The Alabama-Ohio State debate may last for years, but the argument that matters is finished: The College Football Playoff selection announced its choices on Sunday afternoon.
The 2017 playoff will feature No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama in one semifinal in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia in the other semifinal in the Rose Bowl, with both games on Monday, Jan. 1. Ohio State is the first team left out at No. 5.
Let's break down the matchups, the rankings and what we learned.
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama
Why Clemson made the playoff: The defending national champion Tigers are 12-1 with four wins over top-25 teams and an ACC championship. They have a marquee nonconference win over Auburn, they won on the road at N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Louisville and they finished off their season with a 38-3 beatdown of Miami in the ACC championship game. The loss at 4-8 Syracuse was ugly, but Clemson didn't have a healthy Kelly Bryant at quarterback in that game. That doesn't make the loss forgivable, but Clemson put together an impressive overall body of work to make up for it, led by a defense that has often been dominant up front. Clemson finished No. 1 last year, it was No. 1 entering the championship games last week and a five-TD win over a team ranked 10th was more than enough to keep the Tigers No. 1 and send them to New Orleans to try to defend their national title.
Why Alabama made the playoff: Because Ohio State lost by 31 points to Iowa. It's hard not to see that as the biggest reason: Had Ohio State taken care of business at Kinnick Stadium and won a game they were supposed to win, it would have made the playoff over Alabama as a one-loss Big Ten champion. But the Buckeyes had two losses, and the selection committee decided that 11-1 Alabama and 11-2 Ohio State were not close enough for the Buckeyes' conference championship to serve as a tiebreaker. "Alabama was clearly the No. 4 team as a non-champion," committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said. Alabama lost one game on the road at No. 7 Auburn. Its resume has been hurt by lackluster seasons from teams like Florida State -- expected to be the marquee nonconference win of the season, but the Noles finished 6-6 -- and Tennessee, but the Crimson Tide beat LSU and Mississippi State and had six wins by more than 30 points and nine wins by at least double digits. This was a consistently good team on both sides of the ball that didn't have a marquee win like the other playoff teams but also didn't have a crushing loss like Ohio State's at Iowa.
Early outlook: In the national championship game two years ago, Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 despite an otherworldly performance from Deshaun Watson. In the national championship game last year, Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 in an all-time classic in which the winning touchdown was scored with one second left. Now, we get Alabama-Clemson, Part III. This will be a semifinal rather than the championship and it has high expectations to live up to after the past two years, but it's an excellent matchup between powerful programs that have been the gold standard in college football. Watson was the engine of Clemson the first two meetings, but now it's up to Bryant -- and that defensive front -- to give the Tigers a chance to live up to their No. 1 billing.
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia
Why Oklahoma made the playoff: The Sooners lost to Iowa State and have some issues on defense, but there's no doubting how deserving their body of work is. Behind the partnership of new coach Lincoln Riley and Heisman frontrunner quarterback Baker Mayfield -- plus an excellent offensive line -- the Sooners won 31-16 at Ohio State in Week 2, giving them the best nonconference win of the season. They beat Oklahoma State by 10, TCU by 18 and TCU again by 27, wrapping up a third straight Big 12 championship for a second playoff bid in three years. There are still questions about the defense, but the Sooners have the nation's best offense and best player. They've been playing as well as anybody down the stretch.
Why Georgia made the playoff: Three weeks after losing their perfect season in a 23-point loss at Auburn, the Bulldogs got revenge with a 28-7 win over the Tigers in the SEC championship game. Ranked No. 1 in the first playoff rankings, Georgia returned to the top four because of its first SEC title since 2005, not to mention a road win at Notre Dame and a blowout win over Mississippi State. Georgia has played strong defense all season, it has an excellent running game and Jake Fromm could become the first true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national title since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985. The Bulldogs were only No. 6 last week, but there was no doubt about them jumping into the top four after their impressive win over Auburn in Atlanta.
Early outlook: The is the first Rose Bowl since the 2001 season (Miami vs. Nebraska) that won't include a team from either the Big Ten or Pac-12. Both teams have played in Rose Bowl once before: Oklahoma beat Washington State in 2002 and Georgia beat UCLA in 1942. Now they'll meet in Pasadena in an intriguing battle between SEC and Big 12 champions that features the nation's best passer, Mayfield, against a Georgia defense every bit as good as the Ohio State unit Mayfield burned in Columbus on Sept. 9. This will actually be the first time that the Sooners and Bulldogs have played each other, as Oklahoma aims for a shot at its first national title since 2000 and Georgia aims for its first since 1980.
New Year's Six Games
Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 8 USC
The Rose Bowl is part of the playoff this year, but the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions both missed the playoff. To avoid sending Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl for the third straight year or creating a Penn State-USC bowl rematch, Ohio State and USC will stage a "Rose Bowl" at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 11 Washington
The Nittany Lions played a big role in the growth of the Fiesta Bowl, with six appearances from 1977-96, including the famous national championship win over Miami to end the 1986 season. This is their first trip to the game since beating Texas 21 years ago, and they'll meet Washington for the third time ever, joining the 1983 Aloha Bowl and a 1921 cross-country trip to Seattle. Washington moved up into this spot thanks to TCU's lopsided loss to Oklahoma, which dropped it out of the top 12 and allowed the Huskies to claim their second straight major bowl trip.
Orange Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami
The Orange Bowl takes the top non-playoff team from the ACC and the top non-playoff, non-conference champion from the Big Ten, SEC and Notre Dame. Miami used to be a regular in bowl games at its home stadium, making eight previous Orange Bowl appearances. This will be its first since joining the ACC. This is Wisconsin's first-ever Orange Bowl trip. These two teams last met in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, a 20-14 Badgers victory.
Peach Bowl: No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 12 UCF
After losing the SEC championship game against Georgia, Auburn will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for its New Year's Six game rather than a playoff semifinal. The 10-3 Tigers will meet the 12-0 Knights, who have the nation's top scoring team at 49.4 points per game. The committee didn't show the Knights much respect, but they'll get a chance to prove themselves against a top-10 SEC team on a national stage. Group of Five teams are 2-1 in the New Year's Six, with Boise State winning the Fiesta Bowl three years ago and Houston winning the Peach Bowl two years ago.
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Playoff selection takeaways
1. Ohio State has nobody but itself to blame.
The Buckeyes absolutely had a case for inclusion over Alabama. They have a Big Ten championship; Alabama finished second in the SEC West. They have three wins over teams ranked in the top 16, including No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 9 Penn State; Alabama doesn't have a win over anybody ranked better than No. 17 LSU. Ohio State's resume of accomplishments is undeniably better than Alabama's, giving it a strong argument.
There's one problem: In addition to a 15-point home loss to Oklahoma (semi-forgivable), Ohio State lost 55-34 at Iowa, which finished 7-5 (unforgivable). The committee has yet to send a two-loss team to the playoff, instead choosing to make this the first playoff to include two teams from one conference. Plenty of holes can be poked in Alabama's underwhelming resume, but the Crimson Tide were dominant most weeks and avoided a disastrous performance like the Buckeyes had at Kinnick Stadium.
"More damaging was the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa," Hocutt said about Ohio State's resume.
Quibble with the result all you want. Ohio State has an argument and has a right to feel left out. But no grave injustice was done on Sunday. The Buckeyes decisively lost their big nonconference game, and they more than decisively lost another game on the road against a mediocre opponent. Those two losses kept them from being viewed as comparable to Alabama, in the eyes of the committee.
2. The Iron Bowl didn't do much damage to Alabama.
In its most recent game, Alabama saw its perfect season ruined at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Crimson Tide lost the Iron Bowl, and they also lost the SEC West. They had to sit at home on Saturday and watch as Auburn played for the SEC title against Georgia. But because of Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State -- an undefeated Wisconsin would have surely gotten the final playoff spot -- Alabama leaped back into the top four anyway. The Iron Bowl still mattered greatly, because it gave Auburn a chance to play the SEC title and a playoff bid, but thanks to Georgia, Alabama is playoff-bound and Auburn isn't.
Conference championships still matter to the selection committee, but it's clear that a low number of losses can matter more, as we saw last year with Ohio State, too.
3. Three-quarters of this playoff feels familiar.
Alabama is now 4-for-4 in playoff appearances. Clemson is making its third straight trip. Oklahoma is going for the second time. The only new team is Georgia, which won the SEC for the first time since 2005 and has a chance for its first national title shot since 1980. Of course, Georgia's matchup doesn't feel familiar: It's an SEC team playing a Big 12 team it's never faced before, in the Rose Bowl.
4. The committee did not treat UCF fairly, but it doesn't matter much.
UCF beat Memphis for the second time this season and won the American Athletic Conference, but it's still ranked only 12th despite being undefeated. An argument can absolutely be made for UCF to be within the top 10. The Knights were never going to be in the playoff, though, and whether they were ranked fifth or 12th, their destination was going to be the same: the Peach Bowl.
In terms of advanced statistics, UCF played the 83rd-toughest schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin, who has the Knights ranked 16th. They're ninth in Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings and eighth in the Massey composite. It's a shame that any undefeated team could be left out of the playoff, but in the current system, the Knights don't have much of an argument for inclusion. They need an eight-team system.
5. Be thankful that the BCS is gone.
The creation of the playoff was never intended to eliminate national championship debates. They're always going to exist, and the sport is fueled by arguing. But the four-team playoff is better than the two-team BCS championship because debating 4 vs. 5 is a lot fairer than debating 2 vs. 3 in most cases. That's especially true this season: A heated Alabama-Ohio State debate for No. 4 is far preferable to debating whether Clemson, Oklahoma or Georgia would get left out of the BCS title game with 12-1 records, conference championships and comparable resumes.
Poll: Who would the BCS have left out?- Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) December 3, 2017
This is how the playoff may often look: Three clearly deserving teams with a debate for the fourth spot. No matter how it ends, it's going to be hard to make any argument that says the eventual winner of the playoff won't be a deserving national champion.