College Sports

August 16, 2014

College Football Playoff 101: Arlington is the goal line

College football’s best will head to AT&T Stadium in January, with many teams in the mix to fit that description.

College football’s version of the Final Four will decide this year’s national champion at the same venue where college basketball crowned its in April: AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

It marks a rare double dip for the same stadium to decide the winners of the nation’s two highest-profile college sports within a nine-month stretch. It also means an unprecedented opportunity for organizers to establish Arlington as a viable recurring venue for championship games in the College Football Playoff era.

The first national champion to survive a four-team playoff bracket will hoist the CFP’s golden trophy on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium. The winner will arrive in Arlington after being placed in the four-team bracket by a 13-member selection committee, followed by a victory in one of two Jan. 1 semifinal games: at the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

Ideally, members of the Stadium Events Organizing Committee overseeing the Jan. 12 contest hope to lure return business to Arlington. Tommy Bain, the committee chairman, envisions building a relationship in which AT&T Stadium becomes a recurring venue for the title game, much like the British Open returns to St. Andrews in every five-year cycle while other courses wait longer between visits.

“If we produce the game right, with the resources of this area and the outstanding people, I think we have that opportunity,” Bain said.

The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll will be released Sunday afternoon. For now, every team in the country is undefeated in the inaugural season of college football’s playoff era. That will change soon.

Pushing the playoff envelope

Five teams that should make things challenging for the 13 committee members setting the playoff bracket:

Auburn: Reigning SEC champs have the league’s top returning QB (Nick Marshall) but play Alabama on the road.

Michigan State: Rose Bowl champs lose several key defenders but return a veteran OL, plus QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford.

UCLA: Underappreciated title contender could rule the Pac-12 leaning on QB Brett Hundley, LB/RB Myles Jack, LB Eric Kendricks.

Ohio State: QB Braxton Miller is a difference-maker, but he will operate behind a rebuilt OL and with a new RB as his sidekick.

Baylor: The Bears’ point-per-minute offense, led by QB Bryce Petty, could claim another Big 12 title if a retooled defense jells quickly.

Arlington’s Big Six

The defending national champs from Florida State open the 2014 season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and hope to end it there in the national title game on Jan. 12, 2015. Here is the six-game schedule of high-profile college games at AT&T Stadium:

Saturday, Aug. 30: Oklahoma State vs. Florida State

Saturday, Sept. 13: Texas vs. UCLA

Saturday, Sept. 27: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas

Saturday, Nov. 29: Texas Tech vs. Baylor

Thursday, Jan. 1: AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic

Monday, Jan. 12: College Football Playoff national championship game

The Jan. 1 semifinal games (Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl) will match the No. 1 seed against the No. 4 seed while the second seed faces the third seed. Venues will be assigned once seeds are established.

The decision-makers

The inaugural, four-team bracket for this year’s College Football Playoff will be seeded by a 13-member selection committee headed by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Committee members will meet weekly during the regular-season stretch run with their Top 25 rankings released each Tuesday, starting Oct. 28. The four-team bracket will be released Sunday, Dec. 7. Members of the selection committee:

Jeff Long: Arkansas athletic director (chairman)

Barry Alvarez: Wisconsin athletic director

Lt. Gen. Mike Gould: former superintendent of U.S. Air Force Academy

Pat Haden: Southern California athletic director

Tom Jernstedt: former NCAA executive vice president

Oliver Luck: West Virginia athletic director

Archie Manning: former Ole Miss/NFL quarterback

Tom Osborne: former Nebraska football coach/AD

Dan Radakovich: Clemson athletic director

Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Stanford professor and former U.S. secretary of state

Mike Tranghese: former Big East commissioner

Steve Wieberg: former USA Today college football writer

Tyrone Willingham: former football coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington

Heavily hyped Heisman favorites

Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: The 2013 recipient bids to join Ohio State RB Archie Griffin (1974-75) on the short list of two-time Heisman winners.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB: Elite dual threat rushed for nine TDs, threw for 30 TDs (with just four interceptions) last season despite missing significant time with a leg injury.

Bryce Petty, Baylor QB: Threw for 4,200 yards (32 TDs, 3 INTs) and rushed for 14 TDs last season while finishing seventh in 2013 Heisman voting.

Todd Gurley, Georgia RB: Rushed for 989 yards and 10 TDs last season while missing three games with injuries. Also averaged 6.0 yards per carry.

T.J. Yeldon, Alabama RB: A two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Yeldon cranked out 1,235 yards and 14 TDs last season while averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Hidden Heisman hopefuls

Rakeem Cato, Marshall QB: Dual threat ranked third nationally in TD passes last season (39), with only nine interceptions. He may oversee an undefeated team in his senior season.

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB: Rushed for 1,466 yards last season (8.1 per carry) while splitting time with James White. He’ll be the Badgers’ focal point this season.

Brett Hundley, UCLA QB: Well known on the West Coast, the dual threat (748 rushing yards, 3,071 passing yards last season) should make a national splash if the Bruins emerge in the national title chase.

Ryan Switzer, North Carolina WR/PR: Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for TDs last season and figures to be a much higher-profile target in the passing game this season.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB: The versatile senior rushed for 1,690 yards last season and also has skills as a receiver and kick returner. If the Cornhuskers win the Big Ten title, he’ll be in the Heisman mix.

Toughest schedules

A look at the nation’s five toughest schedules, based on 2014 opponents’ winning percentages from last season:

School Opp. ’ 13 rec. Opp. ’ 13 Win %
Arkansas 103-54 .656
Virginia 102-54 .654
Tennessee 101-54 .652
Notre Dame 103-56 .648
Texas A&M 100-55 .645

Playoff contender schedules

School Opp. ’ 13 rec. Opp. ’ 13 Win %
South Carolina 96-59 .619
Auburn 93-60 .608
Ohio State 87-66 .569
Florida State 83-68 .550
Oregon 84-69 .549
Michigan State 83-71 .539
UCLA 82-72 .532
Baylor 78-72 .520
Oklahoma 71-78 .477
Alabama 71-79 .473

Notable newcomers

Matt Joeckel, TCU QB: Texas A&M graduate has been the Aggies’ backup the past two seasons and projects to start for Frogs.

Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech QB: Texas Tech graduate appears poised to take over the controls of Hokies’ offense.

Connor Brewer, Arizona QB: Transfer from Texas is in the mix to claim Wildcats’ starting job in fall drills.

Jacob Coker, Alabama QB: Florida State graduate backed up Heisman winner Jameis Winston last season, should blossom with Tide.

Nick Harwell, Kansas WR: First-year Jayhawk caught 229 passes, scored 24 TDs before leaving Miami (Ohio).

Wes Lunt, Illinois QB: Oklahoma State transfer started for Cowboys as a freshman, should shine in first season with Illini.

Russell Shell, West Virginia RB: Pitt transfer has the size, speed to thrive in his new role with the Mountaineers.

Braylon Heard, Kentucky RB: Once buried on the Nebraska bench, Heard should be a major boost for Wildcats’ ground game.

Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State QB: Could not win the starting job at Florida but probably will run the show for the Wolfpack.

Cody Riggs, Notre Dame CB: Florida transfer could be a coup for an Irish secondary that needs more speedy playmakers.

Best Five in Big Five

The top five teams in each of the five highest-profile conferences, based on preseason odds to win that league by Bovada:

SEC Big 12 Pac-12 ACC Big Ten
Alabama, 7-5 Oklahoma, 2-3 Oregon, 11-10 Florida State, 4-11 Ohio State, 10-11
Auburn, 5-1 Baylor, 11-4 UCLA, 11-4 Clemson, 10-1 Michigan State, 15-4
South Carolina, 5-1 Texas, 7-1 Southern California, 5-1 Louisville, 10-1 Wisconsin, 9-2
Georgia, 6-1 Kansas State, 10-1 Stanford, 6-1 North Carolina, 10-1 Nebraska, 11-2
LSU, 13-2 Oklahoma State, 10-1 Arizona State, 12-1 Miami, 12-1 Michigan 9-1

Poll peril

The Associated Press preseason poll will be released Sunday. None of the past nine teams that began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll went on to win the national championship. The last to do so was USC in 2004. A recap:

Season AP’s preseason No. 1 National champion
2013 Alabama Florida State
2012 USC Alabama
2011 Oklahoma Alabama
2010 Alabama Auburn
2009 Florida Alabama
2008 Georgia Florida
2007 USC LSU
2006 Ohio State Florida
2005 USC Texas
2004 USC USC

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