Playoff moves CFB more national

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had his eye on Oregon long before the Seminoles were matched up against the Ducks in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin was puzzled by Florida State's No. 3 spot in the ranking and was also following Marshall throughout the season.

Baylor coach Art Briles was watching Florida State, Oregon and every other team flirting with the selection committee's top four.

"Of course, 100 percent," Briles said. "That's just the reality of where we live today. That's just the way it is. If your husband is not your husband and he's your boyfriend, and there are four other girls he might ask to the prom, and you're one of the four, then you're keeping an eye on those other three. You want to be better than them. You want him to like you more. Yeah, that's just human nature."

In one season, the College Football Playoff turned what has historically felt like a regional sport -- from the Pac-12 operating in its own time zone to the Southern traditions of the SEC to the East Coast ACC -- into one giant melting pot of rooting interests.

"If your husband is not your husband and he's your boyfriend, and there are four other girls he might ask to the prom, and you're one of the four, then you're keeping an eye on those other three."
Baylor head coach Art Briles

By doubling the number of teams contending for the sport's greatest prize, the playoff simultaneously broadened the scope of interest in the entire season and drew the attention of fans and coaches to more games outside their region into a race that criss-crossed the country like never before.

Ohio State mattered to Baylor. TCU was leery of Mississippi State. Boise State was watching Marshall, which kept an eye on just about every other league frontrunner in the Group of 5. Everyone was tuned in to the Big 12 -- a controversial conference race that became a national storyline only because the inaugural playoff made it one.

"You're all in one big conference now," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Is that good, or is that bad? They were still doing that with two teams going into the BCS because it impacted the polls. I still think people did that, but they're doing that to a larger extent."

Including Boise State's Harsin, whose team was jockeying for a spot in one of the New Year's Six Bowls as the highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of 5 schools. But he wasn't just paying attention to Conference USA, he was also looking at the top contenders.

"Absolutely, all of those other teams that were kind of in it -- the Marshalls and where Ohio State was going to fit between Baylor and TCU -- I think it added and made it better for the fans and people involved to pay more attention to not just their teams but all the teams, which helped us," Harsin said. "We probably got a few more fans on the East Coast staying up late to watch what Boise State does to see if that's going to affect Marshall or whatever."

Fans on the East Coast also had more of a stake in what was happening in the #Pac12AfterDark, as the muddled South race kept even a two-loss Arizona team in the mix into late November. Twitter was abuzz every Saturday with fan bases from one conference wondering how that week's games in a different conference would impact their team's standing in the selection committee's ranking.

Notre Dame was another X factor in the playoff race early in the season, and the SEC West entered the spotlight after the selection committee put three teams from the same division in its historic first ranking Oct. 28. The Ducks were impossible for Florida State to ignore after they jumped the undefeated Noles in Week 12, when the selection committee dropped FSU to No. 3.

Coaches were willing to peek outside of their own pockets of the country and keep an eye on the dominos that would fall each week, creating a ripple effect in the only poll that mattered -- that of the unpredictable 12-member selection committee.

"You had a tendency -- and going into the last week, I think three teams lost in front of us -- the expectations are what would happen with us?" Dantonio said. "However it fell, it fell, but I think you do have a tendency to look at the other games across the country and how those particular games impact your fan base and you."

The playoff didn't just change the format of the game -- it changed how we watch it unfold.