If there’s a bracket, there must be bracketology.
The College Football Playoff debuts this season, and until the four-team pairings are announced after the conference championships are determined, not a week will pass without a projection.
The usual top 25 polls, plus a newcomer on the scene — the Grantland Rice Super 16 Poll — will continue to keep fans amused, and the 13-member selection committee will produce a ranking of their own.
But unlike the Bowl Championship Series, in which polls made up two-thirds of standing used to identify the championship game finalists, polls will not be a criterion for the College Football Playoff bracket.
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The committee will unveil the semifinal pairings on Dec. 7 with one game to be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the other at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. The winners will meet in the championship game Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
Basketball and March Madness gave us the original bracketology. That math — 68 teams — plus the bracket rules about teams from the same conference, host teams unavailable for their regional arena, even Brigham Young not playing on Sunday, can make projecting basketball a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
Football will be a cinch, right? Four seeded teams and the third and fourth seed have the travel farther to their semifinal site than the top two.
It looks easy breezy in August, especially with a consensus opinion of the top four teams: Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon.
If that’s how it shapes up in early December, the Seminoles will meet the Ducks at the Superdome while the Tide and the Sooners battle in Pasadena.
But keep this in mind. Auburn, which played for last season’s national championship, was coming off a winless SEC season in 2012 and did not receive a single vote in last year’s Associated Press preseason top 25.
A year earlier, Notre Dame opened the season as the first team out of the top 25 and played its way into the title game.
In college football, the end rarely looks like the beginning. In 16 years of the BCS, never did the same four teams that started at the top of the preseason AP wind up as the same four teams leading the final BCS standings. In 2010, none of the preseason top four wound up in the final BCS top four.
So, projecting the College Football Playoff requires looking beyond the top four. Here’s the preseason AP top four in the BCS era, and retro playoff pairings if this season’s system had been in place for the previous 16 years:
AP preseason top 4: 1. Ohio State; 2. Florida State; 3. Florida; 4. Nebraska
National semifinals based on final BCS standings, preseason AP ranking in parentheses:
Tennessee (NR) vs. Ohio State (1)
Florida State (2) vs. Kansas State (6)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Florida State; 2. Tennessee; 3. Penn State; 4. Arizona
Florida State (1) vs. Alabama (20)
Virginia Tech (NR) vs. Nebraska (6)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Nebraska; 2. Florida State; 3. Alabama; 4. Wisconsin
Oklahoma (10) vs. Washington (13)
Florida State (2) vs. Miami, Fla. (5)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Florida; 2. Miami, Fla.; 3. Oklahoma; 4. Nebraska
Miami Fla., (2) vs. Oregon (7)
Nebraska (4) vs. Colorado (RV)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Miami, Fla.; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Florida State; 4. Texas
Miami, Fla. (1) vs. Southern California (20)
Ohio State (13) vs. Georgia (8)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Oklahoma; 2. Ohio State; 3. Miami, Fla.; 4. Michigan
Oklahoma (1) vs. Michigan (4)
LSU (14) vs. Southern California (8)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Southern California; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Georgia; 4. LSU
Southern California (1) vs. Texas (7)
Oklahoma (2) vs. Auburn (17)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Southern California; 2. Texas; 3. Tennessee; 4. Michigan
Southern California (1) vs. Ohio State (6)
Texas (2) vs. Penn State (RV)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Ohio State; 2. Notre Dame; 3. Texas; 4. Auburn
Ohio State (1) vs. LSU (8)
Florida (7) vs. Michigan (14)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Southern California; 2. LSU; 3. West Virginia; 4. Texas
Ohio State (11) vs. Oklahoma (8)
LSU (2) vs. Virginia Tech (9)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Georgia; 2. Ohio State; 3. Southern California; 4. Oklahoma
Oklahoma (4) vs. Alabama (24)
Florida (5) vs. Texas (11)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Florida; 2. Texas; 3. Oklahoma; 4. Southern California
Alabama (5) vs. TCU (17)
Texas (2) vs. Cincinnati (RV)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Alabama; 2. Ohio State; 3. Boise State; 4. Florida
Auburn (22) vs. Stanford (RV)
Oregon (11) vs. TCU (6)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Oklahoma; 2. Alabama; 3. Oregon; 4. LSU
LSU (4) vs. Stanford (7)
Alabama (2) vs. Oklahoma State (9)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Southern California; 2. Alabama; 3. LSU; 4. Oklahoma
Notre Dame (NR) vs. Oregon (5)
Alabama (2) vs. Florida (23)
AP preseason top 4: 1. Alabama; 2. Ohio State; 3. Oregon; 4. Stanford
Florida State (11) vs. Michigan State (RV)
Auburn (RV) vs. Alabama (1)