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On college football: Playoff system could suffer a sophomore slump

Cody Kessler

USC quarterback Cody Kessler loosens up alongside Max Browne before the Trojans’ annual spring game on Saturday at the Coliseum.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The first season of the College Football Playoff could have gone better only had Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly been added to the coverage team.

The national semifinals and championship game garnered the three highest ratings in the history of cable television.

The matchups and venues were terrific, with the sun-splashed Rose Bowl handing off to the Sugar Bowl to cap a New Year’s Day spectacular.

You could predict that we were off and running to a sensational 12-year contract of rotating bowls and story lines.

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Or you can ask: What if college football just got lucky early?

What if the Big 12 Conference champion gets snubbed again and this time Texas Christian Coach Gary Patterson doesn’t take the high road?

What if the Southeastern Conference goes a third straight year without winning the national title?

What if the committee puts Boise State into the playoff and it, like its field, turns blue?

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Season Two doesn’t set up as well as the original. The semifinal bowls, Orange and Cotton, will be played Dec. 31, leaving the Rose and Sugar as afterthought games on Jan. 1.

The Rose Bowl is contracted to host the Pac-12 and Big Ten conference champions, and the Sugar Bowl gets the SEC versus Big 12. There is a chance all four of those champions will make up the field for the national semifinals.

The Rose Bowl used to feature chariot races, and this would be another example of putting the cart before the horse.

ESPN, which is on the money hook for all this, tried to get the semifinals moved to Saturday, Jan. 2. “And we said, ‘No thanks,’” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff.

The season starts on big-bang Thursday, with Jim Harbaugh making his debut as Michigan’s coach at Utah, and title-contender Texas Christian at Minnesota. The Gophers are led by last season’s Big Ten coach of the year, Jerry Kill, who beat out some guy named Urban Meyer.

The season ends Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, with the national title game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.

This is already shaping up as the season of the transfer quarterback: Everett Golson moved from Notre Dame to Florida State, Vernon Adams from Eastern Washington to Oregon, and Greyson Lambert from Virginia to Georgia.

Quarterbacks might as well be advertising like properties on Craig’s List: “Former five-star available for one-year lease. Must offer graduate programs in ‘Parks & Recreation’ or ‘Mandarin Chinese’ (the food, not the language).”

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Final preseason thoughts and predictions:

Heisman Trophy

Top candidates: Any “The” Ohio State quarterback or “The” running back, Ezekiel Elliott; Georgia running back Nick Chubb; USC quarterback Cody Kessler; Alabama running back Derrick Henry; Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Sleeper pick: Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams.

Winner: Texas Christian quarterback Trevone Boykin.

Conference winners

Pac 12: Oregon; the late addition of Adams puts the Ducks over the top.

Big Ten: Ohio State; Michigan isn’t ready to challenge yet, but Michigan State could win at Columbus on Nov. 21

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Southeastern: Alabama; if the defense doesn’t improve, Lane Kiffin might have to scream at Nick Saban on the sideline.

Big 12: Texas Christian; Deja U? It may all come down to Baylor at TCU on Nov. 27, with the winner possibly getting left out of the playoff.

Atlantic Coast: Clemson; Tigers finally get out of Florida State’s shadow — if they can get out of their own way.

Mountain West: Boise State; violators will be towed for parking in Broncos’ reserved spot among best-of-the-rest conference champions.

American Athletic; Cincinnati; quarterback Gunner Kiel committed to making Bearcats special after at different times committing to Indiana, Notre Dame and Louisiana State.

Conference USA: Marshall; Thundering Herd’s only loss last season was 67-66, in overtime, to Western Kentucky.

Mid-American: Toledo; the Rockets open with Stony Brook and then head to Arkansas.

Sun Belt: Arkansas State; just kidding, USC, although the Red Wolves should not be overlooked. The Sun Belt team to beat is Appalachian State, which shocked Michigan in a 2007 opener, the same year 40-point underdog Stanford shocked USC at the Coliseum.

Game of the season, national: Alabama at Auburn on Nov. 28.

Game of year, local: UCLA at USC on Nov. 28.

Biggest game for USC Athletic Director Pat Haden: Stanford at USC on Sept. 19. Haden ran down from the press box against Stanford last year in defense of first-year Coach Steve Sarkisian. Victory this year could stabilize a sticky situation; a loss could send the program off a deep end.

Top bowl picks:

Rose: Arizona State vs. Michigan State. (I liked USC for the Pac-12’s spot here, but recent events have shaken my confidence.) Sugar: Baylor vs. Auburn. Fiesta: Boise State vs. Florida State. Peach: Clemson vs. Georgia. Cotton/national semifinal: TCU vs. Oregon. Orange/national semifinal: Ohio State vs. Alabama. National championship: TCU over Ohio State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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