A college football season filled with fantastic finishes led to a sleepy selection Sunday.
Top-seeded Clemson will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in the first College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Eve. No. 2 Alabama will play No. 3 Michigan State at the Cotton Bowl in the nightcap of the Dec. 31 doubleheader.
Stanford, the Pac-12 champion at 11-2, drew 12-1 Iowa in the Cardinal’s third Rose Bowl appearance in four years. The CPF selection committee ranked the Hawkeyes No. 5 by virtue of their close loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game Saturday night, leaving the Cardinal at No. 6. Rose Bowl officials opted for the second-highest-rated team from the Big Ten rather than go with the sexier opponent in No. 7 Ohio State, which will play No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Both games are Jan. 1.
“I do believe at some point it’s going to be an eight-team playoff,” Shaw said Sunday, containing his ongoing political statement about being left out of the top four. “I think it’s going to be unavoidable. I’m not upset by any stretch of the imagination.
“I just know this year is a part of the process where you have these teams in Stanford and Iowa and Ohio State that you could make a case could be in a playoff, and it would be a phenomenal playoff. So I have no problems with where we are now. I just do believe eventually, it will become an eight-team playoff because it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
Cal reached its first postseason game since 2011, drawing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas. The Golden Bears feature star quarterback Jared Goff as the future of head coach Sonny Dykes remains muddled, with the university and Dykes still haggling over a contract extension.
The Final Four? No drama. No complaints. Nothing at all like the week-to-week mayhem — with one once-in-a-lifetime-play after another — that made the season memorable. In the end, the only real debate was how to rank the top four teams.
Clemson (13-0) has been No. 1 since the committee began its rankings the first week of November, and committee chairman Jeff Long said that the Tigers were the clear top team in the final rankings. As the top seed, the Tigers get to play as close to home as possible. The Tigers and Sooners (11-1) met in Russell Athletic Bowl last season and Clemson won 40-6.
“Last year’s game with Oklahoma has nothing to do with this year’s game. They are a different team. We’re a different team,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson and Oklahoma have split four meetings, dating back to 1963.
Alabama (12-1) began its season at AT&T Stadium in North Texas against a Big Ten team (Wisconsin) and returns to face another in Michigan State (12-1). The Tide and Spartans have played only once, with Alabama winning the Capital One Bowl 49-7 after the 2010 season.
Oklahoma was No. 3 last week after it finished its regular season as the Big 12 champion, but Michigan State’s Big Ten championship game victory over previously unbeaten Iowa pushed the Spartans past the Sooners in the end.
Long said bumping Michigan State past Oklahoma had nothing to do with avoiding the possibility of having the Sooners play close to home in the Dallas area.
And that was it for drama, if you could even call it that. A big difference from last season, when the committee had to choose from Ohio State, Baylor and TCU, and ticked off the Big 12 by jumping the Buckeyes past the Bears and Frogs in the final rankings.
This year, Oklahoma was so sure of its spot that coach Bob Stoops and quarterback Baker Mayfield did not even attend the Sooners watch party in Norman. Both were traveling. The Sooners last won a national title in 2000, Stoops’ second season in Norman.
At Clemson, Swinney came through on his promise to throw a pizza party in Memorial Stadium. Thousands were in attendance to feast on the Tigers’ success and pepperoni. Clemson is looking for its first national championship since 1981.
In Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Tide is preparing for a second straight playoff appearance, it was just another Sunday. The players were allowed to sleep in for the announcement.
“What I tell our players … is guys, you really should be happy and you should be excited about what you have been able to accomplish and winning the SEC championship, but now I have a question for you: What do you want to do now?” said Tide coach Nick Saban, who has led Alabama to three national championships and coached at Michigan State from 1995-99.
On Saban’s staff in East Lansing as a defensive backs coach was Mark Dantonio, now the Michigan State coach, trying to bring the Spartans their first national title since it finished first in the coaches’ poll in 1965. Michigan State’s last AP national title was 1952.
The other New Year’s Six Bowl pairings feature Oklahoma State against Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl and Houston against Florida State in the Peach Bowl.