ESPN’s Dinich Talks Playoff and State of College Football After Inaugural CFP Games

by Drew Zuhosky

This past January, the University of Alabama, Florida State University Seminoles, The Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Oregon Ducks made up the four-team bracket for the initial College Football Playoff. The three games, played on Jan. 1 and 12, culminated years of planning and waiting.

For years, college football fans asked, “When will there be a playoff, if there’s ever going to be one?”

The playoff first began to take shape in 2011, during the second year of what would prove to be the final four-year cycle of the defunct Bowl Championship Series. During two October teleconferences in that year, commissioners of the 10 conferences making up the Football Bowl Subdivision began discussing a method for choosing a new format for determining college football’s national champion.

A series of meetings were held throughout 2012, during which key aspects of postseason play, such as a further continuation of the BCS and a rebirth of the original bowl season format used prior to 1992’s launch of the Bowl Coalition — created in the wake of split national champions in 1990 and 1991 — were considered but ultimately eradicated. A larger playoff field with as many as 16 teams was also vetoed.

In the summer of 2012, all 10 commissioners unanimously voted in favor of the four-team playoff due to begin after the 2014 regular college football season.

On June 26 of that year, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee unanimously voted in favor to file legislation to the NCAA Board of Directors allowing two football programs to play in two postseason games every year for 12 years, beginning in the 2014 season. Thus, the College Football Playoff was born.

Until the 2025 season, the top four teams in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, selected by a 13-person committee, will play in semifinals on New Year’s Eve or Day as part of the New Year’s Six — comprised of the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls.

Unlike the BCS, which preceded it, the CFP offers no automatic berths, meaning the selection of teams for the bracket is entirely performance-based.

For the 2015 season, the Cotton and Orange Bowls will act as the semifinals, played on Dec. 31, with the champions of those bowls meeting in Glendale, Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday, Jan. 11 for the national championship. The final is held on the first Monday at least six days after the semifinals every year.

In the wake of the first playoff, one question still lingers, “How has this tournament changed college football?”

Photo Courtesy of Elvert Barnes/Flickr. “Football.Ellipse.WDC.3March2006” CC by 2.0.’s , the website’s former ACC football blogger, covered the playoff’s maiden voyage in North Texas. She believes the playoff altered college football by making it a national sport, as opposed to a regional one.

“I wrote about this at the end of the season,” Dinich said. “To me, college football had always felt like a regional sport. This time around, you had Florida State fans caring about what TCU was doing, and you had TCU fans caring about what Ohio State was doing. I just felt like it brought out fans, coaches and players from their little pockets of the world and it made college football one giant conference.”

Back in the second week of the year last season, Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech at home in J.T. Barrett’s first home start as quarterback for the Buckeyes. At the time, many national media pundits thought the Buckeyes stood no chance at getting in the playoff. Dinich said she feels that the playoff committee was able to overlook that game, preserving the value of early-season non-conference play.

“Ohio State suffered a bad loss and still wound up to be one of the top four,” she said. “I think that’s what’s terrific about the selection committee, who were able to see beyond a week two loss and there are plenty of reasons that went into that; it was J.T. Barrett’s first home game as a starter and it was a completely different Buckeyes team that took on and handily defeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.”

Dinich said she believes the human element is what makes the playoff so unique.

“You can afford a loss and it’s a much more forgiving system,” she said. “I think there are plenty of examples of where strength of schedule matters and it’s one thing the College Football Playoff didn’t do: devalue the regular season. Every game still matters.”

Dinich explained the selection protocol.

“I don’t think people gave enough attention to the selection protocol,” she said. “If you look at the actual tiebreaker scenarios, the criteria include strength of schedule, conference championships won, and head-to-head competition. All three of those components are supposed to be specifically applied to the tiebreakers, particularly strength of schedule.”

Ohio State opens the year with a rematch against Virginia Tech on Labor Day. Dinich doesn’t think that Urban Meyer and his men will have a tough slate this season, especially when the team has 16 returning starters from last year’s championship season on the 2015 roster.

“Virginia Tech at home in Lane Stadium is a really tough team,” she said. “Frank Beamer is a good coach and the Hokies will be prepared for that game. Based on who Ohio State has coming back, they should be able to go into Blacksburg and win easily that night. They’ve also got Hawaii and Northern Illinois at home, plus Western Michigan before starting the Big Ten schedule. The Buckeyes set up better than any in the country to return to the playoff.”

Dinich said she believes the quarterback competition in Columbus is a toss-up.

“They all have their strengths, and don’t forget about how good Braxton Miller was,” she said. “It’s like he’s fallen off the radar, but my goodness, he was a Heisman Trophy contender heading into last season before his injury. What a great problem for Urban Meyer to have.”

Dinich gave her early CFP prediction, as well as some sleeper teams.

“I don’t think Florida State’s going to be back,” she said. “I think Ohio State will be back. My top four heading into this season has Ohio State, TCU, USC and Auburn. As far as teams that might sneak in, a lot of people like Georgia and Alabama. I think the PAC-12 is also going to be very good.”

Dinich thinks eight is the maximum number of teams that should get into the playoff.

“I think if and when it ever expands, it would have to stop at eight teams,” she said. “I’ve spoken to all 10 FBS conference commissioners this season and they all agree that right now four is the right number of teams. Before anybody starts to clamor for expansion to that bracket, I agree with the commissioners that everybody needs to have some patience and let the system play out.”