The College Football Playoff committee went chalk.
There were no surprises, just a predictable outcome many expected with how Saturday played out.
Oklahoma was selected at the heavily debated fourth spot and will meet No. 1 Alabama in one semifinal Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Clemson and Notre Dame, both undefeated and with five common opponents, will meet in the other semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
There was some thought Georgia, which was ranked fourth in the final playoff rankings last Tuesday, did enough in nearly upsetting undefeated powerhouse Alabama in Saturday’s SEC Championship game to become the first two-loss team included in the playoff. But Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion which defeated Texas on Saturday to avenge its lone loss, was given the nod as Georgia finished fifth in the rankings.
“In this instance, when one team wasn’t unequivocally better than the other, we went to the protocol, and on this one the one-loss conference champion carried the day,” committee chairman Rob Mullens said.
The committee met until 1:30 a.m. Sunday and again at 10:30 that morning, according to Mullens. Some were split on who should be the fourth team.
The résumés were similar. Georgia had eight wins over teams .500 or better and Oklahoma had seven. Both had three victories over ranked opponents. The Sooners, however, had just one less loss and won their league while Georgia blew a 14-point, second-half advantage to Alabama on Saturday and was crushed, 36-16, by three-loss LSU.
“I’m not crying over split milk,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We had our opportunities in the Alabama game and did not finish and did not take advantage of them. I certainly think we’re one of the four best teams in the country, but I also know we’re not in the playoff.”
The oddsmakers expect Alabama and Clemson to meet in the national championship game for the third time in four years. Both are heavy favorites, the Crimson Tide by 14 ¹/₂ and Clemson by 11. It’s the first time in the playoff that the two semifinal games have featured double-digit point spreads.
Georgia was followed in the rankings by Ohio State, the Big Ten’s one-loss champion, Michigan, Central Florida, Washington and Florida. For the second straight year, the Big Ten was left out, but commissioner Jim Delany told The Athletic he doesn’t feel the need to expand the playoff.
“Obviously [we] would love to be in system every year, but [I] have respect for those chosen and offer sincere congratulations to players and coaches at Alabama, Clemson, [Notre Dame] and [Oklahoma],” Delany said.
UCF, the AAC champion, was passed over despite its second consecutive perfect season — it has won 25 consecutive games — further evidence that a non-Power Five school will never receive a playoff bid in the current system. The Knights called themselves national champions last year after defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, even taking part in a parade. On Sunday, athletic director Danny White tweeted his disappointment at being left out of what he described as an “invitational” not a playoff.
This will be Notre Dame’s first playoff appearance, while Clemson is in for the fourth straight season. Oklahoma has reached the playoff twice before, but has never advanced to the title game. Alabama has been in the playoff in all four previous years and is looking to be the first repeat national champion since it won consecutive titles in 2011-12.
The two games feature interesting subplots. Alabama-Oklahoma is a quarterback showdown featuring the top two Heisman Trophy contenders, Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama. Tagovailoa suffered a high right ankle sprain in Saturday’s 35-28 win over Georgia, and coach Nick Saban said Sunday the sophomore will be out two weeks and is hopeful to get him back for the game.
Notre Dame-Clemson, meanwhile, is the true ACC championship game. The independent Fighting Irish faced five ACC teams, and handled Syracuse, which nearly upset Clemson on Sept. 29, far more easily than the Tigers did, routing the Orange, 36-3, on Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium. The last time Notre Dame was on this stage was in the 2012 BCS national championship game, when it was crushed by Alabama, 42-14.
“I think the best thing about it is the 2012 Alabama team is not in this playoff bracket,” coach Brian Kelly joked.
Of the four teams, Notre Dame has to be considered the biggest surprise. The Irish were 4-8 two years ago and were the lowest of the four in the Associated Press’ preseason rankings at No. 12.
“We’ve been on a journey here the last couple years,” Kelly said, “to put our football team back in this position.”