College Football Playoff Explained

As we near the release of the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, there is still some confusion as to what the playoff will actually look like and how the teams will be selected.

Here is our guide to everything college football playoff.


The College Football Playoff (CFP) at its simplest form is a bowl season +1 format. Four teams will play in two semifinal bowl games, with the winners advancing to a national championship game. How we get to that point is slightly more complicated.

Expanded from the four premier bowl games in the BCS, the CFP puts emphasis on the “New Year’s Six.” Those six games are as follows.

  • Rose Bowl
  • Sugar Bowl
  • Orange Bowl
  • Fiesta Bowl
  • Cotton Bowl
  • Peach Bowl

Of those six premier bowl games, two will serve as CFP semifinal games every season. The semifinal games will rotate between the six bowl games, with each of the bowls acting as a semifinal game once every three seasons. For example, this season (2014-2015), the semifinal games will be the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The Rose and Sugar Bowls will serve as the semifinal games again in the 2017-2018 season. The other four non-semifinal bowl games will receive marquee matchups, but will have no bearing on determining college football’s national champion.

The CFP National Championship game will be played at least a week following the semifinal games, and its location will change every season. In the 2014-2015 season, the CFP National Championship Game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Selection Committee

The job of determining college football’s rankings will be put in the hands of 13 individuals. The change to a unique selection committee means that coaches and computer polls no longer have any influence on determining which teams will advance to College Football’s National Championship. The committee members will rank the top 25 teams in the nation, with the top 4 advancing to the CFP semifinal games. Here are the current members of the CFP selection committee.

  • Jeff Long – selection committee chairman, Arkansas athletic director
  • Barry Alvarez – Wisconsin athletic director
  • Gen. Mike Gould – former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy
  • Pat Haden – USC athletic director
  • Tom Jernstedt – former NCAA executive vice president
  • Oliver Luck – West Virginia athletic director
  • Dan Radakovich – Clemson athletic director
  • Steve Wieberg – former college football reporter
  • Tyrone Willingham – former head coach of Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington
  • Mike Tranghese – former commissioner of the Big East Conference.
  • Condoleeza Rice – former Secretary of State, Stanford professor
  • Tom Osborne – former Nebraska head coach, athletic director
  • Archie Manning – former Ole miss quarterback, college football hall of fame inductee
    • (Archie has recused himself from voting in 2014, he is expected to return next season)


The selection committee will put emphasis on a few key categories when determining the top 25 college football teams in the nation.

  • Win-loss records
  • Strength of schedule
  • Conference championships won
  • Head-to-head results
  • Results against common opponents

It should be noted that although these categories are listed as those “emphasized” by the CFP selection committee, their decision is not relegated to these metrics. The committee has left themselves the power to choose a team simply because they want to and the rest of the nation will have to abide by the committees decision.

Voting Process

The procedure for how the CFP selection committee will chose the top 25 teams in the country is a 5 step process.

  1. Every member on the CFP selection committee will identify which teams they believe are the top 25 in the nation and submit that list to the group. The lists of each member will be compared and if a team appears on 3 member’s lists, it will remain in the discussion.
  2. From this narrowed list of teams, each committee member will select who they believe the top 6 teams in the country are. These submissions will be compared and the 6 teams who receive the most votes will then move on to be seeded.
  3. Each member of the selection committee will then seed these 6 teams, with the 3 teams receiving the lowest points total becoming the top 3 seeds. The 3 teams that receive the highest points total will remain in the voting pool.
  4. The committee members will then list their top 6 teams from the remaining list, with the 3 teams that receive the most votes being joined with the 3 teams that were left over from the first seeding effort, and the seeding process will begin again.
  5. Steps 3 and 4 will be repeated until all 25 teams have been seeded.

Voting Dates

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will release their rankings 6 times during the college football season with the final vote serving as the seeding for CFP semifinal games. The voting dates for 2014 are as follows:

  • Oct. 28
  • Nov. 4
  • Nov. 11
  • Nov. 18
  • Nov. 25
  • Dec. 2

Steps to Avoid Controversy

Each of the College Football Playoff selection committee members represents a certain region, conference, or even a specific school. To try and avoid individual bias, the selection committee added a recusal policy.

The policy looks like this:

  • Each member of the committee will be recused of voting on a team they have a specific tie to. That tie can include but is not limited to alma maters, a current or past employer, or an employer of a family member.
  • If a committee member is recused, they will not be allowed to vote or deliberate on that specific team. For example, Barry Alverez would be allowed to vote in steps 1 and 2 of the voting process, but he would not be allowed to choose Wisconsin on his list because of his relationship to that school.
  • If a team that a committee member is recused from reaches the seeding level, step 3 of the voting process, that member would be excused from that round of voting and could return once the team he/she is recused from has been seeded.

Where Controversy still exists

While the voting procedure is fairly transparent, the actual votes themselves are kept completely secret from teams and fans. While the recusal policy goes a long way in deterring thoughts of bias, it is only a matter of time before someone, somewhere will be calling to see how exactly those votes were cast.

Other Interesting facts about the playoff

  1. Gone is the “SEC” rule from the BCS system. There is no limit to the number of teams from the same conference, state, or region that can end up in the top 4. While it seems unlikely that 3 or 4 teams from the same conference would end up in the playoff system, there very easily could be 2 teams from the same conference or the same division in the playoff every season.
  2. Which teams go to which CFP semifinal game will be determined by geography and seeding. The number 1 ranked team by the CFP selection committee will be awarded the semifinal game that is closest to their campus and will play the 4th ranked team. The other two schools will travel to the other semifinal location.

2014-15 College Football Playoff Schedule

  • January 1st, 2015 – Sugar Bowl
  • January 1st, 2015 – Rose Bowl
  • January 12th, 2015 – CFP Championship Game

What if your team isn’t one of the top 4 teams in the country? We’ll have more on that later.