU but also has to take Boise State.

The only thing worse for TCU than dropping from third to sixth this year would have been getting matched up with Boise in a throwback to its Mountain West days.

All in all, I like the Year 2 lineup the best.


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