College Football Playoff's success in first season may be luck or skill

College Football Playoff's success in first season may be luck or skill
Buckeyes Coach Urban Meyer and running back Ezekiel Elliott prepare to be interviewed following their victory over Oregon in the College Football Playoff championship game. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

The first season of the College Football Playoff was so good we can't wait to see what happens next.

Maybe it was beginner's luck, like Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones winning a national title in his third career start.

Or maybe, like Jones, it was beginner's skill?

It may be too soon to draw conclusions.


However, it isn't too soon to draw ratings, which went through the roof at gigantic AT&T Stadium — and it has a very high roof.

Ohio State's 42-20 win over Oregon drew an overnight rating of 18.5, the highest "metered market" rating in the history of ESPN. That's a 21% increase over last year's last Bowl Championship Series title game between Florida State and Auburn at the Rose Bowl.

The four-team playoff pumped adrenaline into a sport that needed it. It also shined perspective on 16 years of championships decreed by cockeyed computers and cronyism.

The selection committee was a vast improvement over a system of polls and trolls.

Applying research and subjectivity, the committee was able to identify that Ohio State should not be defined by a 14-point home loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.

It recognized that teams improve over the course of the year, and that perhaps no team had ever improved as much as Ohio State.

It put the Buckeyes in the final four and allowed them to become the first team in memory to win it all after falling to a six-loss team in the regular season.

Ohio State proved it belonged — yes, over Texas Christian and Baylor — by defeating the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked teams in consecutive games.

Third-year Buckeyes Coach Urban Meyer, weary but still giddy at a Tuesday morning news conference, was effusive in praising the system that allowed it to happen.

"I mean, it's been perfect," Meyer said.

The first-time success of the four-team system placed the two-team BCS in revisionist cross hairs. Using the old BCS formula, Monday's championship game would have been between Alabama and Florida State, the teams that lost to Ohio State and Oregon in this season's semifinals.

However, questions remain: Did the playoff look so good because the BCS was so bad? And, how much further do we need to extend this conversation?

The playoff proved that a team beyond number No. 2 was good enough to win the championship. It might also be true for a team beyond No. 4.

Texas Christian, which dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final ranking after a 52-point win over Iowa State, can always wonder what might have been. And so can Baylor, which defeated TCU early in the season and finished fifth in the final ranking.

The system was "perfect" for Ohio State and Meyer, but not for everyone.

Four available spots for five or more deserving champions is a math problem that can't be solved without expansion.

Eight teams would be more equitable, but would it tamper with the delicate fabric of college football's electric regular season?

Very little went wrong in the playoff's first year, but could it be like a baseball player hitting a home run in his first at bat and never hitting another?

College football took back this New Year's Day with a banquet of games that thrilled advertisers and audiences.

That may not be the case the next two years, when the semifinal games will be played Dec. 31, before the Rose and Sugar bowls.

There's a good chance Ohio State will be in the playoff next year, which means the Big Ten Conference might have to pick a runner-up to send to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. tThe same could be true for the Sugar Bowl if it loses the Southeastern Conference champion.

Does anyone think the Rose and Sugar bowls will draw 28 million viewers in years they are not hosting the semifinals?

Life in the now is sweet. The playoff worked. The Big Ten is back. The conference provided the underdogs in all 11 of its postseason games, yet finished 6-5 with a national title.

Ohio State, which might have thought it was depleted of quarterbacks, enters the offseason with three 2015 Heisman Trophy candidates. Jones, who was supposed to be the worst of the bunch, won the national title.

Will the others, Braxton Miller and J.T Barrett, return after their injuries heal or transfer?

Should Jones, after playing three games, cash his lottery ticket and opt for the NFL draft?

"Cardale's brand right now has never been stronger, might never be stronger again in his life," Meyer acknowledged.

Jones could hardly fathom that thought. "I mean, it's very odd," he said.

Next season, Ohio State goes from hunter to hunted. You just know Jim Harbaugh is sharpening his prongs at Michigan, and you know Alabama's Nick Saban can't be happy about being overtaken — in some quarters — by Meyer as "America's Greatest Living Coach."

"It's a very complicated machine," Meyer said of maintaining a championship program.

Ohio State and the College Football Playoff did it once. Can they do it again?