Scott Haynes - FBS Senior Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Two worthy candidates will vie for the first-ever CFP National Championship and the funny thing is that neither is from the SEC.
The Southeastern Conference held the rest of the college football world at bay over the last decade or so, as a member of the conference had played in every BCS National Title game since 2007 and won seven championships in a row prior to Florida State's victory over Auburn last year.
With a new system in place in 2014, the times are changing. Not only is there no SEC member playing in the final game next week in Arlington, but the conference as a whole took it on the chin in the postseason.
Alabama won the conference crown and did represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff, but faltered against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl (42-35). That was the marquee matchup for the conference but not the only disappointment, especially in the vaunted SEC West.
The powerhouse division went just 2-5 in the bowl season this year, with losses by Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. It was an embarrasing overall performance by a division that had as many as four teams with realistic shots at staking claims to spots in the first-ever playoff system at some point this year.
So, did we witness the demise of the SEC, or are we privy to the start of a college football revival across the country. I am leaning towards the latter.
The much maligned Big Ten took some harsh criticism as the weakest among the Power Five conferences this season. Well, outside of Michigan's total collapse, the Big Ten has re-establushed itself as a powerful entity going forward. Ohio State, under Urban Meyer, has been consistently spectacular and this season is no different. The Buckeyes, who play the Oregon Ducks for the national title, have been so successful, that their Heisman candidate quarterback (Braxton Miller) may be looking for somewhere else to play now that OSU's quarterback depth has proved to be second to none.
Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska failed to win the conference title this season, but all three are powerhouses in their own right and will be for years to come.
Penn State has now had its bowl sanctions lifted and celebrated with a thrilling victory over Boston College in the Pinestripe Bowl. With a star QB under center (Christian Hackenberg) much more is expected of the Nittany Lions in 2015. Even Michigan's collapse has brought about a change in Ann Arbor, as Jim Harbaugh has been brought in from the NFL to lead the Wolverines into a new era.
The Big Ten is not the only conference to step up in 2014. It just so happens that the Pac-12's star is on the rise as well. The other conference represented in next week's championship game, the Pac-12 had a revival of sorts in 2014. Oregon is clearly the cream of the conference crop and proved that by winning back-to-back lopsided decisions over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game (51-13) and Florida State in the Rose Bowl (59-20).
With the reigning Heisman winner under center in Marcus Mariota, Oregon is favored next week against Ohio State to capture its first national title.
It didn't come as easy as it has looked over the last couple of games, as the Pac-12 competition was tight. The Ducks were able to avenge their only loss of the season in the Pac-12 championship, but don't forget that the Arizona Wildcats went into Eugene early on and took out Oregon on its own field (31-24).
Stanford took a step back and had a down year for sure, but Arizona State, UCLA, Utah and USC all had strong seasons as well, capped off by bowl victories.
Add the Big 12 to the mix. It wasn't the usual teams like Oklahoma or Texas making their presence felt, but rather, Baylor and TCU that made things extremely difficult on the CFP selection committee down the stretch. In fact, there were plenty of naysayers around the country when the four spots were decided and neither the Horned Frogs nor the Bears were invited to the party.
One thing is for sure -- the Big 12 is on the upswing heading into 2015
It remains to be seen if the NCAA finally got it right with the long sought-after playoff in college football. It's hard to argue its merits after year one, though.
In the world of college football, this year's changes have opened the door to possibilities beyond just the SEC.