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College Football Playoff 101: How it works, who makes the decisions and more

Football season is here, which means it's time to brush up on -- and start arguing about -- the College Football Playoff. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The College Football Playoff semifinals this year are in which bowls? The committee releases its rankings when? Who's on the committee?

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

There are coaches everywhere who study the sport for a living and can't answer those questions. The CFP is entering its third season, yet there's still plenty of confusion over how it all works.

As semesters begin across the country, here's your CFP 101 for 2016:

THE GAMES

The semifinals: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, both Dec. 31. Kickoffs will be at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m ET on ESPN.

College Football Playoff National Championship: Jan. 9 on ESPN in Tampa, Florida (it's always on a Monday).

THE PEOPLE

The selection committee consists of 12 people: Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt (chair); Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez; former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower; former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi; former NCAA executive Tom Jernstedt; former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson; Arkansas AD Jeff Long; Oregon AD Rob Mullens; Clemson AD Dan Radakovich; Condoleezza Rice; retired sports reporter Steve Wieberg; and former coach Tyrone Willingham. Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had to step down due to health reasons.

Their duties include:
• Six weekly top-25 rankings, beginning Nov. 1 and ending on Dec. 4.
• Selecting the top four teams for the playoff, ranking and assigning them to semifinal sites.
• Selecting the highest-ranked champion from the Group of 5 (MAC, Mountain West, American, Sun Belt, Conference USA) for a New Year's Six bowl.

Nine of the 12 committee members are affected by the CFP's recusal policy, which prohibits a committee member from voting for a team they or an immediate family member receive compensation from or have a professional relationship with. You can find the full recusal list here.

THE PROCESS

The selection committee meets at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, every Monday and Tuesday, starting Oct. 31 this year. They each have a computer to vote on, and they debate and rank the teams in groups of six or eight. They each come prepared with their own preliminary top 30 but only rank 25.

They are guided by these criteria (not weighted) when choosing their top four teams:
•Championships won
•Strength of schedule
•Head-to-head competition
•Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)

THE WEEKLY RANKINGS

Each week, starting on Nov. 1, the committee will unveil its top-25 rankings on ESPN's College Football Playoff: Top 25. There will be weekly updates, culminating with the final rankings on Dec. 4. And oh yeah, the second ranking just happens to fall on election night.

• Tuesday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Tuesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Tuesday, Nov. 15, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Tuesday, Nov. 22, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Tuesday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Sunday, Dec. 4, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

THE CFP MATCHUPS

The committee doesn't try to avoid regular-season rematches in the semifinals: It's No. 1 vs. No. 4, and No. 2 vs. No. 3. They will, however, try to avoid rematches in the other New Year's Six bowls.

The highest-ranked team from the Group of 5 conferences is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl.

Both teams for the Capital One Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual and Allstate Sugar Bowl are contracted outside the playoff arrangement (Big Ten and Pac-12 to the Rose Bowl; SEC and Big 12 to the Sugar Bowl; and ACC to the Orange Bowl against the highest-ranked team available from the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame). If a conference champion qualifies for the playoff, the bowl losing that team chooses a replacement from that conference. When those bowls host the semifinals and their contracted conference champs do not qualify, the displaced champion(s) will play in a different New Year's bowl. The other New Year's Six game is the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

New Year's Six schedule:
• Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ET, ESPN
• Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
• Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 2, 5 p.m., ESPN
• Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

THE HISTORY

2014
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon 59, Florida State 20
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Ohio State 42, Alabama 35

College Football Playoff National Championship: Ohio State 42, Florida State 20

2015
Capital One Orange Bowl:
Clemson 37, Oklahoma 17
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Alabama 38, Michigan State 0

College Football Playoff National Championship: Alabama 45, Clemson 40

THE FUTURE

2017-18
Playoff semifinals: Allstate Sugar Bowl & Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
College Football Playoff National Championship: Atlanta, Ga.

2018-19
Playoff semifinals: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic & Capital One Orange Bowl
College Football Playoff National Championship: Santa Clara, Calif.

2019-20
Playoff semifinals:
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl & Fiesta Bowl
College Footblal Playoff National Championship: New Orleans, La.