The playoff. The Orange Bowl. Top 4 ranking. ACC bid. I'm sure you all have heard these terms before. Just like basketball season concludes with March Madness, the college football season has the New Year's Six games, included in which is the College Football Playoff.
The college football championship-awarding system has always been controversial but has evolved over the years. Until the 90s, there was no national title game. The champion was determined solely by polls, both at the Associated Press and from the sport's coaches. The only time a "national championship game" ever happened was if #1 and #2 in the polls coincidently meet in a bowl game, which did not happen very often. Also, if the two polls awarded the national title to separate schools, then the national title ended in a tie.
The Bowl Championship Series, better known as the BCS, formed in 1998 for the purpose of having an on-field national championship each year. But even that was not without controversy. One year Miami beat FSU and both teams finished with one loss with one spot left to play Oklahoma in the national title game. For some reason, even though the Canes beat the Noles on the field, Florida State got the spot.
Years of similar controversies and many people began becoming sick of the system. A new system was put in place which added something that gave college football something that each other major sport had prior: A playoff.
The College Football Playoff (CFP) is simple. Its committee picks what it believes are the four best teams and seeds them 1-4. Teams in major conferences who win their conference with one or fewer losses almost always get in, while it is extremely hard to overcome the second loss or not being the conference champion.
But teams outside the top four are not sent home empty-handed in the committee's eyes. The CFP runs six bowl games, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta, Cotton, Sugar, Peach and Orange Bowl. Two of those bowls host semi-final games in the playoff each year, on a rotating basis. This year, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will be hosting the playoffs.
The other four games that make up the "New Year's six" this year are the Fiesta, Cotton, Peach and Orange Bowls. If you win your conference but miss the playoff, or are the 2nd best team in a conference that has a team in the playoffs, you go to your conference's New Year's six bowl. For the ACC it's the Orange, the SEC is the Sugar, the Big 12 is the Cotton, and the Pac-12 and Big 10 is the Rose.
If a conference's bowl happens to be a playoff bowl that year, that conference's representative team can shift to a different New Years six bowl. Leftover spots are filled with the elite conference runner-ups, and at least one team from a minor conference.