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College Football Weekend Preview: The Path to a Playoff Begins

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College Football Weekend Preview: The Path to a Playoff Begins

Hallelujah!

Finally, major college football's national championship will be decided by a multi-round playoff for the first time starting in 2014.

After 16 years of the BCS, a sport steeped in history succumbed to progress. It's only four teams that will qualify for the playoffs, but it's a start.

Change comes a the speed of a glacier in college football, but eventually there will be an eight-team playoff and perhaps even more decades down the road.

Maybe the best part about the alterations taking place in college football, however, is that the bowl games aren't going anywhere. The postseason that is so unique to the sport has remained largely intact.

If you're like me and you love football, you want to see as many games as possible. For those that claim there's too many bowl games, the solution is simple. Don't watch.

In a nutshell, here's how the playoff will work: two bowl games will serve as the semifinals, both played on New Year's Day. This year it's the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, although that will change from year to year. The winners will meet in the national championship game on Jan. 12.

There's been a lot of focus on the 13-member selection committee that is tasked with picking the best four teams in the nation based on "strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, championships won and other factors," according to the official College Football Playoff website.

Lots of questions remain unanswered. To ask just a few: Will a conference get more than one team into the playoff? Which conference among the Power Five will be left out of the mix? These are questions to which we won't have answers until early December when the field is announced.

The reality of the situation is, if you're a team from a Power Five conference, you better not have any more than one loss if you want any legitimate claim to a playoff berth. Sure, a two-loss team might get into the playoff, but not ahead of any conference champion that has only one loss or less.

And sorry to any teams from the Group of Five mid-major conferences. The one and only chance you have of getting into a playoff is if you're undefeated, and even then, it's going to be a longshot.

Marshall has a good team this year and may very well go undefeated. But arguably, their best opponent is Rice. That's just not going to cut it.

However it shakes out, it's going to be fun. Hang on for the ride. And thanks for joining us for a third consecutive season of the College Football Weekend Preview column here at Cheesehead TV.

 

Where College GameDay Is At

ESPN's celebrated pre-game show will originate from Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Tex., just down the road from Saturday's neutral-site match-up between defending national champion Florida State and Texas border neighbor Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The selection of Fort Worth is also a nod to the site of this year's national championship game, which will be held at the same site: Jerry World, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

As far as the game goes, the biggest question in need of answering is whether the Seminoles can replace all the talent lost to the NFL Draft, particularly on the defensive side of the football.

Gone from a year ago are defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones and defensive backs Lemarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks.

But there's so much talent at Florida State, there's no reaason to think they won't re-load once again. After all, they did it last season when they lost a college football leading 11 draft picks to the NFL. They barely seemed affected as they went undefeated.

With defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston running the show, the Seminoles figure to be nearly as good as last year, and they face an Oklahoma State team that is similarly re-building on defense.

Including the loss of first round draft choice, cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State is replacing eight of its top nine tacklers from last season. The problem is, there's not as much talent and depth in Stillwater to replace their losses as there is in Tallahassee.

Prediction: The Cowboys keep it competitive for a half, but Florida State pulls away late with Winston picking up where he did last year. 41-20, War Chant.

 

The Wisconsin Connection

After years of seeing a scheduling policy that included exceedingly few elite opponents, Wisconsin significantly beefed up its non-conference slate with a neutral-site contest against LSU in Houston Saturday night.

LSU re-pays the favor with a game in Wisconsin's backyard at Lambeau Field in 2016, but that's two years down the road.

If it can win, Wisconsin is setting itself up rather nicely for consideration in the college football playoff by playing a historic powerhouse in LSU, given the emphasis on strength of schedule the selection committee will be considering.

Granted, the Badgers still have to take care of business in the Big Ten, but a win against the Tigers away from the confines of Camp Randall would create a powerful wave of momentum.

News out of Madison is that Tanner McEvoy will be starting at quarterback, going with the junior college transfer over incumbent starter Joel Stave.

The stakes will be high not only for McEvoy but also for for the LSU quarterback as well, whether it's Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris, either of whom or both will take over for Zach Mettenberger, now in the NFL.

Whichever team passes the ball better may win the game, because the running games for both teams will be dominant.

Wisconsin features one of the best tandems in the nation in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, but LSU touts the No. 1 recruit in the nation in Leonard Fournette to go along with competent holdovers Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.

In the passing game, the Badgers lost wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen to the next level, while LSU is minus prolific duo Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. If either team sees their new group of receiving targets emerge on Saturday eveing, they'll have a major advantage.

Prediction: LSU has experience replacing talent lost to the NFL more consistently than Wisconsin over the years, giving them the slightest of edge. 21-20, Geaux Tigers.

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Even if South Carolina wasn't worthy of their Top 10 preseason ranking, it was still impressive that Texas A&M was able to romp an SEC opponent on the road in the season opener 52-28 Thursday evening.

Based on one game and one game only, it appears as if the Aggies have done a better job replacing Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and particularly Johnny Manziel on the offensive side of the football than South Carolina has done replacing Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive end of things.

The biggest storyline of the evening was the performance of A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, who broke Manziel's single-game passing record by throwing for 511 yards at Wallace-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin is gaining a reputation as an offensive mastermind, developing quarterbacks such as the record-setting Case Keenum back in Houston, the Heisman Trophy-winning Manziel and now Hill.

After blowing by the Gamecocks, Texas A&M has to now be considered a legitimate contender in the tough SEC West, even though the road to the conference title game is as difficult as ever.

It's rather astonishing how quickly the rug was pulled from underneath Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. Entering a season with designs set on a spot in college football playoffs, expectations need to be recalibrated.

Sure, South Carolina's season isn't over if it can go undefeated the rest of the way. But the way the Gamecocks defense looked, and the way the Mike Davis and the rushing game did little to threaten the Aggies defense, there's little confidence Spurrier is going to have his team threatening for an SEC East title in 2014.

 

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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