If you're a little confused about the changes that are happening to college football's bowl season, you're not alone. Buzz Beamer has heard that the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which has crowned the NCAA's national champion since the 1998 season, is gone forever and that there will now be a playoff among college football's top teams to determine the national champion. But his head is spinning. Maybe you share his confusion? Let's help Buzz figure out what will actually be happening when the 2014 regular season is over.
Buzz Beamer: Would you please explain to me why we need to change the way the championship is decided? Everything seemed fine to me before.
SI Kids: There are so many top teams that people always disagree about which one is the best. Did you know that Alabama, Arkansas, and Notre Dame were all named 1964 national champions and that Harvard, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M all claim the 1919 title?
BB: That's bogus. How can that be?
SIK: Various groups vote on champions, and sometimes opinions differ.
BB: My team's the best. I voted.
SIK: You can't technically vote on the champion, Buzz, but you're entitled to your own opinion. In fact, that's one of the reasons why we're finally going to see a playoff. There's always some disagreement, whether it's among voters or among fans, about which team is the best.
BB: I heard they're adding extra bowls for this playoff. They should totally let me name them. Let's see, there should be the Cereal Bowl, the Chili Mac Bowl, the Double Fudge Chocolate Chunk Flip Bowl....
SIK: Settle down, Buzz. There are actually no new bowls, just a different way of determining the champion.
BB: Wait — then how can it be different from last year, when Florida State beat Auburn in the BCS national championship game?
SIK: Now there will be a playoff to get into the national championship game.
BB: Ok, I get it. Like March Madness in college basketball!
SIK: Well, it's more like the Final Four. There will only be four teams invited to be in the playoff, which will include two semifinals plus the national championship. In the semifinals, the fourth-ranked school will play the No. 1 team, and the second-ranked and third-ranked squads will play.
BB: So will they, like, flip a coin to see who makes it into the games?
SIK: The selection committee will put more thought into the process than that, Buzz. Rankings will be released every week starting October 28. You'll be able to see how committee members voted the best teams in the country based on polls, records, and the strength of every team's schedule.
BB: I'm thinking Kansas has a really good chance.
SIK: Um, wrong sport. Kansas went 1–8 in the Big 12 conference last year.
BB: Could I be on the committee to pick the teams?
SIK: I don't think so, Buzz. It's a 13-person group made up of movers and shakers in college athletics — including five athletics directors — 10 of whom are former players.
BB: I can move! I can shake! Check out my super-smooth dance moves.
SIK: Buzz! Focus.
BB: Fine. But you said there are no new bowls. I think you're punking me. Aren't the semifinals new?
SIK: Yes and no. Two already existing bowls will be the semifinal games — this year it's the Rose and the Sugar bowls — and the rest of the major games, in addition to the around two dozen minor bowls, will still be regular bowls. Next year, two different bowls will host the semifinals.
BB: So the Cheesy Mac Bowl and the Chocolate Bowl.
SIK: Nice try. The semifinals will also rotate among the Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, and Chick-fil-A bowls. Along with the Rose and Sugar, those are considered major games.
BB: Seriously. My names are better.
SIK: They're definitely tastier, I'll give you that. But anyway, Buzz, these six major bowls will happen on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
BB: Whoa! So you're telling me all the big games are happening over just two days?
SIK: You got it. Get your nachos ready, Buzz.
BB: Awesome. I'm going to throw the biggest New Year's Party anyone's ever seen. But how is this a playoff?
SIK: Those semifinal games, which this year are on January 1, begin the playoff. Then the title game takes place around two weeks later. This season, it's on January 12.
BB: My party will just have to continue until January 12, then. I'm cool with that. Guess I should take my party down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, right? I mean, Alabama's so good, of course the Crimson Tide will host the game. Duh.
SIK: Not so fast, Buzz. Alabama might be playing in the game, but the site will always be a neutral one. This season, it'll be in Arlington, Texas. You know, where the Dallas Cowboys play.
BB: Sweet. I'll be sure to bring my lasso and my spurs. And my horse. Ooh! And jalapeños for my nachos.
SIK: How about just your ticket?
BB: Lame. O.K., O.K. You're right. I totally get it, though. Bring on the playoff!
For more on the upcoming season, check out SI Kids' 2014 College Football Preview!
Photos: BILL HINDS (Buzz Beamer), WALTER IOOSS JR./SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (GEORGIA)ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (FLORIDA)AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (NEBRASKA)AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (OKLAHOMA AND ALABAMA)
College Football Preview 2014: What Does the Playoff Really Mean?
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