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The new NCAA playoffs: What you need to know

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The new NCAA playoffs: What you need to know

From Comcast SportsNet
A committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team college football playoff, starting in 2014. Here's what you need to know about the new postseason format put together by the commissioners of the 11 major college football conferences and Notre Dame's athletic director. HOW WILL THE TEAMS BE CHOSEN? A selection committee will pick the four teams, using guidelines such as strength of schedule, head-to-head results and won-loss record, after the regular season. The committee will give preference to conference champions. The makeup of the committee is to be determined, but it will likely be about 20 conference commissioners and college athletic directors. WHERE WILL THE GAMES BE PLAYED? The two semifinals will rotate among six sites. The current BCS games are the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.), Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.) and Orange Bowl (Miami). The Cotton Bowl, now played at the state-of-the-art Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has to be considered a front-runner to land one of the other two spots. Candidates for the other one? Try Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla. The championship game will become college football's Super Bowl. Any city can bid on it, even ones that host the semifinals and those that have not been traditional bowl sites. Expect most to be played in dome stadiums or warm weather sites. WHEN WILL THE GAMES BE PLAYED? The semifinals will be played on Dec. 31 andor Jan. 1. College football used to own New Year's Day. The Bowl Championship Series got away from that. The leaders of the sport want to reclaim that day. The championship game will always be played on the first Monday that is at least six days after the semifinals. The first "Championship Monday" is Jan. 12, 2015. WILL THIS PUT AN END TO THE CONTROVERSY? No. Doubling the field from two teams to four alleviates some of the problems that the Bowl Championship Series couldn't solve. There will still be plenty of complaining, but it will come from teams No. 5, 6 and 7, instead of Nos. 3 and 4. That's better. The farther down you go in the rankings, the weaker the arguments get for inclusion. But there are plenty of people out there now that believe four is not nearly enough. HOW MUCH? Conservative estimates have the television right to the new playoff system being worth at least double what the BCS was worth. That means 300 million easy, probably more like 400 or 500. How it gets divided among the conferences is still to be finalized, though criteria has been set up: -- On-field success -- Teams' expenses -- Marketplace factors -- Academic performance of student-athletes In short the five power conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12) will get more than the others. The Big East no longer will get a big share, but how much smaller will it be? HOW SOON AND FOR HOW LONG? The four-team playoff will start in the 2014 season because the current TV deals have already locked the Bowl Championship Series in for two more years. The next round of TV deals will be for 12 years. Those negotiations will begin in the fall. The 12-year deal accomplishes two goals for the commissioners: 1) They don't want to deal with this every four years the way they have been. 2) It keeps the playoff from expanding for 12 years. WILL IT GROW EVENTUALLY? No doubt. It will be successful, so why not have more of a good thing. Also, many if not all of the people who put this thing together will have moved on when it's time to come up with another plan. College football is moving away from the current bowl system, in which it farms out its postseason to third parties. As a new structure evolves and conferences continue to realign, there is no reason to think the playoff will continue to have only four teams.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?