The lead story heading into the 2014 season is whether the College Football Playoff will be better than the Bowl Championship Series. Most are concluding it will be, as three games giving four teams a shot to win it all are better than one game with two teams. When you cut away extraneous details, more meaningful, quality football is better than less.
Next, the chattering classes are considering if it will be more controversial. Will the outrage from those left behind be more muted at Nos. 5 and 6 compared to Nos. 3 and 4 with the BCS? Will a 13-person selection committee be superior to a dehumanized BCS ranking with its incomprehensible computers? These questions lead to speculation over an inevitable expansion of the playoff format to eight teams vying in three rounds for the national title. As heads nod over such a notion, someone then sagely asserts the game will completely reinvent itself over the next decade or so, as it throws off its outdated and disingenuous airs of amateurism and becomes more centralized and professionalized.
Such a discussion is an academic exercise, important and relevant viewed through the lens of our litigious summer, if a bit dry.
Yet perhaps we, particularly you who are emotionally involved, should focus less on the logistics of the playoff and future models of the game and more on what makes us tick as fans of specific teams and enthusiasts for college football itself. Not just on winning and losing, either. With college football, there's a lot more than just that.
Start with the universal hope and anticipation of August, which is augmented by a longstanding tradition of more preseason rhetoric than any other sport -- see the enthusiasm and resentment accompanying the preseason polls. Moving forward into the season, envision ourselves immersed in the bubbling debate that reconstitutes itself on a near-weekly basis -- this team versus that team, that conference versus this conference, this conspiracy versus that conspiracy. Finally, there's December, when we will zigzag our way toward the naming of the first four playoff teams, which should provoke an all-time great cascade of opinion and outrage on social media.
For what is most important about college football isn't what actually happens on the field. It's the imperfect process overlaying it all. For a moment, forget the games, which are fantastic bits of theater, no doubt, but all sports have those. What really sets college football apart, what makes it unique and makes its fans the most obsessive is the debate, the controversy, the regionalism, the obsession with bias, the fact fairly often the season ends with a smattering of question marks rather than a consensus exclamation point.
The playoff won't change that, and for that we should all be grateful. We'll have great football, more football and everyone can still troll the heck out of each other throughout the process. That totality -- the games and controversy and endless chatter -- is what makes college football great. That is not going away.