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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

A Takeaway From ‘Bama-W.V.U. in 2014

O.K., so we need to get through the summer, then the fall, then next winter, next spring, followed by next summer, then next fall, then another winter, spring and summer. Once we get through that, this period of two seasons and each year’s offseason, we’ll be ready to watch Alabama take on West Virginia in the Georgia Dome. We’re ready now, actually, but 2014 remains long, long in the distance – it feels like years away, but that can’t be right. One simple takeaway from this high-profile matchup: The Chick-fil-A College Kickoff, due to enter its fifth season this fall, has become the game’s marquee regular season event.

From a national perspective, at least. And with a slight caveat: This is a marquee event because of how it pits B.C.S. conference against B.C.S. conference – or non-B.C.S. conference upstart against B.C.S. conference – in the same way college basketball’s early-season slate is defined by nationally relevant non-conference matchups.

The game has become a perfect way to start the regular season. And for the teams involved, the College Kickoff has turned into a springboard game – for the winner, at least. In 2008, Alabama decimated overrated Clemson, 34-10, en route to the program’s coming-out season under Nick Saban.

The Crimson Tide christened the following season with a 37-24 win over Virginia Tech, again in the Georgia Dome; four months later, the program won its first national championship in a generation. Last fall’s win over Georgia didn’t put Boise State on the map, but the victory did lend the Broncos some much-deserved national respect.

With Alabama and West Virginia now set for 2014, the Kickoff Classic has at least one game scheduled in each of the next three years. This coming season’s slate pits N.C. State and Tennessee on Friday, Aug. 30, and Auburn and Clemson on Saturday, Sept 1. Alabama and Virginia Tech will meet again to start the 2013 season.

In terms of 2014, it’s safe to assume that Mississippi and Boise State will meet on the first Friday of the season and the Tide and Mountaineers a day later. In addition, I assume that the Kickoff Classic might look into adding another game in 2013, making this an annual two-night event.

There’s a larger takeaway to discuss, even if the game lies two years down the road. Remember that the 2014 season will mark the first year of post-B.C.S. existence for teams inside and out of the current B.C.S. structure – and remember that come 2014, the B.C.S. and non-B.C.S. conference tags will no longer be used to differentiate between varying leagues on the F.B.S. level.

The biggest change we’ll see in 2014, of course, is the adoption of some sort of playoff system. While major conferences are still jockeying for position, the final system will be defined by how it handles one qualification standard: whether the four teams eligible for the playoff must have won their own conference or if the playoff will simply select from the best four teams in the country.

Here’s the second takeaway: Alabama and West Virginia were not afraid to schedule each other in the 2014 season opener even if the chance exists that the new playoff system widens its eligibility standards to include teams that did not win their own conference.

In essence, such a decision might eliminate the loser of this game from the playoff conversation – it might, though both could obviously make a push for the top four with an undefeated run through SEC and Big 12 play, respectively. But the general theory floated amid rumors of a new postseason format was that this would dilute the level of competition during non-conference play.

It still may, especially if you take a wider view of the current B.C.S. conference landscape. The wide majority of teams that consider themselves annual national title contenders will certainly consider scheduling down – scheduling down further, to be exact – in September so as to avoid a potentially crippling non-conference defeat.

It’s nice to see Alabama stick to its script. This has been the program’s modus operandi since Saban’s arrival: schedule up at least once during non-conference play, preferably early, so as to gauge your team’s strengths heading into SEC season. Nick Saban isn’t scared, and it doesn’t hurt that he and his staff have months to prepare for a Virginia Tech, Penn State or West Virginia.

That’s one aspect of the Alabama and West Virginia pairing to consider. Perhaps the playoff format won’t mean the end of the non-conference season as we know it; perhaps some teams, those that value the bonus of being tested in September, will continue to schedule up outside of conference play. In short, perhaps nothing will change – outside of the playoff itself.

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  1. GTWrek says:

    Love the Chick-Fil-A games. And I’m an Atlanta guy. But objectively I would have to say based on last year and this year, it’s the Dallas copycat that has become the premier event.

    Last year I doubt many people watched Boise beat UGA in Atlanta when top 5 LSU and top 5 Oregon were playing at the same time in Dallas.

    And I expect it will be the same this year when two top 10 teams play in Dallas (Bama, Michigan), in the same timeslot at Auburn/Clemson in Atlanta.

  2. Matt Rob says:

    Holy Crow.


    The two teams could conceivably then rematch in a bowl game that year.

    So. Much. Sabanbot.

  3. southwvboy says:

    I will be there super jacked about this game. Oliver Luck may be the greatest Mountaineer ever.

  4. Matt Rob says:

    He has easily exceeded the modest expectations I had for a new athletic director. The next decade should be a wild one.

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