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Leonard: College Football Playoff a step forward
1208OregonMariota
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota makes a pass during a Nov. 8 game against Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Ducks won the Pac-12 championship 51-13 against Arizona on Friday. - photo by RICK BOWMER

National semifinals

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., 5 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State, Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN

Other ‘New Year’s Six’ games

Dec. 31

Peach Bowl: No. 6 TCU vs. No. 9 Ole Miss, 12:30 p.m. ESPN

Fiesta Bowl: No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State, 4 p.m., ESPN

Orange Bowl: No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech, 8 p.m., ESPN

Jan. 1

Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State, 12:30 p.m., ESPN

Playoff rankings are listed with teams in these games.

The inaugural College Football Playoff is here. Plenty of people are mad. It turns out that the more things change in college football, the more they stay the same.

I don’t quite agree with the process that led us to a four-team field of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, either. But the teams battling for the national title aren’t going to change.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate this moment in the sport’s history. The playoff is a step in the right direction, and it’s providing us with two highly compelling semifinals to ring in 2015.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide is the Southeastern Conference’s lone hope for an eighth national championship in nine seasons. Alabama will start the playoff against Ohio State and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, who began the SEC’s string of seven straight national titles and collected two with the Florida Gators (2006, 2008).

On the other side of the bracket, if you will, are second-ranked Oregon and third-ranked Florida State, the defending national champion.

The Ducks are still a relative newcomer to college football royalty, seeking their first national title. Meanwhile, the Seminoles are going for their fourth.

Whichever teams emerge from those semifinals should make for the most satisfying final matchup of the season in recent memory.

I think it would be great for the sport to have Oregon break through, rather than having Florida State repeat as champion, Alabama hoist the trophy for the fourth time in six seasons or Ohio State take its eighth title.

But it’s also compelling to have three of the sport’s most established names in the mix.

Sure, TCU and Baylor can argue with some merit they deserved the fourth spot in the playoff. Whoever is on the cutoff will always be upset, though. That won’t change with an eight-team playoff or a 16-team event. Someone will always get left out, and fans of those schools will feel slighted.

But as college football fans, this playoff is an exciting new day, a truer way to crown a champion. That’s something worth celebrating.

Clark Leonard: cleonard@gainesvilletimes.com; 770-718-3418; twitter.com/SportTimesClark

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