After 16 years of the BCS system, the long-awaited College Football Playoff is on its way. For better or worse, the entire landscape of FBS football has changed. Can it even be split as the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision anymore? Maybe the NCAA should just switch their names back to Division I-A and I-AA.
With all the change, it can be easy to lose track of how it works. For those born after the mid-nineties, the BCS would be all they have ever known. It can be a confusing time for those young Trojan fans. The rotations, automatic qualifiers, at-large bids, and exceptions could make the heads of the uninitiated spin.
To keep it simple, we will focus on the general picture and how it affects USC within the Pac-12.
The four bowls that were previously the BCS bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta), will now join the elevated Cotton and Chik-Fil-A Bowls as part of the semifinal rotation. Two bowls, starting with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, will be the semifinal game in the rotation. The location of the playoff championship game will be determined by whoever wins the bid, kind of like the Olympics.
There are no automatic qualifiers for semifinal. The teams that get playoff bids will be determined by a selection committee composed of 13 members, in which USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has a seat.
Still following? Here is where it might start to get confusing.
Three of the major bowls still have automatic qualifiers when they are not the semifinal that year. The Rose Bowl will host the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, and the Sugar Bowl will feature the Big 12 and SEC champions. The Orange Bowl gets the ACC champion and the highest ranked SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame team available.
That is, unless one of these automatic qualifier teams gets a playoff bid. In that case, the chosen team would go to the playoff and the conference would find a replacement for their bowl tie-in.
However, these teams can only play in their conference’s contracted bowl if it is not a semifinal game that year. Teams that get displaced by the semifinals will play instead play in the remaining major bowls.
The highest ranked among the other five conference champions will also fill one of the slots. The rest of the leftover major bowl slots are taken by the highest ranked teams available.
All six games will take place between December 31st and January 2nd. The winners of the semifinal will play in the championship game on a Monday night in January.
For example, if USC wins the Pac-12 championship game in 2014 but does not get selected for the playoff, they will play in the Fiesta, Cotton, or Chik-Fil-A Bowl rather than the Rose Bowl. This actually puts USC’s “one Rose Bowl in every decade” statistic in danger, since the whole selection process makes it more volatile.
However, whether or not USC wins the conference, they can get a playoff spot if the selection committee picks them (though it would be hard to get a playoff spot without winning the conference). In the case that USC is both the Pac-12 champion and a playoff selection, the Pac-12 will find a replacement to fill USC’s spot.
With the sanctions and lack of depth, it would take a lot of luck for the Trojans to make the playoffs in the first year, but there are still lots of ways that USC could make a major bowl.
The 2014 season should prove to be dramatically different not just for USC, but for the entirety of college football. In the future, it may to be beneficial for strong USC teams. They can avoid a fate similar to Pete Carroll’s past teams that never got a shot at a national title.