Rabalais: Changes abound on the national scene

In this Jan. 7, 2013, file photo, Alabama coach Nick Saban is doused with Gatorade in the final seconds of the BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame in Miami.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In this Jan. 7, 2013, file photo, Alabama coach Nick Saban is doused with Gatorade in the final seconds of the BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

BY SCOTT RABALAIS

srabalais@theadvocate.com

The 2013 college football landscape is all about change.

Changes in conferences. Changes in rules. Changes (soon) in how the game determines its national champion.

There’s also one change that can’t be guaranteed, but one everyone outside the Southeastern Conference would like to see: a change at the top.

So strike up some David Bowie on your Pandora account, and let’s strike out across the landscape of this great game to see what ch-ch-changes are brewing this fall:

SEC-on-SEC demolition?

During its amazing seven-year run of BCS championships, the SEC has had only two teams make it to the finish line unbeaten: Alabama in 2009 and Auburn in 2010.

Navigating the SEC without a dent in the fender is a difficult proposition for any team, even a national-championship-worthy contender. And if that happens, this could finally be the year the SEC doesn’t have a seat at the BCS championship table.

The scenario could play out like this: Texas A&M beats Alabama, LSU beats Texas A&M, Alabama beats LSU, and the top three teams in the SEC East knock one another.

Meanwhile, Ohio State slides through a mediocre Big Ten with its second straight unbeaten campaign and wins the Big Ten Championship Game. Louisville rides the arm of Teddy Bridgewater or Oregon hops a ride on Marcus Mariota’s back to an unbeaten campaign as well.

The college football world, weary of seeing the SEC carting off the BCS trophy year after year, warms to the idea of a national championship matchup of unbeatens led by likely Heisman Trophy finalists.

Chances are a one-loss SEC team will still get through, but it will need help from at least two conferences to also eat their own.

The favorite, of course, is Alabama, which will try to become the first program ever to win three straight national championships during the wire service poll/BCS era (since 1936).

Sunset Boulevard

Despite all the focus on the coming College Football Playoff, the Bowl Championship Series still has one card left to play before it takes its final bow.

The 2013 season and the 2013-14 bowl season mark the final chapter of the BCS, which started back during the 1998 season. The BCS will crown its final champion Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., at the Rose Bowl.

New world order

After the BCS sinks into the Pacific, the CFP begins its reign.

The College Football Playoff system kicks off with the 2014 regular season and will crown its first champion during the 2014-15 bowl season.

The Sugar and Rose bowls will host the first CFP semifinals on New Year’s Day 2015. The inaugural CFP championship game will be Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T (formerly Cowboys) Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Sugar and Rose are part of a six-bowl rotation that will host semifinals over the initial 12-year run of the CFP contract. The Cotton and Orange bowls will host semifinals on New Year’s Eve 2015 (following the 2015 season), with the Chick-fil-A and Fiesta bowls getting semifinals on New Year’s Eve 2016.

Several major CFP details are still to be worked out, such as deciding the sites of the 2016 and 2017 championship games and how members of the CFP selection committee will be determined. Controversy is almost certain to follow.

While the semifinals are set, the CFP championship games are being awarded on a bid basis like the Super Bowl. New Orleans is trying to land the 2016 or 2017 championship game (a city cannot host a semifinal and final in the same bowl season).

The 2016 and 2017 championship game sites are likely to be named in November.

Hello, goodbye

The shifting plates of realignment continue to send shudders through college athletics, with the epicenter this season located in the home of the former Big East Conference.

The American Athletic Conference makes its debut with 10 teams — six from the artists formerly known as the Big East and four from Conference USA.

Louisville is picked to win the American Athletic Conference title before it joins former Big East mates Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the ACC in 2014. (Syracuse and Pitt join the ACC this fall.) The four from C-USA include Houston, Central Florida, SMU and Memphis.

Rutgers also will play one season in the American Athletic Conference before joining the Big Ten in 2014. Also going to the Big Ten next year will be Maryland, in its final season in the ACC.

Please pay attention. There will be a quiz at the end of the regular season.

No 30 (in) for 30

College football will be played under the auspices of eight major rule changes this season, the most significant of them the so-called “targeting rule.”

Essentially, players targeting defenseless players at the shoulder-pad level or above, or leaving their feet to execute a tackle, will be flagged. The tougher penalties come with tougher sanctions: 15 yards and an automatic ejection.

A much more obscure rule change, but one that will have a noticeable impact on LSU, is a rule prohibiting players at the same position from wearing the same number.

In other words, no platoon of kickers all wearing No. 30.