By late Saturday night, everyone pretty much knew the Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish would play in the College Football Playoff, but after a raucous SEC Championship, the fourth team was anybody’s guess.
It’s going to be the Oklahoma Sooners, the 13-member selection committee in Grapevine, Texas, announced Sunday.
After examining the bodies of work for Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia, the committee decided that none of the three teams was “unequivocally better” than the other, selection committee chairman and University of Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told ESPN.
Upon reviewing other records and statistics, including strength of schedule, “the one-loss conference champion carried the day,” he said.
Alabama and Oklahoma will face off in the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida, while Clemson and Notre Dame will play in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
Both bowls are scheduled for December 29, and the winners will play in the championship January 7 in Santa Clara, California.
No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame finished their seasons undefeated. The Tide and Tigers capped perfect seasons with conference championships Saturday, while the Irish are independent and finished their perfect season the previous week with a 24-17 victory over the University of Southern California.
The Sooners closed out their season with a 39-27 Big 12 Championship win over Texas, the only team that beat them during the regular season.
Georgia will head into bowl season as the fifth-ranked team, and Ohio State will finish the regular season at No. 6.
The long shot University of Central Florida Knights, who do not play in a Power Five conference like the other teams in contention, also won their conference championship to close out an undefeated season but were shut out of the playoff for a second straight year.
The selections were announced the day after two of the top four teams in the nation treated audiences to a barn burner in Atlanta.
Prior to Saturday’s SEC Championship, the Georgia Bulldogs were ranked No. 4 in the country. They took on the top-ranked Crimson Tide, whose closest game all season was a 22-point victory over Texas A&M in September.
The Bulldogs not only played Alabama tight, but with a 14-point lead in the third quarter, seemed to have finally vanquished the Tide, which had won the previous four games against its rivals to the east.
Backup Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts had a comeback in mind, however. Filling in for Tua Tagovailoa, who sprained his ankle in the second half, Hurts led his team to 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs also did their part to help Bama. With the game tied and the ball at midfield with 3 minutes left, Georgia could’ve punted the ball and pinned the Tide deep. All night, Georgia’s defense had performed well against the beastly Alabama attack.
Instead, Georgia opted for a fake punt, which the Dawgs botched, handing Alabama the ball with primo field position and plenty of time on the clock. Hurts did the rest, finishing the game-winning drive with a 16-yard quarterback sneak.
It could be argued that Georgia still deserved to be in the playoff, given they were the only team to put up a scrap against Bama, but it was always going to be difficult for Georgia to get into the playoff without an SEC title.
Making matters more difficult for Georgia, the Sooners and Ohio State — both of whom have one loss — won their conference championships by double digits. Ohio State was stomped by Purdue midseason, however.
By falling to Alabama, Georgia recorded its second loss, making it tough for the selection committee to include the Dawgs over teams with one loss and championships in a Power Five conference. The LSU Tigers beat the Bulldogs by 20 in October.
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article gave January 8 as the date for the championship game. It will be January 7.
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