STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
I'm Steve Inskeep here to help you argue about something other than politics - college football. On Sunday, we find out who's in and who's out of all the big bowl games. The selection process always gets people riled up because the big prize here is the college football playoff, now in its third year. Four teams get picked. They play. The winner is the national champion. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Do you feel you know who the final four are going to be?
GOLDMAN: I feel I have a pretty good sense from the latest poll from this week, which says Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, The University of Washington are the top four ranked in that order. But that could change after this weekend's games.
INSKEEP: How might the conference championships, which do come this weekend, change things?
GOLDMAN: Well, three of those top four teams play in the conference championship games, and if any or all lose, Steve, it could be chaos.
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
GOLDMAN: Tonight, Washington plays Colorado for the Pac-12 title. Clemson and Alabama have conference championship games tomorrow. Alabama is the only one of them that could lose this weekend and not tumble out of the top four. That's because the Crimson Tide, as always, are currently undefeated and a very strong - well, they're not always undefeated, but they're very strong...
INSKEEP: But often in recent years, yeah.
GOLDMAN: Often, yeah, and they're very strong number one seed. Now, Ohio State is the interesting case. They're a member of the Big Ten. They didn't qualify for their conference championship game, but are still expected to make the playoff because the Buckeyes are so good. They beat several top teams this season, and they have only one loss. Now, if they stay in the top four, they'll be the first team ever in the college football playoff that wasn't a conference champion.
INSKEEP: Well, that's going to be the source of the argument, right? Why wouldn't you have the Big Ten Conference champion?
GOLDMAN: Well, of course. And Penn State and Wisconsin play for the Big Ten title, and especially if Penn State wins, it'll say it should make the final four since it won the Big Ten and was the only team to beat Ohio State this year. However it shakes out, teams worthy of consideration in the final four will get left out. And of course it'll be more fodder for those who say, well, the playoffs should be eight teams at least, not four.
INSKEEP: I'm sure that'd be even more television money. Why did they not go to eight?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, maybe they should. I mean, eight teams would mean the champions from the biggest five conferences plus three at-large teams could be in the playoff. That would give more good teams and even some outsiders a shot. The argument for keeping it at four - it makes the regular season more meaningful. Every game counts. And also since the playoff is limited to four, many of the other bowl games - and there are many other - they're going to have good teams in them, and they'll be more significant.
INSKEEP: Tom, can I ask one other thing? The NFL pro football - the TV ratings are a little bit down this year. What about college football?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. College football remains popular, and I should say the ratings for the NFL have gotten a little bump since the election's been over. But still, you know, there are people - there are some ongoing concerns with the pro game that aren't there with the college game. You know, with college football, there is this perception of it being more innocent and an amateur sport, although that's highly debatable at the biggest schools.
But the games themselves are still incredibly popular - Saturdays in the fall, marching bands and, you know, that intense tribal loyalty to a school that extends over generations. I'll tell you one other difference with the NFL. Fantasy sports are not as big in college football, meaning there's more focus on teams and games and not as much focus on individual players and their stats.
INSKEEP: Are you telling me that fantasy, which the NFL has embraced, is dragging some attention away from the actual NFL games?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, and I can tell you from personal experience I'm in two fantasy leagues and I'm miserable most of the time.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK, all right. Well, Tom, thanks very much and enjoy the college football this weekend then.
GOLDMAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.