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Something special about a bowl game

It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest games of the college football season were played on New Year’s Day.

That all began to change when the Bowl Championship Series was started in 1998, and has brought us to today, and the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. This year’s playoff is especially important for local fans, because Ohio State will meet Clemson at 7 p.m. in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl, in one of the semifinals.

The winner of that game will advance to the College Football Championship game at 8 p.m. Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla., against the winner of today’s other semifinal, the 3 p.m. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl battle between Alabama and Washington.

The Buckeyes finished with an 11-1 record to earn their playoff spot, the only loss coming at the hands of Big Ten champion Penn State. They are going against the 12-1 Tigers, Atlantic Coast Conference champs. Alabama, meanwhile, rolled to a 13-0 record and SEC title, while Washington was the Pac-12 champ at 12-1.

While Penn State missed out on one of the four spots in the playoff (a decision that did not sit well with many in State College), the Nittany Lions, 11-2, did earn a spot in Monday’s Rose Bowl against 9-3 Southern Cal.

Tonight’s games will add interest to a bowl season that has proven to be a disappointment to fans across the Tri-State Area. On Wednesday, Pitt closed its season at 8-5 with a 31-24 loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl, and West Virginia finished at 10-3 with a 31-14 loss to Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Ohio University suffered a 28-23 loser to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl.

Another change in this year’s bowl season is that the traditional New Year’s Day games have moved. The Orange Bowl, for instance, was played Friday night, and the Rose, Cotton and Sugar Bowls will be played on Monday, to allow the National Football League to conclude its regular season schedule on Sunday.

And, the day no longer is the exclusive domain of college football — the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic will return when Chicago meets St. Louis in Busch Stadium. That 1 p.m. game will be the continuation of an annual outdoor series that began on Jan. 1, 2008, when the Penguins played Buffalo in Ralph Wilson Stadium (now New Era Field.)

The Penguins, by the way, will meet their arch-rival Philadelphia in an outdoor game this year, at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 in Heinz Field as part of the NHL Stadium Series.

Despite all of the changes, there’s something special about being able to watch your favorite team play in one of the premiere bowl games of the years.

And that what makes tonight’s playoff seminfinal appearance especially satisfying for Ohio State fans.

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