Alabama (11-1), which lost to SEC West winner Auburn, moved up into the fourth spot just ahead of Big Ten champion Ohio State (11-2). It’s the second consecutive season the Big Ten champion failed to qualify for the playoff. Last season, Penn State won the title but was left out in favor of the Buckeyes.
No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia join the Tide in the four-team playoff group vying for a national title.
The playoff committee’s decision to pick Alabama over Ohio State is bound to be a lightning rod for criticism and debate in the coming days and weeks.
Ohio State thought it had done enough as Big Ten champ to earn a return trip to the semifinals with three quality wins over ranked teams, including Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. But the team couldn’t overcome two losses, including an embarrassing 52-44 defeat against Iowa on Nov. 5.
The knock on Alabama was its lack of quality wins, with its sole quality wins coming over LSU and Mississippi State.
“The selection committee just favored Alabama’s full body of work over Ohio State,” playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN while explaining the rankings. “The selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team.”
Clemson (12-1) remained in the top spot after its impressive 38-3 win over Miami in the ACC Championship Game. The defending national champions will travel to the Sugar Bowl to take on Alabama, a rematch of last season’s national title game.
“It’s going to be a heckuva game, I don’t have any doubt,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said on ESPN after his semifinal matchup was set.
Swinney later added he was grateful not to have to travel cross country to California for the Rose Bowl with just seven days between the semifinal and the title game this year. Instead, Clemson will play in the Sugar Bowl for the first time in 59 years.
Swinney is upbeat about his close-knit team’s chances of repeating as national champions. He noted his Tigers were not picked to win their ACC division, but they worked to enter the playoff as the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
“These guys believe they can win because of the preparation they put in,” he said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he trusted the committee would put the best teams in the playoff.
“I really do believe based on the total body of work that our team deserved to be in,” Saban said.
Oklahoma (12-1) moved up a spot to No. 2 after its 41-17 win over TCU in Dallas in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners will head to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2003 to take on Georgia (12-1), which defeated Auburn 28-7 in Atlanta. It will be the first meeting between these two programs.
The winners will meet in the national championship game on Monday, Jan. 8, at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The selection committee is composed of 13 members, including chair Kirby Hocutt, Frank Beamer, Jeff Bower, Herb Deromedi, Chris Howard, Tom Jernstedt, Bobby Johnson, Jeff Long, Rob Mullens, Dan Radakovich, Gene Smith, Steve Wieberg and Tyrone Willingham.
Three committee members recused themselves as the top six teams were set because of their teams to programs vying for playoff spots.
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