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How the College Football Playoff will change the face of the sport

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(RNN) - As the curtain falls on the BCS era, the college football championship picture is, as usual, a colossal mess. But change is in the wind and relief is in sight.

Sort of.

Next year the championship field expands to four teams that play in two semifinals, with the winners advancing to the title game the following week.

Though the first games in the new, one-plus format are still 13 months away, it's not too early to talk about expanding the College Football Playoff to eight teams.

If you look at the way the bowl alignments have been set up, that appears to be the plan.

But first, let's project this year's situation onto next year's format.

If the four-team playoff were in place right now, the teams that Condoleezza Rice and the 12 guys on the selection committee would be discussing would be:

Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn, Missouri, Alabama and long-shot Oklahoma State.

Bama, even with its season-ending loss to Auburn, would be a shoo-in because of Alabama's star power - and if you don't believe star power will play a role in the selection process, you don't watch much ESPN. The Crimson Tide's collapse at Auburn was spectacular TV – Tide lovers and haters alike would tune in to see the rebound or the final fail.

Under a four-team system, Oklahoma State would need a lot of help. The Cowboys would have to slaughter Oklahoma and hope that Ohio State and Florida State both lose and either Auburn or Missouri blew the other one out.

Cases like Alabama's this year, where a team is sitting out its conference championship game, will spark one of the big discussions of the future: whether conference championship games are relevant or not.

For lower-seeded teams, they will be.

The answer will lie in the significance of games like this year's Big Ten Championship, when Ohio State and Michigan State face off. A one-loss Ohio State would probably not make a four-team a field, and would need to beat the Spartans to stay in the hunt.

The loser of the Auburn-Missouri game, or a one-loss, sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, could make a strong case to be included instead of the one-loss Buckeyes and their weak schedule. The Cowboys, with a lone loss on the road to West Virginia early in October are out of the BCS picture this year.

Whether to include teams like undefeated Northern Illinois or one-loss Central Florida, which play in weak leagues, will also be an issue. Right now, UNI of the MAC is granted access to BCS bowls by rule if they meet certain standards. UCF is in the weak American Athletic Conference.

That has caused controversy like last year's Orange Bowl, when the Huskies made their first appearance in a BCS bowl as a 13.5 point underdog to Florida State and lost 31-10 in a lackluster performance.

Breaking down the College Football Playoff

Let's take a look at how the new playoff system is set up.

Next year, the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl will host semifinal games, with the winners advancing to AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The year after that, the Orange and Cotton bowls will host; following that, the Chick-Fil-A (Peach) and Fiesta will entertain the semifinalists.

The six major bowls provide a perfect alignment for an eight-team playoff that could probably be implemented from one season to the next, if the demand were there.

Here's how that would work:

Four of the bowls would play quarterfinal games, the winners would advance to the remaining two, and the championship game will be played at a neutral site that submits the highest bid. Tampa, Jacksonville and San Francisco are in the running for future championship games.

An eight-team playoff would add only one more week to the schedule for the final two teams – and they would be richly compensated.

What if we had an eight-team field this year?

Here are the teams that would be in play: Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford, South Carolina, Michigan State, Arizona State, Baylor, Northern Illinois and UCF.

It's enough to make 24-hour, sports-talk radio enthusiasts rejoice.

Here's a guess at the likely scenario. The most likely top four teams are identical to the seedings of a four-team playoff, and include the five teams that are still alive for a BCS Championship Game berth this year.

1. Florida State if it beats Duke, which is a near certainty.

2. Ohio State, if it beats Michigan State, less of a sure thing. If OSU loses, it could fall as far as eighth or ninth place, and the Auburn-Missouri loser would probably make the top 4.

3. Auburn-Missouri winner.

4. Alabama

After that, things get more iffy:

5. Oklahoma State, if it beats Oklahoma. Cowboys would probably hang on to remain in the playoff with a close loss.

6. Missouri-Auburn loser of a close game or South Carolina if it's a blowout.

7. Stanford if it beats Arizona State or Ohio State if it loses to Michigan State and Arizona State beats Stanford.

8. Several possibilities: Michigan State if it beats OSU, Baylor if it beats Texas, Northern Illinois or UCF if they win their conference championships.

The schedules for the four-team playoffs are set through the next three years. The expansion to eight teams will probably take place no later than after the first rotation.

The naming rights possibilities boggle the mind. (Expect Chick-Fil-A to come up with enough to sponsor the entire playoff or watch its name come off that bowl in Atlanta.) The possibility of TV packages are astounding. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day will become an orgy of college football watch parties.

Coaches' salaries will skyrocket, and some will get fired for making the playoffs year-after-year and not winning the championship. (It won't be called the national championship anymore. Just "The Championship.")

The NCAA will start looking the other way even more than it does now when football players drive around campus in school-color Escalades.

Money will rain from the skies. Universities probably won't use it to expand their libraries.

(Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.)