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How 2014's College Football Playoff works, plus 39 bowl game projections

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College football's first season with a championship tournament at its highest level is just about here. Here's everything you *need* to know, including the best bets to play in each bowl game.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Guide

How the College Football Playoff will work this season

Now, "this season" is an important factor. The Playoff is set up to work three slightly different ways, with the six major New Year's bowls rotating semifinal status amongst themselves by the year. But we only need to know about one of those setups for 2014: the one with the Rose and Sugar hosting semifinals.

With that out of the way, here are the only things you need.

  • A 13-person selection committee will create a weekly Top 25, beginning October 28. Its members include famous college sports personalities, but little obvious analytic expertise and minimal mid-major representation. People are going to be so mad.
  • The committee's criteria is impossible to nail down, at least until we get a few seasons into the process. Years of talk about strength of schedule and conference championships being important factors are meaningless at this point. We're all winging it.
  • That said, the top four teams in the committee's final December rankings make the Playoff. The No. 1 seed will get its closest available semifinal spot. If that's Florida State, the Noles go to the Sugar. If that's Oregon, the Ducks host at the Rose. If that's UTEP, we have bigger problems than figuring out whether El Paso is closer to Pasadena or New Orleans.
  • The No. 2 seed hosts the other semifinal, but doesn't get any geography advantages. If this system had been in place year, Auburn would've been rewarded for finishing No. 2 by hosting Alabama ... 2,000 miles from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Yes, that's stupid.
  • The committee also matches up the other four major New Year's bowls. Those have their own stipulations. We'll get into those in the projections below.

There's a lot more you could choose to know*, if you really wanted to. But you're now field-ready.

* For example, Team Speed Kills has a good look at how the three different Playoffs would've given us three different New Year's bowl lineups last year, if the Playoff had existed. And Bill Connelly broke down how the committee would've picked its four teams from 1998 to 2012.

39 bowl game projections

Yep, there are new bowl games, because 35 was just not enough.

The College Football Playoff

Sugar No. 1 Florida State (13-0) No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) 1/1/2015 New Orleans, LA
Rose No. 2 Alabama (12-1) No. 3 Oregon (12-1) 1/1/2015 Pasadena, CA

FSU gets New Orleans, since it's No. 1 after surviving a tougher 2014 schedule. Alabama's reward for No. 2 is a trip to California, meaning the No. 3 Ducks have a travel advantage.

The fourth spot could come down to Oklahoma or a dozen other teams, but the Sooners have a better chance of winning a tough conference than anyone else left on the board, and we've been led to believe the committee thinks that's important.

This is about as tidy as the first Playoff foursome could possibly be. In reality, somebody with two losses could make it in, the SEC or Pac-12 could get two teams in, a mid-major with a decent schedule could force hard choices by going unbeaten, or even a Big Ten team could make it! Prepare for squalor.

Oh, and for the title game, let's just do FSU-Bama for now. Don't overthink this.

The rest of the New Year's Six

Bowl Date Location Ties
Cotton Baylor East Carolina 1/1/2015 Arlington, TX At-large
Fiesta UCLA Michigan State 12/31/2014 Glendale, AZ At-large
Orange Virginia Tech South Carolina 12/31/2014 Miami, FL ACC 1 vs. Big Ten/Notre Dame/SEC
Peach Georgia Ohio State 12/31/2014 Atlanta, GA At-large

The Orange is the easy one here. It gets the highest-ranked ACC team not taken by the Playoff, which could be Clemson, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, or ... yeah, the ACC is as jumbled as ever. The Hokies look like the best bet for 10 wins.

The Orange's other team is the top-ranked member of that Big Ten/Notre Dame/SEC cluster, which will often be the No. 5 team in the country. We have no idea whether the committee will punish division champions for losing conference title games, as the polls tend to, but let's say SEC East champ South Carolina settles at No. 5 or so.

After that, the list of teams going to the three other bowls must include the best team from the non-power conferences. That could be one of several teams from the American or Mountain West, or perhaps Bowling Green, Marshall, or UL Lafayette. Give me ECU, which might boast mid-majordom's best offense and is just itching to take down either UNC, South Carolina, or Virginia Tech. Marshall could go unbeaten, but would need to blow opponents off the earth to top a 10-2 ECU, if strength of schedule actually matters.

With the list of teams in hand, geography takes over. Or so we've been told.

(Strict geography would dictate sending ECU to Atlanta and Ohio State to Arlington, but the matchups we've arranged make much more sense, wouldn't you agree?)

So, so many more bowls

Bowl Date Location Ties
GoDaddy Bowling Green South Alabama 1/4/2015 Mobile, AL MAC 1 vs. Sun Belt 2
Birmingham UCF Troy 1/3/2015 Birmingham, AL American vs. SEC 9
Alamo Texas USC 1/2/2015 San Antonio, TX Big 12 2 vs. Pac-12 2
Armed Forces Houston Notre Dame* 1/2/2015 Fort Worth, TX American vs. Army/Big 12 7/Big Ten
Cactus TCU Arizona State 1/2/2015 Glendale, AZ Big 12 6 vs. Pac-12 7 (MWC conditional)
TaxSlayer Northwestern Florida 1/2/2015 Jacksonville, FL ACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7* vs. SEC 3-8
Capital One Michigan LSU 1/1/2015 Orlando, FL Big Ten 2-4/ACC* vs. SEC 2
Outback Wisconsin Auburn 1/1/2015 Tampa, FL Big Ten 2-4 vs. SEC 3-8
Belk North Carolina Mississippi State 12/30/2014 Charlotte, NC ACC 3-6 vs. SEC 3-8
Music City Louisville Missouri 12/30/2014 Nashville, TN ACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7* vs. SEC 3-8
San Francisco Nebraska Stanford 12/30/2014 San Francisco, CA Big Ten 5-7 vs. Pac-12 4
Liberty Oklahoma State Ole Miss 12/29/2014 Memphis, TN Big 12 5 vs. SEC 3-8
Russell Athletic Clemson Kansas State 12/29/2014 Orlando, FL ACC 2 vs. Big 12 3
Texas Texas Tech Texas A&M 12/29/2014 Houston, TX Big 12 4 vs. SEC 3-8
Holiday Iowa Washington 12/27/2014 San Diego, CA Big Ten 2-4 vs. Pac-12 3
Independence Georgia Tech Rice* 12/27/2014 Shreveport, LA ACC vs. SEC 10 (C-USA conditional)
Military Oregon State* Miami 12/27/2014 Annapolis, MD American vs. ACC
Pinstripe Pitt Maryland 12/27/2014 New York, NY ACC 3-6 vs. Big Ten 5-7
Sun Duke Arizona 12/27/2014 El Paso, TX ACC 3-6 vs. Pac-12 5
Bitcoin Akron* Western Kentucky* 12/26/2014 St. Petersburg, FL American vs. C-USA (ACC conditional)
Detroit Syracuse Central Michigan* 12/26/2014 Detroit, MI ACC vs. Big Ten
Heart of Dallas Minnesota North Texas 12/26/2014 Dallas, TX Big Ten/Big 12 7 vs. C-USA
Bahamas Marshall Toledo 12/24/2014 Nassau, BS C-USA vs. MAC 4/5
Hawaii Middle Tennessee Fresno State 12/24/2014 Honolulu, HI C-USA vs. MWC 2-7
Boca Florida Atlantic Buffalo 12/23/2014 Boca Raton, FL C-USA vs. MAC 4/5
Poinsettia San Diego State Navy 12/23/2014 San Diego, CA MWC 2-7 vs. Navy
Miami Beach Cincinnati BYU 12/22/2014 Miami, FL American vs. BYU
Camelia Ohio Arkansas State 12/20/2014 Montgomery, AL MAC 3 vs. Sun Belt 3 (ACC conditional)
Las Vegas Boise State Utah 12/20/2014 Las Vegas, NV MWC 1 vs. Pac-12 6
New Mexico UTSA Nevada 12/20/2014 Albuquerque, NM C-USA vs. MWC 2-7
New Orleans UL Lafayette Utah State 12/20/2014 New Orleans, LA Sun Belt 1 vs. MWC 2-7
Potato Northern Illinois Washington State 12/20/2014 Boise, ID MAC 2 vs. MWC 2-7
Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

* Taking another conference's unfilled bid.

Picked one winner for each game of the season, and there you have it.

Please note conference bowl orders aren't going to correlate exactly to conference standings, because bowl selectors pick based on matchup and money, not based on which team had the best record. That means neither you nor I can get mad about how high Texas is.

Also note most conferences (AAC, ACC, Big Ten, C-USA, MAC, SEC) now cluster some of their bids, meaning teams get friendlier geographic draws and there's less bickering about bowl pecking order.