Well after that, a system of two polls picked champions, sometimes two different champions. Peak absurdity came in 1978, when one poll declared Southern California the winner while the other named Alabama, even though Southern California had manhandled Alabama in Alabama that year. All the confusion finally gave way to a Bowl Championship Series from 1998-2013, in which a phalanx of humans and computers would choose two teams to play in one championship game.
Eventually, or very eventually, that gave way to the current system, the College Football Playoff.
How does it work?
It works complicatedly, as with the rest of the 151-year history of college football. A 13-member committee meets five or six or seven times per autumn in a gaudy hotel near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. That committee studies the weekend gone by and issues top-25 rankings for five straight Tuesday nights, usually through late October, all of November and early December, then a final ranking on a Sunday midday in early December. The top four teams from that final ranking reach the College Football Playoff. This pandemic year, five meetings run from Nov. 24 through Dec. 20, a late start and finish. The first rankings will be announced at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
When did it begin?
It began in the imagination in late 2011, once the country finally wearied of merely 142 years of unsatisfying procedures for determining national champions. From late 2011 through 2012 and into 2013 in meeting rooms in various cities, sober administrators who manage a non-sober sport came to gradual and then vast layers of agreement. The actual football part of it began with the 2014-15 season and on Jan. 1, 2015, when the first national semifinals pitted No. 1 seed Alabama against No. 4 seed Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and No. 2 seed Oregon against No. 3 seed Florida State in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Who is on the committee?
Generally, it’s a group of model citizens, plus coaches and athletic directors. With the coaches always former and the athletic directors always current, those two groups comprise the majority of the committee. Committee members rotate in and out; by now, 27 people have served and flown to Texas often, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (2014-16) and former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno (2017-present), whose presences on such a committee after their previous pursuits constitute either precipitous decline or significant upgrade, depending on one’s perspective. Recent years have brought college football all-Americans and NFL veterans who refrained from going into coaching: Ronnie Lott (2019-present) and John Urschel (2020).
At present, there are seven athletic directors (Iowa’s Gary Barta, Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione, Wyoming’s Tom Burman, Colorado’s Rick George, Arkansas State’s Terry Mohajir, Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury and Florida’s Scott Stricklin), two retired former head coaches (Ken Hatfield and R.C. Slocum), Odierno, Lott, Urschel and Paola Boivin, a longtime Phoenix sports columnist turned Arizona State professor. In the sportswriter vein, Boivin