College trophy-threequarterIf watching U.S. college football bowl games is part of your annual New Year’s Day ritual there will be an extra wrinkle tomorrow. After decades of controversy over end-of-season rankings, bowl invites, and the ultimate decision of who ends up with bragging rights as national champ, the NCAA has instituted a four-team playoff. The two semi-finals go tomorrow, with the winners meeting on Jan. 12 for all the marbles — or, at least, the new trophy that the NCAA has put up for grabs (that’s it pictured at left).

Make no mistake, though, there’s still plenty of room for controversy. When you have a set up like NCAA Division I football that can’t be helped. To begin with, there’s 128 teams in 11 conferences. Some conferences, like the ACC and SEC, are typically stronger than others, so those teams generally face tough competition whereas teams in weaker conferences face more soup cans and can rack up impressive win-loss records without necessarily being that good.

Instead of relying strictly on records, the NCAA instituted a complex formula to try to account for the quality of opposition each contender faced. It even factored in what sport writers called “style points”. If you faced a low-ranked team and blew them away, good for you. If you had an off day though, and played down to the level of the opposition, you lost points — even if you ended up winning.

So, after all the calculations were done, here’s the match-ups. Oh yeah, one more thing. Each year, the playoff games will rotate among the big bowl sites. Tomorrow at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, #2 ┬áranked Oregon will meet #3 Florida State (kick-off 4 p.m. Regina time). Then in the Sugar Bowl from New Orleans, #1 ranked Alabama will meet [and likely dismantle] #4 Ohio State (kick-off 7:30 p.m. Regina time).

As I noted, the winners of those two games will meet Jan. 12 in Arlington, Tx at AT&T Cowboy Stadium for the national championship.