Release of College Football Playoff schedule exciting but scary for Hog fans

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman gestures to his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

On Wednesday the College Football Playoff announced its expanded schedule for the 2024-2025 season, and with the event growing from four teams to 12, there are changes.

The playoff starts before Christmas on Dec. 20 and ends well past New Year’s on Jan. 20 with a championship game that will be played in Atlanta and televised by ESPN.

The first round of the playoff will be played at on-campus sites with one game on Dec. 20 and three games on Dec. 21. Those sites will be announced on Dec. 8’s Selection Day Show that will be televised by ESPN.

The fifth seed will play the 12th seed, the sixth seed will play the 11th, the seventh seed will play the 10th, and the eighth seed will play the ninth. ABC/ESPN will televise two of the games, and TNT Sports will televise the other two.

The Top four seeds will receive a bye into the quarterfinals. Each of those games will bare the name of one of the major bowls. The Fiesta Bowl will be played at 6:30 p.m. (CT), Tuesday, Dec. 31 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

The Peach Bowl will be played at noon (CT) Wednesday, Jan. 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Rose Bowl will be played at 4 p.m. (CT) Wednesday, Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Sugar Bowl will be played at 7:45 p.m. (CT) Wednesday, Jan. 1 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. ESPN will televise all four quarterfinals.

The winners of those games, of course, will advance to the semifinals. The winner of the Fiesta Bowl will play the winner of the Peach Bowl in the Orange Bowl at 6:30 p.m. (CT) Thursday, Jan. 9 in Hard Rock Stadium, at Miami Gardens, Fla.

The winner of the Rose Bowl will play the winner of the Sugar Bowl at 6:30 p.m. (CT) Friday, Jan. 10 in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Championship game will be played at 6:30 p.m. (CT) Monday, Jan. 20 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2024 football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 82 Days

Aug. 29 – Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Little Rock
Sept. 7 – at Oklahoma State
Sept. 14 – Alabama-Birmingham
Sept. 21 – at Auburn
Sept. 28 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 5 – Tennessee
Oct. 12 – Open Date
Oct. 19 – LSU
Oct. 26 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 2 – Ole Miss
Nov. 9 – Open Date
Nov. 16 – Texas
Nov. 23 – Louisiana Tech
Nov. 30 – at Missouri

While it does seem a bit weird to me that the college football season will extend to Jan. 20, I do like that extra time for athlete recovery has been built into the schedule with at least nine days between each round of the playoffs. The two college teams that play for the championship could play as many as 17 games with 16 being the more likely number.

Being a playoff squad increases the load on college football teams greatly. Under the bowl system and the four-team playoff, football teams usually had three weeks to a month between their regular-season finale and their bowl or first playoff game. This schedule could reduce that break to two weeks to 10 days if a squad plays in its conference championship game and the first-round of the playoffs.

For fans of the NFL, that doesn’t sound too bad; however, it does shorten the window for rest, recovery, and preparation for younger and less mature athletes mentally and physically. Some of them might even be worried about their academics and final exams?

As an optimist, my hope is that the Arkansas Razorbacks will somehow win their way into the College Playoff this year. Yes, I can hear the laughter through my Wi-Fi, but it’s still June. Let an old Hog fan have his dreams at least until preseason workouts start.

It’s far more likely that the Hogs will play in a non-CFP bowl; however, with some national outlets predicting Arkansas will be at the bottom of the SEC barrel along with Vanderbilt, most consider that a long shot, too.

The SEC’s bowl affiliations for 2024-25 are the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the Las Vegas Bowl, the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Fla., the Texas Bowl in Houston, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

The SEC also has ties with the Birmingham Bowl and the Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., if enough league teams win six games and become bowl eligible.

The addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC doesn’t help Arkansas’ chances of making the CFP or even becoming bowl eligible. Now, if Arkansas or any SEC team wins six games, the league and ESPN will bend over backwards to find it a bowl game, but getting to six wins only gets more difficult for a program like Arkansas’ when you add Texas or Oklahoma to your schedule.

Most who follow the league closely feel the SEC will move from an eight- to a nine-game schedule. Maybe as soon as 2025-26 at the behest of ESPN, which wants fewer games like the Hogs’ opener against UAPB that its responsible for televising.

Some believe the CFP’s expansion will lead to the demise of a lot of the lesser bowls. That may very well be the case, but remember the ESPN family of channels needs programming, and the holiday season is a time when many viewers are looking for something to watch. Bowl games fill that need, which is why there are so many bowl games today. The CFP isn’t going to change that need drastically.

After last season, any of those non-CFP bowls should be a welcome end of the year vacation for Hog fans, even if the destination is Houston, Birmingham or Memphis.

Concerning the CFP, one of the big questions of the summer is how many SEC teams can win their way into that tournament.

With the league expanding to 16 squads, I would think two are almost guaranteed. But could the SEC get three or even four teams in?

I personally don’t think the SEC will get four bids to the CFP even if four teams are worthy. Sure, the SEC swings a big stick, but I just don’t think the other leagues will let that happen. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see it happening until the playoff expands to 16 teams. Even then it would probably be iffy.

So, three is the big question. There probably is an avenue to three for the SEC, and that avenue is probably the real reason divisions have been done away with.

With divisions how do you determine exactly which team is the third best team in the SEC?

Since the league went divisional play in 1992 when Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC, there have been times when arguably the three best teams in the conference were all in the Eastern or Western divisions.

Without divisions, it becomes far less difficult for the CFP to take the two or three best teams from the SEC.

Some have pondered if the expansion of the CFP makes the SEC Championship Game more or less relevant?

It’s a good question. I think it makes it even more relevant.

I don’t think the selection committee is just going to automatically pick the two participants in the SEC Championship game to be in the playoffs.

Certainly, the winner of that SEC Championship will be picked, but the loser of the game might not be as attractive at the moment as say the team that finished third.

If a team plays in the SEC Championship and gets blown out, I don’t think there is much of a chance of it making the CFP. The No. 3 or even No. 4 teams in the league that finished the regular season on a winning note might be more attractive than a big loser from the SEC title game.

Now, that’s just me supposing at the beginning of the summer, but for certain the behind the scenes politics who makes it into the CFP and who doesn’t is going to be a very interesting and perhaps entertaining drama to be played out each December as we move forward.

My prediction is that the CFP will jump to 16 teams before 2030, and some but not all the fat will be trimmed off the overall number of bowls each holiday season.