On paper -- and most likely on the old BCS computer printout formula -- undefeated defending national champion Florida State and SEC champion Alabama would be preparing to meet for the national championship on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. It would have been a television ratings bonanza, and complaints from supporters of Oregon, Ohio State and TCU would have been ignored as so much background noise.
But under the new four-team College Football Playoff format, Oregon and Ohio State got the chance to settle the argument on the field and earn the right to play each other a week from Monday. TCU still has its nose pressed up against the glass looking in, but more about that later.
The important thing is that college football is a whole lot closer to getting it right, the bowl system survived and the game benefited as a result of the new format. It turns out Florida State's undefeated record against relatively weak ACC competition was as precarious as it appeared. And Ohio State put the lie to Big Ten inferiority by coming back from 15 points down to set up the first national title game without the SEC champion since the 2005 season, when Texas beat USC.
Ohio State was maligned after losing its second game of the season against Virginia Tech while breaking in second-string quarterback J.T Barrett as the replacement for injured Braxton Miller, but no one has come further than the Buckeyes. They now are on their third quarterback -- Barrett went down in the regular-season finale and was replaced by Cardale Jones -- and have the nation's longest winning streak at 12 games.
"We're really thankful for the playoff system," said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards, including the 85-yard TD run that clinched the win. "They gave us the chance to go out there and show that we're one of the better teams in the nation and we deserve to be in the national championship. I think the playoff system definitely helped."
Oregon's 59-20 Rose Bowl rout of Florida State was another case of a motivated team with something to prove showing what it could do. Jameis Winston pointed to the Seminoles' 528 yards of total offense and said the Ducks "never stopped us." But the truth is that Oregon's supposedly soft defense rattled Winston and FSU into committing five turnovers that led to 34 points.
Current Heisman winner Marcus Mariota outplayed Winston, accounting for 400 yards total offense and three touchdowns while remaining cool. Winston's emotions spiraled out of control as things came unraveled for the Seminoles. The Ducks' 39-point margin and Rose Bowl-record 59 total points spoke far more loudly about which team dominated.
So college football fans can take satisfaction in knowing the eventual national champion will result from a more inclusive playoff system. It's not perfect, as TCU supporters can attest. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 3 going into the final week of regular-season play, but the selection committee dropped them all the way to No. 6 despite a 55-3 win over weak Iowa State.
TCU's 42-3 Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss was a clear indication the Frogs merited a shot at the title even though their national prestige doesn't compare to the four teams that were selected.
Although the current system is contracted through the 2025 season, there is sure to be pressure to move to an eight-team format. That seems the ideal number because there would be enough slots to accommodate an overflow of candidates from the Power Five conferences while leaving room for a worthy contender from the Group of Five conferences, such as Fiesta Bowl champion Boise State of the Mountain West.
The six CFP bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach) each would get a playoff game every year -- four quarterfinals and two semifinals -- leading to the title game.
But for now, the first College Football Playoff has done its job to produce a champion on the field.