The teams are set. How the College Football Playoff selection committee ranks them is all that remains to be seen.
Here’s who is in:
No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 5 Michigan State.
The Spartans (12-1) provided plenty of drama on Championship Saturday, with an epic game-winning drive to beat Iowa 16-13 in an old-school Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis that was only missing leather helmets.
The Tigers (13-0) had some nervous moments at the end, but behind Deshaun Watson’s brilliance they held off North Carolina 45-37 to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title and stay unbeaten.
Alabama (12-1) had it easy by comparison in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Florida. Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide won 29-15 to cruise into the playoff for the second straight season. The Tide is the only repeat team in the field.
Of course, nobody had it easier than the Sooners (11-1). They wrapped up their season and the Big 12 title last week and got to watch the rest of the playoff pieces fall into place like the rest of us on Saturday.
For Stanford, which beat USC 41-22 to win the Pac-12, and Ohio State, which was sitting at sixth in the last rankings, there were no upsets to open the door to the playoff. Nothing to make the committee have to ponder which resume is best. Unlike last year, when Ohio State jumped into the top four on the final weekend, edging past Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor, the committee’s picks won’t produce any controversy.
So who’s No. 1? And remember, the committee is judging the teams’ full body of work.
For the second straight week, Clemson made just enough mistakes to keep its opponent in the game, but as coach Dabo Swinney pointed out after the game, that’s now three victories against 10-win, top-10 teams for the Tigers.
Alabama has only one win against a 10-win team, but has racked up plenty of quality Ws.
Oklahoma has been rolling since an October loss to Texas.
Michigan State showed no team in the country is tougher when the game is on the line.
The top spot probably will come down to the Tigers or the Tide. Regardless, Clemson would head to South Florida to play a semifinal at the Orange Bowl in New Year’s Eve and Alabama would be sent to the Cotton Bowl in North Texas for its Dec. 31 playoff game.
The committee’s job is to give the No. 1 seed as much of a ‘home-field advantage’ as it can and then let the rankings fall into place from there. Committee chairman Jeff Long said last week the rankings would not be manipulated to avoid putting Oklahoma in the nearby Dallas-area as a lower-seeded team.
It doesn’t seem likely Oklahoma could get into the top two after being third last week.
Predicting the playoff:
Orange Bowl — No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma.
Cotton Bowl — No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A CHAMPION
Houston won the first American Athletic Conference championship game, beating Temple 24-13 at home to all but lock up the spot in the New Year’s Six bowls that goes to the highest-ranked champion from outside the Power Five conferences.
The Cougars are headed for either the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, depending on how some of the other championship games play out.