If you televise it, they’ll watch …
But even on New Year’s Eve?
We’ll find the answer to that question shortly as College Football Playoff begins its second edition. But instead of playing the two semifinals on New Year’s Day – traditionally a day reserved for college football – as was the case last year, in 2015 the playoff games will be held on New Year’s Eve.
It’s a risky proposition. So risky, in fact, that the network broadcasting all the playoff games through the 2025 season asked to move this year’s games to Jan. 2, a Saturday with no competition from the NFL. But the committee rejected ESPN’s request without much consideration.
“We want to establish a new tradition,” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock.
It’s a foregone conclusion that this year’s semifinal games – the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl – will not match last year’s record-setting TV audience. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl drew 28.2 and 28.3 million viewers, respectively, in the inaugural playoff. The championship game between Ohio State and Oregon was watched by an all-time cable record of 33 million viewers.
We’ll see if this year’s games, held on a workday and pitted against traditional New Year’s Eve activities (the second game doesn’t start until 8 p.m. ET), do in terms of TV ratings. But here’s a peek at the playoff games, as well as the other four “New Year’s Six” bowl games, from a football perspective:
(All times Eastern; all games on ESPN)
Orange Bowl (Playoff Semifinal)
Thursday, 4 p.m.
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (Oklahoma -3 1/2)
The Tigers are top-ranked and the only unbeaten FBS team in 2015, yet they come into this playoff matchup as the underdog. Last year Clemson throttled the Sooners in the Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6, but this is a very different OU team especially with Baker Mayfield at quarterback.
Oklahoma has played better competition and performed better in the latter part of the season. Look for Bob Stoops to get his fifth shot at a national championship after winning in 2000 and losing in the BCS title games of ’03, ’04 and ’08.
Cotton Bowl (Playoff Semifinal)
Thursday, 8 p.m.
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State (Alabama -9 1/2)
Mark Dantonio’s big career break came when Nick Saban hired him as the defensive backs coach at Michigan State in 1995. Saban later recommended him for the Spartans’ head job in 2007, a post Dantonio has held and thrived in since.
Under Dantonio, Michigan State has been at its best playing with a chip on its shoulder. The Spartans are 7-1 in their last eight games against AP top 10 teams and have won their last four bowl games. Do not be surprised to see Dantonio pull off another stunning upset, this time against his mentor.
No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 18 Houston (Florida State -7)
Without Jameis Winston, Florida State couldn’t quite make it back to the playoff, but was still good enough to land a New Year’s Six Bowl bid. The quarterback position has been in flux all season, but at least for this game it’ll be settled as Sean Maguire is set to start with the departure of Everett Golson.
Under first-year coach Tom Herman the Cougars have had a fantastic season with a high-powered offense averaging 40.6 points per game. Houston won’t score that many against the Seminoles, but should score just enough to win.
Friday, 1 p.m.
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (Ohio State -6 1/2)
You want brand names? You’ve got brand names. Two of college football’s biggest attractions collide in the desert in what could be called the Bitter Bowl. Both teams suffered late-season losses on a game-ending field goal to miss out on the playoff.
The Buckeyes are especially sore about their collapse against Michigan State – playing without its starting QB Connor Cook – that cost them a shot at defending their title. They battered the Irish exactly 10 years ago in this bowl game, 34-20, and will do something like that again.
Friday, 5 p.m.
No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 6 Stanford (Stanford -6 1/2)
The Pac-12 was shut out of the playoff despite sending a record 10 teams to bowl games this season. The best it can do now is for its champion to win the Rose Bowl, since it’s also the only Power 5 conference that does not have a second team in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Cardinal will be playing a virtual road game in Pasadena, with Iowa expected to bring more than 50,000 fans to overwhelm the small Stanford contingent. That crowd support will be instrumental in helping the Hawkeyes win their first Rose Bowl since beating California in the 1959 game.
Friday, 8:30 p.m.
No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State (Ole Miss -7)
The final New Year’s Six game might also be its biggest dud. It’s the only one of the six that does not feature a top 10 team and if Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph can’t play because of a foot injury, it’ll be a mismatch.
At least the Rebels will be plenty motivated after last year’s Peach Bowl debacle (a 42-3 rout by TCU). They should beat the Pokes – with or without Rudolph – to finish with their first 10-win season since 2003.