How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Playoff

October has always been a particularly interesting month in college football, particularly in the modern era where the first month is often rife with pay games and blowouts. It's the point in the season where our early season hunches about teams are confirmed or denied, and forms the basis of whether teams will compete for conference championships in November or December, jockey for bowl tie-in positioning, or play out the string in the hopes that next August and September will bring more success.

With that said, I don't care about the college football playoff race this season. It doesn't matter to me as much as conference championships. I'm as burnt out on the playoff as I am with cable news and whatever the Lakers or Nets are doing this week in the NBA. I won't get frustrated about it, and I'm committed to avoiding any of the discourse about rankings in late November and early December.

Perhaps you've been at this stance for a year or more. After all, in the playoff era, we've seen what amounts to a five-team and two-conference quasi-lockout of the four playoff slots. In eight seasons, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma have accounted for 23 of 32 spots and every championship but one. And of those nine others, more than half were gobbled up by Notre Dame or an alternate SEC or Big Ten team. It's all but impossible to break into this group for even a solitary season if you aren't a massive program or in the right league — even with Oklahoma having its worst season since the '90s.

But does all that mean I don't care about college football this year? Not at all.

One of the best pieces of writing I've read about college football this year or any other year was this article by Kyle Kensing. It struck me because, frankly, I'd been getting progressively jaded by college football for the last few years. And I think it was because I'd been caring about the wrong things, like what games mattered the most to the playoff picture and if the selection committee would ever care about non-name brand teams. At its most basic level, watching college football should mean caring about and being entertained by the product on the field.

I'm not going to lie and tell you that I've watched as much college football this season. I haven't. But I've been much more invested in the games that I've decided to watch. For me, that means getting back to basics with the teams that are closest to me.

Living between Charlotte and Winston-Salem, there are nine FBS teams within a three-hour drive: Clemson, South Carolina, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, NC State, UNC, Duke, Virginia Tech, and UNC Charlotte (sorry, I can never just say "Charlotte"). Every full game I've watched this season has involved one of the first seven teams on that list. I've enjoyed the emergence of UNC QB Drake Maye, Sam Hartman continuing to amaze at the country's smallest Power 5 school, and a lights-out NC State defense that only Clemson has cracked so far for a full game.

Is the level of talent quite as high as it would be watching Georgia and Ohio State every Saturday? No. Has it been more enjoyable than watching those teams in mostly uncompetitive games? Absolutely. Have I stayed away from the hemming and hawing about the playoff while a game is going on? For the most part, outside of the Clemson/NC State game, yes.

And even though the ACC, the conference I've watched the most, looks to be Clemson's to lose once again, it's not a walkover like many years in the playoff era. One could easily make the argument that the only truly disappointing team across both divisions of the league has been Miami.

Now, I haven't ignored non-ACC football. The Big 12 has struck me as quite an interesting race, and the Kansas/TCU game last Saturday was excellent. The same can be said for the Pac-12 and its UCLA/Utah game last weekend.

I haven't forgotten the SEC altogether, but I can't say I've been as drawn to it as usual despite its typical concentration of top 25 teams. In past years, I would have been locked into the fact that Alabama had hopped Georgia for the No. 1 ranking after UGA's close call at Missouri. I didn't even realize it this past Saturday amid the other games and baseball playoffs. If the Bulldogs or Tide lose to a team that's not the other one — and I do think that could be a possibility this Saturday for 'Bama against Tennessee — then I might become a bit more interested in the conference title race there. The same goes for Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten.

As we move further into the era of mega-conferences and realignment stakes that move us closer to the SEC-Big Ten duopoly, I'm coming to the conclusion that the future of college football might be what you make of it. If you like the power structure at the top, awesome. If the highlight of the season so far to you is App State stunning Texas A&M — as it is for me — that's great, too. College football fandom and caring about the playoff don't have to go hand in hand.

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