The College Football Playoff selection committee’s job of choosing the four best teams out of a pool of six more-than-qualified candidates for the inaugural postseason bracket was a thankless one. But even though we love watching Texas Christian University and Baylor University’s explosive offenses as much as the next fan, we feel that the 12-person group made the right calls with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State.
Now that all of that hairsplitting craziness has sorted itself out, we can focus on the fun part—playing the actual games. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the first national semifinal contest (Pasadena’s Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State, January 1), the second semifinal affair (New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl with ‘Bama and Ohio State, January 1), or the title game on January 12 at AT&T Stadium near Dallas, the sports nation is assured a few treats to close out the season.
Well-heeled football fans won’t have anything to worry about either. From the top hotels near game sites to the can’t-miss events away from the field, our Forbes Travel Guide editors have huddled up and put together a star-studded game plan for anyone looking to start their New Year in festive fashion.
National Semifinal Game No. 1
Florida State vs. Oregon, January 1, 5 p.m.
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
What To Know
This 101st Rose Bowl should be one for the ages. The defending national champion Florida State Seminoles have not lost a game since November 24, 2012. For those keeping score, that’s 29 straight matchups. Out of respect, we’re going to just ignore the fact that there were at least three occurrences this season where that streak came close to ending. The aforementioned committee noticed the wobbly play from quarterback Jameis Winston’s crew, too, which explains why the ‘Noles are traveling some 2,200 miles to Southern California for their meeting with the Ducks. While not technically a home game for Oregon (Eugene is 850-plus miles away), the Ducks should feel somewhat comfortable on the Pacific coast. But then again, Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota has looked good wherever he and the nation’s third-ranked offense (46.3 points per game) have played this year.
The pageantry behind the Rose Parade is well documented. Every New Year’s Day, floats, marching bands and waving celebrities inch down Pasadena streets in a fragrant precursor to the big game. This 126th installment will be no different. Of course, if decked-out rides don’t really move you, fans can show their appreciation for their favorite school by participating in the spirited Kickoff Luncheon (December 31) or one of the public tailgating parties (January 1) in the parking lot just south of the stadium.
At press time, there were some room styles with availabilities on January 1 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel less than five miles from the 50-yard line. Beyond the fact that the property is basically a long Winston pass from the action, the place wins with fans because of its roster of amenities. From Italian marble bathrooms to shared patios and afternoon tea, this establishment ensures that every guest is treated like an MVP. In the rare event you’re not 100 percent sure, though, allow the elegant New Year’s Eve meal at The Royce | Wood-Fired Steakhouse or a deep-tissue massage at Chuan Spa to convince you otherwise.
National Semifinal Game No. 2
Ohio State vs. Alabama, January 1, 8:30 p.m.
Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
What To Know
TCU and Baylor might snarl at Ohio State’s inclusion here, but no one else can deny the facts—the Buckeyes are arguably the hottest team in the country right now. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s behind center—sophomore Cardale Jones is the team’s third starting quarterback this year—because OSU’s smart play-calling, unrelenting defense and team-first attitude always seem to find a way to victory. But if the Buckeyes are to make their first national title game appearance since 2007, they’re going to have to solve the riddles that are Alabama QB Blake Sims and star wide receiver Amari Cooper. Should they somehow contain those two studs, they still have to find an answer to a defense that gives up less than 17 points per outing. Oh, and on top of that, the game is in NOLA, just a hop, skip and an I-59 ride from Tuscaloosa.
What To Do
New Year’s Eve. French Quarter. Sounds like a pretty raucous combination, no? Should the thought of Bourbon Street revelry at the stroke of midnight cause you pause, the Crescent City has a host of other ways for bringing in 2015: traditional Réveillon dinners (we strongly suggest the multicourse meal prepared at Four-Star Windsor Court Hotel’s The Grill Room); concerts (Better Than Ezra at Harrah’s New Orleans); or even a fireworks cruise. Of course, if you wanted to do something with a pigskin theme, the Allstate Fan Fest is a complimentary extravaganza (December 31) stuffed with interactive games, a hands-on museum and a concert with Grammy-winning rock band Train.
Where To Stay
Securing one of the few remaining rooms at Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans or Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hotel Monteleone is a really smart play to make. The former is converting into a tailgater’s paradise for the game, pulling out all the stops with an oversized screen projecting the Sugar Bowl, a bayou-tinged buffet, OSU- and ‘Bama-themed cocktails and more. Hotel Monteleone’s New Year’s Eve 2014 package includes two nights of luxe accommodations, a welcome cocktail at the bar, admission for two to the lavish New Year’s Eve shindig at Jackson Brewery Bistro Bar and a light breakfast at famed Café Du Monde. Consider the fact that both hotels just happen to be about a mile from the Superdome as added holiday bonuses.
National Championship Game
January 12, 8:30 p.m.
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
What To Know
OK, now comes the interesting part. In every past season, college football coaches and players have had to prepare their hardest for only one big bowl in early January. This year, the two winners of the grueling semifinal tussles have to ready themselves for an even bigger matchup just 11 days later. How are they supposed to handle days off? How intensely should teams practice? It’s all new territory. Whatever the strategy, though, the last two teams standing need to have things figured out by kickoff. The same goes for event coordinators, stadium ushers and everyone else with anything to do with the flow of the highly anticipated game. Make no mistake about it, organizers from Glendale, Arizona (the title game’s 2016 host) and Tampa (2017) will be furiously taking notes.
What To Do
As you’d expect from a sporting event of this magnitude, there’s nearly as much excitement planned away from the field as there is on it. Playoff Fan Central (January 9-11) will be the place to be for pigskin-tossing games, cheerleader rallies and special exhibits. AT&T Playoff Playlist Live (January 10-11) promises two days of live entertainment in the form of performances from Lenny Kravitz, Sting and many others. Fitness nuts (Extra Yard 5K, January 10) and foodies (Taste of the Championship, January 11) have plenty to keep them occupied with as well.
Where To Stay
Four-Star The Joule is a gorgeous downtown Dallas property. But if you thought that statement came merely as a result of the restored marble flooring, custom Italian woodwork and Adam Tihany’s daring design at every other corner, you’re only partially accurate. The 160-room hotel also debuted a cocktail bar, Midnight Rambler, this past October that wows you as much with its cushy leather couches and checkerboard floor as it does with the Easybeet (gin, vermouth, housemade beet and lemon myrtle soda and cucumber) and other innovative drinks on the menu.