Heading into the 2014 season the SEC had become a monopoly in the college football world. It had created the first assembly line to national championships, churning out a dominant program yearly.
From 2006 to 2012 the SEC was home to seven consecutive national titles until Florida State snapped the streak in a 34-31 victory over Auburn in the Rose Bowl.
After a brief hiatus from the highest platform on the podium, it appeared an SEC team would re-emerge as a heavy favorite to take the crown and reclaim the conference’s status as the most dominant figure in college football.
Thanks to the introduction of the College Football Playoff and an entirely new selection process, that didn’t happen. Instead, the Big Ten, a conference viewed as the scum of the intercollegiate football planet for most of the year, dominated the competition in the form of Ohio State.
Not only was it the second-straight season that the championship trophy didn’t reside in the South, it was the first time since 2006 that an SEC team wasn’t featured in the title game.
As the nation watched and enjoyed Oregon and Ohio State battle for national supremacy, it’s easy to believe that without the introduction of a four-team playoff neither the Ducks nor the Buckeyes would’ve had an opportunity to compete for the sport’s most prized possession.
Under the BCS system, an undefeated season and/or an overwhelming strength of schedule ranking seemed to be the two most heavily-weighted components in the selection formula. With only two spots available, it’s hard to argue that’s the way it had to be decided.
Keeping that in mind, Florida State had finished its 2014 campaign much like its 2013 championship season, undefeated.
Alabama, though suffering a loss at the hands of Ole Miss, had completed the year with just one blemish and a conference championship in the country’s most coveted league.
In the olden BCS days, there’s no doubt we would’ve been subject to an Alabama vs. Florida State game to close out the college football season.
But we didn’t.
This time, we saw four teams (Oregon, Ohio State, Florida State and Alabama) represent four conferences.
Rather than watch the best team from the best conference square off against the only team with a perfect record, we saw the two best teams on the college gridiron battle head-to-head in the College Football Playoff’s inaugural championship game.
Difficult as it may be to imagine, we’d not have witnessed that had it not been for the College Football Playoff.
What this new system presents is a sense of equality on the football field. Of course, like with any system, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. TCU, Baylor and the Big XII, for instance, would probably argue it didn’t get a fair shake in the ordeal.
Big XII in or out, the playoff refused to discriminate by conference and strength of schedule.
The four-team bracket allowed for Oregon, who dropped a disappointing mid-season game to Arizona, a chance to redeem itself without being left out of the equation. It gave an opportunity for Ohio State, a team that dropped an early-season contest to Virginia Tech but continued to improve throughout the year, to compete for a title despite the weaker conference perception.
For once in college football, the eye test was taken very seriously in filling the openings for the first-ever, plus-one system. Again, Baylor and TCU omitted, it appeared to work.
It’s not a perfect system nor will it ever be a flawless function, but it allows for some wiggle room. Strength of schedule and an undefeated season will always be held in the highest regard when it comes to selecting teams for a national championship, but the playoff provides teams from weaker Power Five conferences an opportunity to prove they are above their league’s stigma.
As this new structure ages and continues to grow, we will undoubtedly see seasons when two teams from the same conference fill the bracket. We may see multiple undefeated teams in a particular year. But the playoff allows for diversity that wasn’t feasible under the BCS system.
The SEC’s top team won’t receive the automatic bid to the championship game because it played in the nation’s toughest league. It will have to earn its appearances moving forward. And that goes for any conference that may dominate the sport in the future.
Only in it’s infancy and the College Football Playoff has shown no favoritism in the selection process. There’s no conference monopoly or perceived notions regarding the teams it selects to compete.
And that is a beautiful thing.