There was expected news and, perhaps, hoped-for news when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee revealed its top four teams and their seedings for the semifinals of the playoff.
As expected, Alabama is the number two seed, behind No. 1 Clemson. That means that Clemson is going to the Orange Bowl and Alabama is headed to the Cotton Bowl. The other two teams were almost automatic into the top four: Oklahoma, which had been the third seed last week; and Michigan State, which had defeated last week’s No. 4 Iowa to win the Big Ten championship.
The playoff is set up for No. 1 to play No. 4 and No. 2 to play No. 3. On Sunday, the CFP Selection Committee moved Michigan State into the third spot and dropped Oklahoma to fourth. That means the Sooners won’t be playing in Dallas, where they have a huge alumni base and which is just a few hours from Norman.
So it will be Clemson vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and Alabama vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, both on Dec. 31. The national championship game will be Jan. 11 at the Fiesta Bowl.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “This team has responded well with its back against the wall all year long since the Ole Miss game. We weren’t always pretty last night, but this team has the resiliancy to play the next play.”
As he did after Bama ran its record to 12-1 Saturday with a 29-15 win over Florida to win the Southeastern Conference championship in Atlanta, Saban said, “I’ve always believed in this team, but it was about how we were going to respond” after the early season loss to Ole Miss. “They did it the right way, and that’s why I wanted this team to have success.”
The next thing, Saban said, is that his players have to understand that it is about more than just getting into the playoff. His team is going to have to prepare well to play the Spartans.
Alabama is the only team selected for the first two College Football Playoff fields.
As for the experience of having been in the playoff, Saban said, “We didn’t have very much success. We got beat.” Alabama was defeated by eventual national champion Ohio State in the semifinals in the Sugar Bowl by a 42-35 score. “Hopefully,” he said, “we do a little bit better job in preparation. Anyone in this final four could beat anyone else.”
Although Saban once coached at Michigan State and seems to be close the Spartans’ head coach, Mark Dantonio, it is understandable that he would have not yet learned much about Michigan State. He will, of course. As for now he said, “I saw that last drive, a 22-play drive (to defeat Iowa and win Big Ten) and that was enough to tell me about their competitive spirit.” Michigan State scored at the end of that drive in the final seconds of the game for a 16-13 decision over the previously undefeated Hawkeyes.
Alabama has played Michigan State only one time, and it matched Saban against Dantonio. The Crimson Tide was a 49-7 winner over the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando at the end of the 2010 season.
Clemson, coached by former Alabama player and assistant coach Dabo Swinney, met Oklahoma in a bowl game last year and the Tigers routed the Sooners, 40-6. Clemson is the nation’s only undefeated team.
Swinney and Clemson are going for their first national championship since another former Alabama player and assistant coach, Danny Ford, led the Tigers to the 1981 crown.
Jeff Long, athletics director at Arkansas and chairman of the CFP Selection Committee, had said a week ago that the committee had a long discussion over whether Clemson or Alabama should be number one. Surprisingly, after Clemson’s somewhat controversial victory over North Carolina in the ACC championship, he said this week that Clemson was “clearly number one.”
Not to worry. With a playoff, it works itself out. Alabama was the top seed last year and didn’t make it to the championship game.