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Everything to know about how the College Football Playoff works in 2016

New committee members, a new TV spokesperson, two first-time semifinal locations, and more.

Florida v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The first edition of the Playoff at the end of the 2014 season was an exhilarating finish for almost all. (Sorry, Big 12 and Florida State.) 2015’s sophomore effort wasn’t so good, with lousy semifinal games preceding a classic championship. But while that disappointment prompted changes, they might not come as quickly as fans want.

The most important facts of the Playoff will stay the same in 2016. The Playoff is still a four-team tournament, and the weekly committee meetings and rankings releases will remain in place, but-

Are the semifinals on New Year’s Eve again?


I hated that.

We know; so did we. And the Playoff organizers know, too.

So are they fixing that?

The Playoff decided in July to move semifinal games to Saturdays or New Year’s Day for at least the last four years of its current configuration. It’s probably a permanent change beyond then, but the Playoff’s deals get murkier after 2020.

This year’s bowls are unchanged. The Fiesta and Peach will host semifinals on December 31. Fortunately, that’s a Saturday, and the Playoff is pushing up those semifinals’ time slots an hour, so this year probably won’t produce as big a boondoggle.

It’s kinda weird that the semifinals are the Fiesta and Peach, right?

Well, a New Year’s Eve game isn’t unusual for the Peach, which has been held on New Year’s Eve all but four times this century.

The Peach Bowl wasn’t part of the BCS, Bowl Coalition, or Bowl Alliance and has never featured a top-five team. In 2016, it will have two.

The Fiesta has only been played in December twice since 1980, so the timing is going to be a bit odd. But the Fiesta was a BCS and pre-BCS bowl, and it’s played host to a bunch of big games, despite being the youngest of the New Year’s Six.

The Playoff National Championship is probably at a really interesting site after having been at Cowboys Stadium and in Arizona, right?

Well, the Championship will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Monday, January 9, 2017. It will be the first time the Championship will be played at a non-New Year’s Six site, the first time the Championship will be outdoors, and probably the closest USF will come for a while.

Raymond James has hosted two Super Bowls and dozens of Outback Bowls, and it’s a decent stadium, still under 20 years old. But it’s not as nice as the glittering spaceship that is Cowboys Stadium, nor as tied to college football’s recent history as University of Phoenix Stadium.

So who will play in which games?

It’s tempting to say Alabama and Clemson and whoever else, based on the projections.

But the matchups are largely determined by contractual obligations, most importantly the ones that the Rose has with the Big Ten and Pac-12 and the ones the Sugar has with the Big 12 and SEC.

Obviously, the top four in the final Playoff rankings will meet in the Peach and Fiesta, with the No. 1 team getting its closer bowl. (If Alabama or Clemson earns that No. 1, for example, either is headed to Atlanta.)

But everything else works out fairly neatly this year.

After the committee puts its top four in semifinals, it will send the Rose and Sugar the top non-Playoff teams from their conferences and make a matchup in the Orange between the top non-Playoff ACC team against either the second-ranked non-Playoff SEC team, the second-ranked non-Playoff Big Ten team, or Notre Dame.

The Cotton will be left with the last two non-Playoff at-large teams, one of which will be the highest-ranked non-power conference champion.

Here’s how the 2016-17 New Year's Six looks:

  • Rose (January 2, 5 p.m. ET): No. 1 non-Playoff Big Ten vs. No. 1 non-Playoff Pac-12
  • Sugar (January 2, 8:30 p.m. ET): No. 1 non-Playoff SEC vs. No. 1 non-Playoff Big 12
  • Orange (December 30, 8 p.m. ET): No. 1 non-Playoff ACC vs. No. 2 non-Playoff SEC/Big Ten or Notre Dame
  • Cotton (January 2, 1 p.m. ET): Non-Playoff at-large vs. Top Group of 5 champion
  • Fiesta (December 31, 3 or 7 p.m. ET): Playoff semifinal
  • Peach (December 31, 3 or 7 p.m. ET): Playoff semifinal

Finally, some of this stuff seems sensible!

Yeah, this Year 3 rotation is more straightforward than the last two, with the Orange, Rose, and Sugar selections almost entirely dictated by contracts.

The one potential complication? The Orange Bowl could, if the committee picks a matchup that constitutes a regular-season rematch for the ACC — like Clemson-South Carolina or Florida State-Florida — forgo that ACC team’s opponent and pick the next highest-ranked team from the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame pool. That passed-over team would then go to the Cotton.

But that probably won’t be exercised. ACC favorites Clemson and Florida State don’t play Notre Dame or a Big Ten team, and it seems unlikely Florida or South Carolina will be in line for a New Year’s Six appearance.

Who’s on the committee now?

It’s mostly the same — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, etc. — from 2015, with three departures and two arrivals. Former Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower replaces former Air Force superintendent Michael Gould, and former Central Michigan head coach Herb Deromidi replaces former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.

Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr, who was set to replace former Nebraska coach and AD Tom Osborne, stepped down and won’t be replaced.

To avoid the appearance of bias toward particular schools, there’s a recusal process that prevents members from chiming in on certain teams. Here’s the 2016 list of teams that specific members can’t weigh in on:

  • Arkansas: Jeff Long
  • Central Michigan: Herb Deromidi
  • Clemson: Dan Radakovich
  • Duke: Ty Willingham
  • Oregon: Rob Mullens
  • Southern Mississippi: Jeff Bower
  • Stanford: Condoleezza Rice and Ty Willingham
  • Texas Tech: Kirby Hocutt
  • Wisconsin: Barry Alvarez

When will the rankings be released?

Every Tuesday in November, then on Sunday, December 4, when the whole New Year’s Six will be announced.

  • Tuesday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. ET
  • Tuesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. ET (yep, that’s the middle of Election Night)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 15, 9 p.m. ET (approximate)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 22, 7 p.m. ET
  • Tuesday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. ET
  • Sunday, Dec. 6, noon ET

What should we expect from 2016’s rankings?

A lot of hollering about things that will be in a state of week-to-week flux, for sure.

The committee has made a show of trying to put out something like a power ranking every week, which has made for dramatic shifts and explanations that cite specious logic about body clocks. While its two sets of semifinalist picks were ultimately non-controversial to everyone other than Baylor and TCU fans, the committee does not shy away from bold (and/or strange) picks on the way to its final four, like Mississippi State leading three top-four SEC teams in the first rankings of 2014 or once-beaten Oklahoma jumping unbeaten Iowa in 2015.

There will probably be something similarly buzz-worthy this fall, and fans will yell at the chairman who is made to elaborate on ESPN about the committee’s reasoning.

Hey, I remember that Long guy on TV. I’m sick of that guy.

Good news: Long’s not the committee chairman anymore, meaning he’s no longer the person who’ll offer awkward rankings explanations each Tuesday. The new face is Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt.

While he was Miami’s AD, Hocutt hired Al Golden and presided over the beginning of the Nevin Shapiro investigation. He brought on Billy Gillispie for a disastrous one-year tenure as TTU basketball coach. He is now in charge of explaining the committee’s top-25 rankings every week.

At least he’s got to be good at spin by now?

You get it.