by Alex Langer
The College Football Playoff is beginning its senior year. Year four of the College Football Playoff begins the last week of August. In honor of the start of four months of great football, hilariously bad football, dull football, overreaction, under-reaction, and far too many declarations that “X team’s season is over!” or “this team is the clear title favorite now,” I’d like to share my thoughts on the upcoming season. If you do not have time to read, here are the highlights: your team isn’t as good as you think it is going to be, no one thinks your star player deserves Heisman consideration, and Alabama will be one of the four teams in the CFP. Now that we have that out of the way, what is actually going to happen this season?
College football is vast. It is, along with college basketball, the biggest spectator sport in the United States. There are 130 teams that play for the chance to be selected in a bowl game every year, and over six hundred other college football teams in the nation. It is likely that, if you ask ten people on the street, one of them will root for a school and team you have never heard of. This game is perhaps the biggest soap opera in the world. In the offseason alone, one of the longest-tenured coaches in America, Bob Stoops, retired from Oklahoma, while the head coach of Ol’ Miss resigned after it came out that he saw escorts often while on recruiting trips. Well over half the teams in football are “on the rise” and ready to “take the leap,” while the other half are already openly speculating about firing their head coach. It is a money-guzzling marketing and hype machine masquerading as varsity athletics, and I, for one, cannot get enough of it.
At the end of November, after breathless reveals of the first CFP rankings, and subsequent weeks where contenders rise and flame out, some of the combination of Alabama, Florida State, Clemson, Washington, USC, Ohio State, and Michigan will likely be in the CFP. And Alabama will likely win the entire thing. I write this not out of any particular knowledge, other than these teams seem to generally be good. Unlike in my college basketball preview, where I had an interesting dichotomy between so-called “one and done” programs and programs that focused on four-year players, or even several years ago when Alabama sought to win games by running the ball up the middle and playing defense, and teams like Oregon were reinventing spread concepts and speed, there isn't a simple breakdown anymore. Alabama can and will score 50 points multiple times this season, and they run a fast spread offense as well as anyone, and they still have a defense that is mostly staffed by future NFL players. The only philosophical divide in college football is between teams that recruit good players and teams that can’t. There are only so many good football players, and the difference between basketball and football is that, in football, you need twenty two good players. In basketball you need five. Therein lay the gaps.
So, if you have, like me, a rooting interest in one of the 115 or so FBS teams that will not make an appearance on the CFP rankings, I wanted to point out that the non-playoff bowls still matter. Let us discuss what has become somewhat of an afterthought in the modern era: hilariously titled bowl games. For most teams, and for most of college football history, bowl games were the reward for the long grind of the season. They were, and most still are, glorified exhibitions in warm climates, advertisements for the host city’s tourism board, and excuses to hand out prizes. If you only follow a team which focuses on the big bowls, you can forget how great it is to win six or seven games and be rewarded with a bowl game. When I was a freshman at Arizona, which is currently considered the second-unhappiest program in the FBS, we defeated our rivals ASU to win our seventh game and guarantee a bowl game. In this case it was the Las Vegas Bowl. The town was ecstatic. We rushed the field. We cheered. Newspapers in Tucson had it as front-page headlines. And now, five years later, after Arizona finally won a championship of some sort, we are back in position to hope for six wins and a glorified exhibition.
College football is kept going by these cycles, by the hope of invitation to a small bowl game in a small southern city that plays at noon on a Tuesday on ESPN in the middle of winter break. When I wrote our college basketball preview, I wrote it as a fan of a team which the country expects to make the tournament and which generally makes the second weekend. In college football, I am not one of those fans. I root against Washington because I grew up around Husky fans and I find them annoying. I root against Alabama because they’re Alabama. I root for Michigan to lose in hilarious fashion because watching Jim Harbaugh lose is wonderful. But I root for Arizona to beat their non-conference foes because then we only need to find three Pac 12 victories to make a bowl. I root for my team to not be embarrassed by USC, and for them to make a good showing against Colorado. Enjoy the madness. Enjoy the hot takes, enjoy the breathless predictions which will all be wrong and after which no one will be forced to own up to their mistakes. Then enjoy rooting for a team to win their sixth game and for those one hundred or so players to get a chance to play on national television and get to say they played in a bowl game. Bear Down (or Bow Down, or Shoulder to Shoulder, or Fight On, or whatever your particular cheer is) and try not to be too terrible this year…
 Including, for example, the TaxSlayer Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl, the Refrigerator Bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Bacardi Bowl, the Gotham Bowl, the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl, the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, and the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone.