Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the college football national championship game Jan. 8, and the next-door Georgia Dome will be imploded by then. Implosion is set for Nov. 20.
Photo: John Bazemore/Associated Press
Photo: John Bazemore/Associated Press

Road to Atlanta: Officials mapping plans for college football title game

With less than three weeks to go until the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first rankings of the season, and less than three months until the national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, playoff officials convened in Atlanta this week for a series of planning meetings. 

They covered a range of topics over three days, including public safety, stadium operations, credentialing, television production and ancillary events. 

The CFP, which is in its fourth season, will play its championship game in Atlanta for the first time Jan. 8. Holding the event in a stadium that opened this season introduced new variables into the planning. 

“We got further along early on planning ancillary events here because we knew we’d have to backload stadium (logistics),” said Michael Kelly, the playoff’s chief operating officer. “I won’t say we’re exactly where we need to be on stadium, but we’re where we planned to be.” 

Based on what they’ve seen of the stadium, including at the two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games during Labor Day weekend, Kelly and CFP executive director Bill Hancock expressed confidence it will perform well for their showcase event. 

They like the proximity to the stadium of downtown hotels and other venues because that setup will create a  walkable  “championship campus.” A three-day fan festival will be held in the Georgia World Congress Center leading up to the game. Concerts are planned in Centennial Olympic Park. An open-to-the-public media day will be held in Philips Arena.

Inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Kelly said he is particularly impressed by the amenities and gathering spaces throughout, including on the upper level.

From the stands to the suites, a look inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on opening night. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

The recent news that the stadium’s problematic retractable roof will be closed for all events the rest of this year except an Oct. 22 Atlanta United match didn’t concern CFP officials because they decided months ago to play the championship game with the roof closed. 

Hancock said that was an “easy decision,” made to ensure fans and teams in advance that the playing and watching conditions would be optimal and predictable. 

The CFP championship game has been played in two other retractable-roof stadiums, both times with the roof closed. 

Here is a weekly update on college football’s road to Atlanta:


Atlanta’s host committee is seeking more than 2,000 volunteers to help with various fan events surrounding the game.

Volunteer responsibilities will include hospitality, transportation, access control and operations. Shifts will range from four to six hours, with at least three shifts required. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.

If interested, go online to register.


This season has taken unexpected twists and turns already – Florida State losing its starting quarterback and three of its first four games; Oklahoma losing to Iowa State -- and undoubtedly will take many more before four teams are chosen for the playoff. 

The Associated Press and coaches’ polls agree on the top three teams this week: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Penn State. The polls diverge on the No. 4 team, with the AP putting Georgia in that slot and the coaches going with Washington.

Ultimately, though, those polls will have no bearing on the playoff field. 

The 13-member selection committee will release its first rankings of the season Oct. 31 and then update them weekly through “selection Sunday,” Dec. 3. The top four teams in the committee’s final rankings will make the playoff, with this season’s semifinals in the Rose and Sugar bowls on New Year’s Day. The winners will come to Atlanta to meet one week later.  


No games on this weekend’s schedule match teams ranked in the AP poll – the first time since Nov. 21, 2009, that a college-football weekend this late in the season features no head-to-head matchups of AP Top 25 teams. (That has occurred twice in September since then, according to AP: 2012 and 2016.) 

But here, nevertheless, are a couple of games Saturday that could have playoff implications down the road: 

No. 6 TCU (5-0) at Kansas State (3-2): After back-to-back wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, the Horned Frogs are the Big 12’s only undefeated team and, at the moment, its best hope for a playoff berth. K-State defeated TCU 30-6 last season.

No. 10 Auburn (5-1) at LSU (4-2): Auburn, whose loss was out of conference to No. 2 Clemson, seeks to stay on pace with Alabama in the SEC West. But Auburn hasn’t won at LSU since 1999. 

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson (left) has delivered three straight huge performances for the Tigers leading up to Saturday's game at LSU.
Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP

Of course, you never really know which game(s) will have playoff implications. Who would have guessed Oklahoma, which accomplished a signature win at Ohio State last month, would have its playoff hopes shaken by a home loss to 30-point underdog Iowa State last week? 


Q: Who is on the selection committee this season? 

A: Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt (committee chairman), former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, former Southern Mississippi coach Jeff Bower, former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi, Robert Morris University president Chris Howard, former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt, former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, former USA Today college football reporter Steve Wieberg, former Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington coach Tyrone Willingham.

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