For decades, college football’s bowl game season always stirred debates over which team was truly No. 1.
The College Football Playoff was designed and initiated to not just quiet those debates but to enhance interest and give more opportunities for teams to win a national title by matching up the nation’s top four teams to play in semifinal games in order to advance to the National Championship game.
Those semifinal games, scheduled for Thursday, December 31, pitted the No. 1 Clemson Tigers against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Capital One Orange Bowl at 2 p.m. (MST), and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide against the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans at 6 p.m. (MST) in the Cotton Bowl Classic. (These gridiron matches happened just after press time.)
The winners advance to play in the CFP National Championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Monday, January 11, at 6:30 p.m. (MST).
These teams were selected by a 12-member committee after the regular season and conference championship games were completed. This system has quieted some, but not all, of the arguments that existed under the CFP’s predecessor, the Bowl Championship Series. Many fans may argue the fourteam playoff needs to be expanded to eight. That may not happen for a while, as the CFP is contracted until 2025-2026.
Last year, the NCAA began the CFP. This system helped an Ohio State team, which lost a game early in the 2014 season, but managed to win critical games against conference rivals, a Big Ten championship and then defeat Alabama and Oregon to win the inaugural CFP National Championship. Under the previous BCS system and with its one loss, the Buckeyes may have been on the outside looking in at a national championship game, as the BCS placed the top two teams against each other in a championship game.
The BCS, in place from 1998 to 2013, created five bowl game match-ups with the top 10 teams, but only selected the top two for the championship, leaving it open to criticism because many conference champion teams were left out.
This year the nation will watch four conference champions in the semifinals (Clemson, ACC; Alabama, SEC; Michigan State, Big Ten, and Oklahoma, Big 12).
The Tigers are led by quarterback Deshean Watson with wins over Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina, while the Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield steamrolled past Baylor, TCU and rival Oklahoma State on the way to the title.
Alabama seeks a trip to the national championship game, which eluded them last year in the CFP with a loss to Ohio State. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, the Tide marched to an SEC championship with wins over Florida, LSU, Mississippi State.
Michigan State won the Big Ten with its third conference championship in six years, which includes a co-championship in 2010, knocking off Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa this season. Two of those victories came with no time left on the clock. The MSU offense is led by senior quarterback Connor Cook, the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP VENUE
These teams hope to play in the CFP National Championship at the University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006 and features a retractable roof. It seats 64,300 fans, is expandable to 72,200, and is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The stadium was designed by architect Peter Eisenman with HOK Sport, Hunt Construction Group and Urban Earth Design.
These designers created a venue to compliment the desert landscape. The facility features shimmering metal panels intended to reflect the shifting desert light along vertical glass slots, allowing fans a spectacular view of the horizon from any level of the exterior.
The stadium cost $455 million to build with $300 million contributed by the Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority. The Fiesta Bowl contributes $140 million each year to the local economy. In 2011, the BCS championship game added $188 million to the local economy.