ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The first ever College Football Playoff, featuring the country's four top teams, starts tomorrow. In one semifinal, you have the Sugar Bowl between top-ranked Alabama and Ohio State. And the other semifinal is the Rose Bowl, where defending champion and undefeated Florida State will take on Oregon. Grantland's Holly Anderson is in Los Angeles for that game and she joins us now. Welcome to the program once again.
HOLLY ANDERSON: Thank you. Hello.
SIEGEL: Let's start with the Rose Bowl - a matchup not just between two top teams, but the past two Heisman trophy winners - the Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State's quarterback Jameis Winston. What's interesting about this game?
ANDERSON: Well, what's interesting about this game for me is you know these two past Heisman winners. They're both quite famous. They put together two monstrous seasons - Winston in 2013 and Mariota this year. But if you don't necessarily follow Oregon football or Florida State football, there are some off the radar players who are coming up behind Mariota and Winston who are going to be just superstars in the next few years. And you can get on their bandwagons right now. Oregon's best running back is a true freshman - Royce Freeman. Florida State has retooled their running game a little bit and they have had a true freshman emerge of their own in Dalvin Cook. You know, I feel like I know Mariota and Winston really well at this point and I'm interested to see how these newer guys, who have never been in these Rose Bowls situations, step up.
SIEGEL: Let's move on to the other big semifinal game. Alabama is the favorite in that one over Ohio State. Do the Buckeyes have a chance for a Sugar Bowl upset?
ANDERSON: I think the fact that Ohio State is an underdog by more than a touchdown - by about nine points the last time I looked - and we're looking at Ohio State's number three quarterback, Cardale Jones, in his second collegiate start. They lost two quarterbacks to injury since the preseason. We're looking at this guy and this ground attack against a Nick Saban defense and going, well, you know, maybe. And I think that says something, both about where that Alabama defense - particularly the secondary - has been this year and about how Ohio State's coaches have developed their players offensively.
SIEGEL: Assuming that tomorrow's games get big TV ratings and next week's title game gets even bigger TV ratings, can you imagine this playoff system expanding to eight or even 16 teams soon?
ANDERSON: Very, very easily - my colleague Stewart Mandel, who I worked with at Sports Illustrated - is now at Fox - says there's a 12-year agreement in place for this playoff deal and he says he thinks that it will be changed by year six. I think it could happen sooner than that. It's going to make a lot of people a lot of money.
SIEGEL: Now, we've been talking about the bowl games that are part of the playoffs, but I have to ask you about the bowl games that aren't, but just have great names. And it seems like three new bowl games are born every year and the marriages between the game names and the corporate sponsors get more and more bizarre. Any favorites of yours?
ANDERSON: I have one all-time favorite that just keeps bringing the heat year after year - the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, which is a bowl game in Shreveport, Louisiana, between two teams that aren't very good, sponsored by a brand of duck call. And before that in, I believe, 1990 to '97, in the early years, it was the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl. So we've gone from weed-eater to duck calls, really spanning, really, the entire - the entire span of life in my favorite part of the country.
SIEGEL: Before you go, let's just put in a word for the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, the Taxslayer Bowl...
ANDERSON: Ah, yes.
SIEGEL: ...The Foster Farms Bowl and the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.
ANDERSON: Because when I think heart of Dallas, I think of injecting fried chicken directly into my arteries.
SIEGEL: (Laughter) OK. Holly Anderson, I know you're working tomorrow, but I hope you get a chance to enjoy the game too.
ANDERSON: Oh, thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Holly Anderson of Grantland talking about this year's College Football Playoffs.
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