Hello, Playoff

I’m ready to see college football move from black-and-white to color. Remember the scene from “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy steps into Oz? That’s what college football will do Thursday, when the playoff era officially begins. It’s time to embrace the upgrade, dump water on the BCS as the old system melts away, and rejoice the game’s greatest development in recent memory.

It’s almost here, a change generations in the making.

New Year’s Day, at long last, once again helps determine a national champion. Welcome back, old friend!

“College football” and “playoff” are no longer mutually exclusive. I knew you’d get along!

A majority of college football fans across the country will soon be asking the same question: Why didn’t this happen sooner?

Imagine a four-team field in 1991: Miami’s bad boys facing Washington in one semifinal, with Desmond Howard and Michigan meeting Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘N Gun Florida Gators in the other. Picture the intrigue of a 2010 playoff: Stanford facing Cam Newton and Auburn, opposite an unbeaten Oregon and unblemished TCU.

We can only dream. Until now.

Not that the inaugural playoff field is perfect. There’s some homogeny with dynastic Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State all involved. The addition of Baylor or TCU would have infused a much-needed underdog factor. Instead, four football factories will vie for the title. We need an outsider – an Al Czervik, if you will – to crash the party.

The Bowl Championship Series succeeded in adding national appeal to the game. Two decades ago, nobody in Baton Rouge cared about what happened at the L.A. Coliseum, a place that in turn largely ignored the goings-on in Tuscaloosa. The BCS broke those barriers. It brought Texas to the Rose Bowl and Stanford to the Orange Bowl. Imagine a world without the BCS. We would have never seen the Cardinal’s second half of perfection against Virginia Tech, or Vince Young’s virtuoso performance to dethrone USC.

But consider the cost. With the institution of a “national championship game,” gone was one of sport’s institutions. Jan. 1 bowl games lost much of their former luster. No longer could fans roll out of bed, shake off their New Year’s Eve hangover, and then park themselves on the couch, knowing full well one (or more) of the proceeding buffet of games would determine a national champion.

No, the BCS – and its ancestor, the Bowl Alliance (1995-1997) – picked one game to achieve that end. A good chunk of those contests were long on hype and short on substance. That the era began with a thud – the 1996 Fiesta Bowl between Nebraska and Florida – made sense. The Huskers obliterated the Gators in a contest reminiscent of Super Bowls from the decade previous, a most forgettable era for the NFL. College football had its Super Bowl, and it mostly stunk.

The College Football Playoff is a welcome departure from this system. Instead of one game to determine a title-winner, we get three. I can’t wait. Come Thursday, I’ll be watching college football venture into a new era while embracing a part of its past.

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