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College football: Let's judge what happens on the field

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College football kicks off with a busy weekend
Four-team playoff (and the committee that picks it) puts a different spin on this season
Chris Dufresne's predicted semifinals: Oregon vs. Oklahoma and Florida State vs. Alabama

The time has come to stop talking and start playing. Let the sweet sound of a referee's whistle mercifully replace the pound of a judge's gavel.

It's time for wish lists and check lists:

Out-of-the-box Thursday features a not-too-shabby lineup of Boise State versus Mississippi and Texas A&M at South Carolina.

We all need this. It's been a long, lonely winter and summer dominated by a basketball player named O'Bannon, Power 5-conference autonomy and the demand for more care-package food for underfed linebackers. The worst-looking off-season defense was played by NCAA lawyers.

It's a new dawn, dusk and MAC-playing Tuesday as the sport unveils a four-team playoff that will be shaped in part by a former U.S. secretary of State and cartoon characters named Tom (Osborne) and Barry (Alvarez).

The 13-person panel will convene weekly starting in October and drop a weekly top 25 in our laps four times before announcing the Final Four on Dec. 7.

Team No. 5 may then file a lawsuit.

The decision-makers said they gave the fans what they wanted, a playoff bracket, but also gave us five new bowls we didn't ask for: Bahamas, Boca Raton, Camellia, Detroit and Miami Beach.

The Cotton and Peach (Chick-fil-A) bowls were promoted to major status and join the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange in the six-bowl playoff rotation.

The Rose and Sugar are host to the semifinal games on Jan. 1. My set-in-silly-putty preseason rankings project No. 1 Oregon playing No. 4 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, with No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Alabama set for the Sugar in New Orleans.

The winners will meet Jan. 12 at Jerry Jones' party house in Arlington, Texas.

The College Football Playoff is a far better way to settle a season even as it strips the sport from some of its quirky, incorrigible charm. Letting polls and computers pick the top two teams, you must admit, was funnier than Britney Spears doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.

With the committee now making all important decisions, the old bowl system is mothballed, meaning no more men in wild-colored jackets handing out bowl invites before any games are played. "Congratulations, Team X, on the fine 7-5 season we know you're going to have!"

The major polls, which crowned football champions for decades, are meaningless. The committee is the only poll that matters.

The new system, coming in the same year the five rich conferences gained autonomy from the five poorer leagues, means fewer Bowl Championship Series-buster stories like the time Boise State busted Oklahoma's chops in the Fiesta Bowl.

It seems impossible a team such as Boise could ever challenge again for a national title. Chris Petersen must have thought so because he picked this year to leave for Washington.

The Las Vegas bookmaker Bovada's thinks so in making Boise 300-to-1 to win the national title.

Every team in the USA Today coaches and Associated Press media preseason top-25s is from a Power 5 league or Notre Dame.

Marshall could go undefeated with fabulous quarterback Rakeem Cato and still stand no chance of making the top four based on its weak league (Conference USA) and nonconference schedule (Rhode Island; seriously?).

Everywhere you look there is change. Charlie Strong replaced Mack Brown as the coach at Texas and Bobby Petrino replaced Strong at Louisville. The moral to Petrino's story is this: if you ever are Arkansas' coach and fall off a motorcycle with your mistress, the best thing is to do is to get right back on and return to the school where you coached before (Louisville).

Bill O'Brien, who did a terrific job tending Penn State through its post-Sandusky horror, left for the NFL's Houston Texans. He was smartly replaced by James Franklin, formerly of Vanderbilt.

A welcome back to talented players who got knocked out last season: quarterback Everett Golson (Notre Dame, for academics), and quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton (Utah State), Jeff Driskel (Florida) and David Ash (Texas), all by injuries.

On the flip side, there is more hot-seat, bad-injury news for Kansas Coach Charlie Weis, who has a record of 4-20 in two seasons at Lawrence. He lost his top two running backs for the season.

The Southeastern Conference will miss 20,478 passing yards accumulated last year from quarterbacks who have moved on.

Florida State snapped the SEC's streak of seven national titles with its win over Auburn in the last BCS championship game.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, a baseball buff, told Mark Blaudschun of Bleacher Report the seven in a row was comparable to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. "It's just one of those records that will never be broken," Slive said.

Seven is a key number in the SEC. Slive recently mandated his teams schedule at least one nonconference game against another Power 5 conference school each year.

A Kansas football beat reporter tweeted Tuesday he was told right after Slive made the announcement, "Kansas received 'about seven calls.'"

Apparently, Indiana's line was busy.

College football is special because the regular season matters from Day One. Opening weekend pits Wisconsin and Louisiana State, Florida State vs. Oklahoma State and Clemson at Georgia.

A week later, Michigan State plays at Oregon.

Given the news around USC this week, and going back to Manti Te'o, no one knows what to believe about Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29).

A few predictions:

• Major conference winners: Oregon (Pac-12), Michigan State (Big Ten), Alabama (SEC), Oklahoma (Big 12), Florida State (Atlantic Coast).

• Best potential matchup involving former head coaches at UCLA and USC: Vanderbilt first-year offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell versus Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The teams don't play in the regular season, but could meet in the SEC championship. (Go Vandy!)

• Heisman Trophy order finish: Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Jameis Winston (Florida State).

• Most improved team (or else): Florida. If the Gators finish 4-8 again, Will Muschamp will be an ESPN analyst this time next year.

• Overrated in preseason polls: Clemson (almost always), North Carolina (every year except 1997), Notre Dame (academic probe), Ohio State (Miller injury).

• Underrated: Oregon State (Mike Riley loves his defense), Iowa (look at the schedule), Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly (look at his numbers).

Roster watch:

• Battling for a starting guard spot at Oregon is Jake Pisarcik, son of former New York Giants quarterback Joe who, in 1978, was involved in one of the most infamous plays in NFL history.

• A backup linebacker for the Ducks is Danny Mattingly, nephew of Dodgers Manager Don.

School watch:

• Each year we like to play a game called "Where's Idaho?" This year it's in the Sun Belt Conference.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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