The much-maligned and graying BCS system gave the college football nation a sly wink and grin Monday night, gathered its fedora and overcoat and quietly exited the building while we were all going nuts over the thrilling ending of the final BCS National Championship, Florida State's epic comeback win over Auburn.
Talk about knowing how to leave on top. All five BCS bowl games were undecided in the fourth quarter. The title game, Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl were decided by five points or fewer. Suffice it to say, it was an exciting final week for the BCS system, which will be replaced by a four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.
Exciting and odd: The dominant SEC went 0-2 in BCS bowl games and didn't win a national title for the first time in eight years. The so-called soft ACC went 2-0 in BCS bowl games and captured its first national title since 1999, also won by the Seminoles.
But enough of the past. It's time to do what college football fans always do when the season is just recently concluded: look ahead to the next campaign.
There will be plenty of storylines and intrigue to anticipate as college football undertakes a substantial change to how it conducts the postseason.
College Football Playoff, Take 1
The College Football Playoff, as noted, will make its debut in 2014, and it surely will end all that griping and controversy the BCS inspired, right?
The four teams playing in the two semifinal matchups will be selected by a 13-person committee chaired by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. The committee will meet several times during the season and publish its own Top 25, not unlike how the BCS rankings were published on Sundays, starting in Week 9. The committee also will be responsible for placing teams in the unaffiliated bowls -- Chick-fil-A, Cotton and Fiesta -- that are part of the College Football Playoff contract. Three of the bowls in the new system will be contract bowls with traditional tie-ins: Rose (Pac-12, Big Ten), Sugar (SEC, Big 12) and Orange (ACC).
So there will be six bowls plus the national title game, played at a site that will be selected annually through a bidding process. The 2014 semifinals, which will be played Jan. 1, are the Rose and Sugar bowls. The final game will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.
The champions of the five major conferences -- SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 -- are guaranteed spots in one of the CFP bowls. A sixth spot will be guaranteed to the highest-ranked champion from the other five conferences: American, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA.
And again, this new process will make sure that everybody is happy with how things stack up at season's end. Promise.
Florida State is back -- for real!
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was wearing Superman underoos the last time the Seminoles won a national title, after the 1999 season, so he has no recollection of what the program used to be under Bobby Bowden.
From 1987 to 2000, Florida State finished ranked in the top five of the final Associated Press poll each season, winning a pair of national titles along the way and playing some classic games in which it notoriously fell short. It was one of the great dynastic runs in college football history, and it also was notable because the Seminoles were doing their thing in SEC territory.
Yet since that run ended, FSU has been mediocre and fickle. It seemed like a near-annual exercise from college football writers to proclaim that this was the year -- for sure! -- that the Seminoles would return to glory. After a while, that proclamation became a parody of itself.
The Seminoles suffered through an uncomfortable separation from Bowden, who built the program from the ground up, and there were some fits and starts in Jimbo Fisher's first three seasons, but this team seems well-equipped for another long run of national contention, starting with outstanding recruiting in Florida, a hotbed of prep talent.
In short, the Seminoles probably won't wait 14 years to win another title. And it was great to see Bowden serving as the Seminoles' honorary captain Monday night. Winning heals wounds.
Texas has a new coach for the first time in 16 years, as Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown after an extremely successful run at Louisville.
It also seems a social positive that his race -- Texas' first black head football coach -- was a few paragraphs down in most news stories.
Of course, the honeymoon doesn't last long at a place like Texas. Strong will be expected to get the Longhorns back into the thick of the Big 12 and national picture immediately.
Strong faces two early tests in nonconference play in 2014. First, the defensive-minded coach will lead the Longhorns in a revenge game in Darrell K. Royal Stadium against BYU, which spanked Texas 40-21 on Sept. 7 by rushing for 550 yards, the most Texas has ever yielded on the ground. A week later, the Longhorns will face UCLA in Cowboys Stadium, and commentators surely will note that Bruins coach Jim Mora rebuffed advances from Texas during its coaching search.
Year of the Quarterback
The returning quarterback class in 2014 is as good as it has been in recent years, topped by Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.
Behind Winston, the Pac-12 leads the charge, as both Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley turned down likely first-round NFL selections for another year of college. Behind those two is a strong crew that includes Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, USC's Cody Kessler and Washington State's Connor Halliday.
Here's a guess that a QB wins the Heisman again in 2014.
Will the SEC take back the top spot?
The preseason question in 2013 was whether college football would head into the four-team playoff with the SEC riding a streak of eight consecutive national titles. The preseason question in 2014 will be whether the four-team playoff quickly returns the dominant conference to the top of the college football.
Heck, even before that question is answered, folks will be curious to see how many SEC teams end up in the playoff. One seems a certainly. Two almost likely. And three is now possible as there is no representational limit per conference, as there was with BCS bowl games. The way things are going in the SEC, we could see a replay of the Iron Bowl as a semifinal or even the national title game.
Or is the SEC's domination of college football at an end after going 0-2 in BCS bowls?
Petersen to Washington; Sarkisian to USC
Other than the Brown-to-Strong transition at Texas, the most notable coaching changes heading into the 2014 season happened in the Pac-12, with Chris Petersen shocking some when he -- finally! -- bolted Boise State for Washington, replacing Steve Sarkisian, who was hired by USC to replace Lane Kiffin.
The Petersen hire immediately received good reviews, while Sarkisian got a mixed reaction among the USC faithful, who were hoping for a bigger, more accomplished, "name" coach. The bad news is USC and Washington aren't scheduled to play until 2015.
Louisville and Penn State also will head into 2014 with coaching transitions, but they have yet to replace Strong and Bill O'Brien.
Just as we annually speculate about new coaches taking over programs needing a boost, we also annually cast a gimlet eye at struggling programs whose coaches are battling for their jobs with varying degrees of urgency.
Topping this dubious list is Florida's Will Muschamp, as 4-8 isn't getting it done at Florida, particularly with a top-10 preseason ranking.
Other coaches with toasty stools: West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, Virginia's Mike London, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
Realignment in ACC and Big Ten
The musical chairs among the major conferences will continue in 2014, with the Big Ten adding Rutgers from The American and Maryland from the ACC and the ACC replacing Maryland with Louisville.
Further, Notre Dame will enter into a scheduling relationship with the ACC, as it plans to play five ACC schools a year starting in 2014 with every team in the conference facing Notre Dame at least once in a three-year period.
Will realignment now quiet down for a few years? Maybe. But just when we think we have some stability, another team -- or conference -- makes a move.
Whither the non-AQs?
A sidebar of Petersen leaving Boise State for the Pac-12 was his unspoken but likely recognition that the new College Football Playoff probably is going to make life even more difficult for teams playing outside the major conferences.
It seems unlikely that a non-AQ team will be able to do enough to play its way into the four-team playoff, and only one spot is guaranteed to the "Gang of Five" non-AQ conferences for the other six major bowls.
Further, there has been more than a little discussion over whether the major conferences might break away from the NCAA to govern themselves and create a single elite college football subdivision of about 60 or so teams. That goes along with the sense that it won't be long before the four-team playoff expands to eight teams.
Such discussions probably won't be resolved in 2014.
But it will be interesting to see how it -- all of the above -- plays out. It always is. That's why we can't wait for August to arrive and for toe to again meet leather for the 2014 college football season.