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Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and … Oklahoma? Call it the best three, plus one

Notre Dame just sat there. The Fighting Irish — what a bunch of layabouts.

As the rest of the national-championship contenders in college football fought for their playoff lives Saturday, the unbeaten Irish kicked back with their feet up. Good for them, all kidding aside. They’ve played their way into the final four, and all they had to do as playoff implications churned elsewhere was sip cream soda through a straw and wait for their assignment.

To Arlington, Texas, the No. 3 Irish shall go. They’ll face No. 2 Clemson at 3 p.m. Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl. That’s ‘‘in’’ the Cotton Bowl, not ‘‘at’’ the Cotton Bowl. Cotton Bowl Stadium — the site of the annual Oklahoma-Texas game — is in Dallas. The bowl game, in this case a national semifinal, is at the massive joint where the Cowboys play.

But you probably knew all that already.

Alabama stuff-armed Georgia right out of the playoff mix. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On to the rest of the ‘‘Big 10’’ (where 10 actually means 10):

2. An awesome foursome? I’m fine with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. I’m fine with it, even though 11-2 Georgia — which lost an SEC title nail-biter to the No. 1-on-the-planet Crimson Tide — is a far more complete team than 12-1 Oklahoma. I’m fine with it, even though 12-1 Ohio State is a one-loss champion of a better conference than the Big 12. I’m fine with it, even though the Sooners play defense like their shoes are on backward.

Really, I’m fine with it.

3. On the other hand . . . : I suppose even I rather would watch Oklahoma, with out-of-this-world quarterback Kyler Murray, take its swing at big, bad Bama than see an SEC rematch.

4. Take the points: Alabama is favored by 14. Clemson is favored by 11½. I might not know much about this crazy merry-go-round called life, but I do know this: There aren’t going to be two semifinal blowouts. For my money, there won’t even be one.

That’s not real money I’m offering. You’re on your own, pal.

Northwestern vs. Ohio State: Crank up the mismatch-o-meter
Ohio State defeats Northwestern in Big Ten championship game

5. Just sayin’: The erstwhile, half-ridiculous Bowl Championship Series computer formula was applied to this season, and guess what? If this still were the BCS era, the top four would be, in order, Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. So what’s everybody kvetching about?

6. Breathe in, breathe out: To everyone flipping out about the need to expand the playoff to eight or more teams, please try to relax. Playoff expansion is inevitable, but it’s years away.

Maybe this will help you deal with it in the meantime: You know those big games Saturday featuring Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Oklahoma? Not to mention the Ohio State-Michigan matchup the week before? None of them would’ve meant squat if there were an eight-team playoff. Regardless of outcomes, all those teams would have made the field.


7. Take a bow, Northwestern: It can’t be fun to lose the Big Ten title game — and it sure is easy for me to say — but the Wildcats ought to feel like champs. That Big Ten West banner (is there an actual banner?) represents the absolute fulfillment of a team’s potential.

8. U rule, UCF: Undefeated for two seasons. Playoff snub or not, that’s unreal. No one should rip the Knights for proclaiming themselves national champs again.

OK, it’s still kind of funny.

9. Heisman watch: I voted, and not for the guy everyone has said all season would win. I wish I could share the top three on my ballot, but I’d be sent straight to sanctimony jail without passing ‘‘go.’’ No, really, I’d lose my vote faster than you can say ‘‘Tagovailoa.’’

10. Greatest quote ever: ‘‘Look, I wasn’t coming here to play to tie.’’

That was Georgia coach Kirby Smart after a 35-28 loss to Alabama. Smart called for a fake punt on fourth-and-11 from midfield with the score tied and 3:04 left. It worked about as well as a paper airplane in a rainstorm. The Tide drove for the winning touchdown, cementing Smart’s decision in worst-of-all-time lore. But at least it wasn’t a tie.

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