Visions of nights like Saturday danced through the heads of college football fans like sugar-plum fairies in the years, if not decades, before the College Football Playoff.
It’s an early Christmas for fans of college football. If the holidays give you the blues, consider the national championship implications at stake in Saturday evening’s trio of contests gives football a feel akin to its basketball brethren come March.
The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 Championships do indeed promise madness of a gridiron variety.
As easy as lamenting its absence in years past might be, just be glad it’s here now. And it’s more beautiful than those visions could have made it seem.
The NCAA Tournament parallels are apparent, but the overlapping window in which Saturday’s championship trifecta kicks off give this evening an English Premier League flavor. The EPL title sometimes comes down to a single day, one in which matches determining the championship are played simultaneously.
Or, maybe, it’s the final Sunday of a too-close-to-call MLB divisional race wherein the opportunity to play in October comes down to a climactic September.
College football’s Championship Weekend borrows elements from around sports to foster a truly dramatic prelude to the Playoff. In essence, the tournament begins in earnest today.
With three spots remaining for the College Football Playoff – Oklahoma’s Big 12 championship almost assuredly seals the Sooners’ place in the final four – each of the night’s three winners could be playing for their own berth in the field.
An Alabama win over Florida in the SEC Championship elevates the stakes further, leaving two spots for three championships.
The Pac-12 begins a similar slate at 7:45 ET, when Stanford and USC get underway in Levi’s Stadium. The Cardinal remain in the Playoff hunt, but Saturday’s other contests impact their title aspirations.
Those backing a Stanford Playoff appearance know that North Carolina beating Clemson in the ACC Championship is a much necessary as the Cardinal beating USC. But barring players sneaking peeks at the Levi’s Stadium jumbotron, none will know their Playoff fate until sometime after the final whistle in the Bay Area.
Likewise, North Carolina – the longest of long shots still in contention for a Playoff berth at No. 10 – will have reason to steal glimpses at the scoreboard in Charlotte. A USC win clears one high hurdle for the Heels.
Only the Big Ten Championship winner can wait until it’s back in the hotel in Indianapolis to turn on Sportscenter and learn what happened while it played.
Michigan State and Iowa both positioned themselves to play their way without help. That means unfettered focus between the two in the first real Playoff game. Think of the Big Ten Championship Game like Major League Baseball’s newly implemented Wild Card Round.
College football fan, your long wait and eager anticipation paid off. Saturday night is the dream scenario, made possible by the Playoff.
Double-check your Wifi strength if you’re at the stadium. Make sure your fridge is fully stocked and your remote batteries are new if you’re at home. And have a very happy, early holiday.