College Football Playoff

How the College Football Playoff Works

Victoria Barnett

By Victoria Barnett

April 7, 2016


College Football Playoff has now been around for two seasons and will continue until the 2025-2026 season. In other words, it will be around for a while so you need to learn how it works! The College Football Playoff process is simple yet complex at the same time. It’s easy to understand the big picture; it’s the fine details that make it challenging to grasp.

We can easily understand that four teams make the playoff, but we might not ever fully understand why exactly the certain teams were chosen. The deciding factors are complex – no one is guaranteed a spot in the playoff but no one is automatically ruled out either. So, how exactly does it all work? Here’s the gist of what you need to know:

Every Game Matters

Each regular season game matters. A win against a top-ranked team matters. A loss against an unranked team matters. The number of wins against FBS opponents matter. Who teams play matters. Every aspect of every regular season game is important and contributes to the factors the College Football Playoff Selection Committee looks at: win-loss record, strength of schedule, comparison of results against common opponents and head-to-head results.

CFP_Nat_Champ_2016_7-2.jpgFour Teams

Throughout the season, the Committee produces the Top 25 rankings each week before the final rankings are announced. The top four teams advance to the playoff. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed plays the No. 3 seed. The semifinal games rotate annually among the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

One Champion

The two teams who win the semifinal games advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship, which is held in a different city each year and is always on a Monday night.

Equal Access

No team automatically qualifies for the playoff. Each team has equal access based on performance.

Selection Committee

The Selection Committee consists of high-integrity individuals who have experience as coaches, student-athletes, college administrators, journalists and athletic directors. The members of the 2016 committee are as follows: Kirby Hocutt (Chair), Barry Alvarez, Jeff Bower, Lloyd Carr, Herb Deromedi, Tom Jernstedt, Bobby Johnson, Jeff Long, Rob Mullens, Dan Radakovich, Condoleezza Rice, Steve Wieberg and Tyrone Willingham.

The job of the Selection Committee is to rank the top 25 teams and assign the top four to semifinal sites. They also assign teams to New Year’s bowls with the goal being to create competitive matchups, avoid rematches of regular-season games and repeat appearances, and consider geography.


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