Scooby Axson
Monday December 22nd, 2014

Steve Dykes/Getty (Oregon), Jason Parkhurst for SI (Alabama), John David Mercer/USA Today Sports (FSU), Jay Laprete/AP (OSU)

The polls are a distant memory, the talk about who belongs in the fourth spot is over and now it is time to start the first annual College Football Playoffs.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State each got to football’s Final Four in entirely different ways and are preparing to finally settle who the best team is on the field.

The College Football Preview is front and center in this week’s Sports Illustrated cover, with four regional covers featuring each playoff team.

Alabama, which is looking for its fourth national championship in the last six seasons,  is led by senior quarterback Blake Sims and Heisman finalist Amari Cooper, who caught a school-record 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“It’s the ultimate dream,” Sims says. “I don’t want to be the guy to mess it up.”

The Crimson Tide with take on Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

Ohio State went through its share of adversity this season, losing quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to injury, but third-stringer Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat on offense, ranking fourth in the nation in points per game and eight in total offense.

The other semifinal matchup pits the last two Heisman Trophy winners: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl.

Florida State has looked nothing like the dominant team that hoisted the BCS Championship last season, winning its last four games by two, five, three and four points, respectively. It had to deal with Winston’s code of conduct hearing and his inconsistent first-half play. Still, the Seminoles have won 29 straight games.

“We dealt with [distractions] very well, and our team has handled them very well,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher says.

Oregon has been destroying teams since a seven-point loss to Arizona on Oct. 2, including a 38-point blowout in the rematch in the Pac-12 Championship game. Mariota, who also took home the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Davey O’Brien awards, passed for 3,783 yards with 38 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season. He also ran for 669 yards and 14 more scores.

For more on the College Football Playoffs, check out this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).

Also featured in this issue: features on New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram, the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, Boston University hockey player Jack Eichel and a tribute to the sports figures we lost in 2014.

Subscribers and newsstands on the East Coast, plus Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Eastern Missouri will receive the Ohio State issue.

Subscribers and newsstands in Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii will receive the Oregon issue.

Subscribers and newsstands in the Southeastern United States, plus Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana will receive the Alabama issue.

Subscribers and newsstands in Florida will receive the Florida State issue.

Not in the area to buy the regional issue? Buy single issues here.

2014 Sports Illustrated Covers

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