The time has come to set up the reality for our 16-team college football tournament to decide a real championship—not the mythical one that still exists. The conference-title games are set, and that means a lot of change has come to our rankings.

Our process has been clear for months now: Teams can play their way in by winning their conferences. We also take additional at-large teams from the Power 5 conferences, which makes sense, since they are the bigger schools with more resources and better talent (usually).

Week 14 saw some surprises, although more so in the at-large and lower-seed areas. New teams to our lineup are noted with asterisks. This can all change by next week, too, based on how the multiple title games go on Friday and Saturday.

  1. Ohio State (B1G auto)
  2. Clemson (ACC auto)
  3. LSU (SEC auto)
  4. Georgia* (SEC at-large)
  5. Oklahoma (Big XII auto)
  6. Wisconsin* (BIG at-large)
  7. Utah (Pac-12 auto)
  8. Oregon (Pac-12 at-large)
  9. Notre Dame (Independent auto)
  10. Baylor (Big XII at-large)
  11. Memphis (AAC auto)
  12. Boise State (MWC auto)
  13. Appalachian State (Sun Belt auto)
  14. Virginia (ACC at-large)
  15. Florida Atlantic (C-USA auto)
  16. Central Michigan* (MAC auto)

Dropped out: Alabama (SEC at-large), Michigan (BIG at-large), Western Michigan (MAC auto)

We like to give the higher seeds a slight “regional” advantage for this first round only. Thus, the preliminary first-round matchups would take place at mid-tier bowl games as follows, to be played on December 21, a full two weeks after the conference title matches:

  • No. 16 Central Michigan vs. No. 1 Ohio State at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis
  • No. 15 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 2 Clemson at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta
  • No. 14 Virginia vs. No. 3 LSU at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport
  • No. 13 Appalachian State vs. No. 4 Georgia at the Outback Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 12 Boise State vs. No. 5 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 11 Memphis vs. No. 6 Wisconsin in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando
  • No. 10 Baylor vs. No. 7 Utah in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix
  • No. 9 Notre Dame vs. No. 8 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego

The second round/quarterfinals will require just four bowl sites, so we choose the next four oldest traditional bowls to host them on December 28, using slotted pairings (no re-seeding for upsets):

  • Liberty winner vs. Holiday winner at the Sun Bowl in El Paso
  • Peach winner vs. Cheez-It winner at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas
  • Independence winner vs. Camping World winner at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville
  • Outback winner vs. Fiesta winner at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando

The semifinals celebrate the traditions of two major bowls, second only to the Rose, and these games would be played on January 4:

  • Sun winner vs. Citrus winner at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
  • Cotton winner vs. Gator winner at the Orange Bowl in Miami

The final will be played on January 11 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Grandaddy of Them All. All the other superfluous bowls could continue if they choose to, inviting non-playoff teams, and college football fans can have the best of both worlds.

See how easy this is? It’s why all the other divisions of NCAA football do it.

Check back every Wednesday for new CFP analysis and projections this season.