This year's Capital One Orange Bowl has unprecedented implications: It is serving as one of two semifinal games in the second annual College Football Playoff.
That offers plenty of intrigue in its own right. But Doug Flutie is just as interested in watching a showdown between Clemson and Oklahoma -- not only because of their strong play this year, but also because of how they play the game.
"It's just two wide-open offenses going after one another," Flutie says. "The [Alabama-Michigan State semifinal matchup] could be a smash-mouth game ... but [Clemson-Oklahoma] will be more indicative of what we see today across the country."
Fans eager to tune in to Thursday's Capital One Orange Bowl will face only one small obstacle: The game is set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. for the West Coast. That's a scheduling gamble that puts the semifinal game in a tough spot, competing with fans' work schedules and New Year's Eve plans.
Flutie admits that he's used to seeing the Orange Bowl played under the lights at night, but he remains confident that the game will still be a success.
"It's different," he says, "But it's all about the build-up of the playoffs, and to give the teams enough time off to prepare and ready themselves for the championship game. ... "I think it works, I'm sure it'll work. I guarantee you the game will be a sellout."
Devoted fans of those respective teams will be sure to clear their schedules, and many have already flocked to south Florida to watch the game in person. That's the delicate balance the College Football Playoff must strike: While the four-team bracket produces a more satisfying national champion for fans, the NCAA needs those fan bases to keep showing up to the games. For teams that advance to the championship game, that means asking fans to make a second trip in as many weeks to a distant location where the title game is played.
So far, the NCAA is confident that it can draw a crowd and maintain high demand even with two lucky teams playing two bowl games in the span of a week. Flutie points out that travel concerns and player time commitments remain a critical hurdle to expanding the playoffs.
"It's very difficult for the alumni and the fan base to travel to multiple games," he says.
For now, Flutie is happy with the current championship setup, giving fans a "mini-playoff" while preserving the pageantry of the college football bowl season. It helps, of course, that this year's playoff bracket was met with very little controversy.
"I honestly believe they got the four right teams in the playoff," Flutie says. "It would have been nice to see Iowa in the mix because they had an undefeated season and played a great game against Michigan State. Just with Iowa being a surprise team this year, it would have been a good story."
But as he's quick to point out, the playoff bracket doesn't lend itself to accepting multiple teams from a single conference. Instead, fans will see four conference champions test their contrasting styles against one another. Flutie, who will be present to sign autographs before the Capital One Orange Bowl, has an important historical connection to this part of the country -- his famous "Hail Flutie" occurred in the old Orange Bowl stadium, which was then the home field for the Miami Hurricanes and host of its eponymous bowl game.
Now the Orange Bowl game is played at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, which has also hosted five Super Bowl since opening in 1987. The historic legacy of that former venue will never fade, but few college fans find themselves longing to revisit those old haunts -- even the man who might have won his Heisman on that field.
"The old Orange Bowl," the former Boston College quarterback says. "That place was pretty beat-up by the time they tore it down."
-- Doug Flutie is an ambassador of the Capital One Cup, which recognizes the best men's and women's Division I athletic program in the country with a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships. The winner of the Clemson/Oklahoma matchup in Miami will be one step closer to winning the national championship and earning 60 points toward the Capital One Cup. For more information on the Cup, or to see where your school stands, fans can go to CapitalOneCup.com.