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ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit picks college football's final four

ESPN college football expert Kirk Herbstreit poses in

ESPN college football expert Kirk Herbstreit poses in Times Square Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 as part of Allstate's launch of the It's Good Sweepstakes in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the brand's "Good Hands" Field Goal Nets. Credit: Allstate

The new College Football Playoff isn't like its college basketball counterpart. And that's just the way Kirk Herbstreit likes it.

Even though he's a self-proclaimed college basketball junkie, the ESPN college football analyst is a big fan of the new College Football Playoff.

"The fans and a lot of the media talked about this for a long time," Herbstreit told Newsday in a phone interview while in Times Square to promote Allstate's "It's Good" sweepstakes. "I think the powers that be, after saying that it would never happen, they finally gave in. They listened, to their credit, and they made a change."

The playoff comes after 16 years of the controversial Bowl Championship Seres was created. The BCS relied on computers and polls to determine the two best teams.

"I think it was easy after the dust settled after the bowls to say, 'Wow, I really wish we had this team in the championship instead of that team,'" Herbstreit said. "It was usually between three or four teams that really deserved to be there. And now we're going to have a chance to get the two best teams in the national championship."

The 2014-15 playoffs will feature the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl as semifinals. The final will be played in Arlington.

But lest you think the College Football Playoff becomes a giant free-for-all like March Madness, don't worry. Unlike March Madness, where 68 teams earn a berth to the dance, college football's new playoff system is limited to just four teams that are picked by a 13-person selection committee. That gives it an air of exclusivity -- and retains a strong emphasis on regular-season performance.

"There's so much focus on March Madness and the brackets that they've lost interest in what happens in December and January and even February," said Herbstreit, who has been with ESPN for 19 years. "It's really all about March. With college football, because it's just four, it's a very slippery slope, a fine line between making it into the final four and not. So you need to be ready to play every week."

Herbie's playoff picks

So with just a few days until the start of the college football season, which four teams does Herbstreit like to make the playoffs?

His early favorites include defending national champion Florida State, UCLA, Rose Bowl champion Michigan State and Alabama.

Herbstreit pointed to two star quarterbacks in Jameis Winston and Brett Hundley as his main reason for including Florida State and UCLA, respectively.

A week ago, he would have had Ohio State in the playoffs instead of Michigan State. But once star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, the Spartans jumped into contention.

"With that significant of an injury, I think Michigan State on paper has to be favored," said Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback.

As for Alabama, Herbstreit expects them to rebound.

"I think the way they lost those last two games at the end of the year [to Auburn and Oklahoma] has fueled their fire in the offseason," he said.

In the end, he has Florida State and Alabama playing for the national title, with the Seminoles repeating as champion.

QBs remain Heisman favorites

If there was any doubt that football has become more and more of a quarterback-driven game, Herbstreit's early Heisman watch list could erase it.

His preseason favorites consist mostly of quarterbacks: Winston, Hundley, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Baylor QB Bryce Petty.

A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy in 12 of the last 14 years, including each of the last four seasons.

He did mention Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Stanford wideout/returner Ty Montgomery as dark-horse non-QB candidates, but admitted that "I think it's another year where the finalists will be from the quarterback position."

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