College football playoffs: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama earn berths

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

The verdict is in, but the debate will continue. Alabama earned the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff that was announced Sunday.

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Clemson (12-1) was ranked No. 1 , followed by Oklahoma (12-1), Georgia (12-1) and Alabama (11-1).

The top three teams locked up the top three spots locked up after winning their conference championship games Saturday.

Clemson, the defending national champion will host the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl at 8:45 p.m. ET in New Orleans.  Earlier in the day, Oklahoma will meet Georgia in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. ET in Pasadena, California. Both games will be televised by ESPN.

It will be the third straight year Clemson and Alabama will meet in the playoffs and a rematch of the last two national title games. Clemson won the title last season, while Alabama won it two years ago.

This year’s semifinal winners will meet Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Alabama was idle over the weekend, but the lone loss by the Crimson Tide came against Auburn, another top-10 team.

“You want to get the four best teams in the playoff,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN before the pairings were announced. “You got to look at the total body of work that the team did for the entire season, and I would say that if we lost to a team in our conference that was not ranked by 30 points, that you wouldn't be having this conversation. You wouldn't be talking to me.”

Saban was referring to Ohio State's 55-24 loss at unranked Iowa on Nov. 4.

CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the Iowa loss hurt Ohio State down, ESPN reported.

"As we saw Alabama play week in and week in out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team,'' Hocutt said. "When we looked at Ohio State, when you looked at their resume it was impressive but it wasn't enough for the selection committee to place them in above Alabama."

Even though Alabama did not win its division in the Southeastern Conference, the playoff committee had set a precedent in 2016 by allowing Ohio State into the playoffs, even though the Buckeyes did not win their own division in the Big Ten that year.

Ohio State made a strong case to secure the final spot with a 27-21 victory against No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game. Although no team has ever reached the CFP with more than one loss, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer pleaded the case for the Buckeyes (11-2).

“Two wins over top-four teams this year, another blowout win against a (No.) 12 team in America,” Meyer told ESPN. “And so we played three top-five teams, and we won two of them. It’s just amazing how important this playoff is and how the whole world revolves it.”

Georgia and Oklahoma have never met. The Bulldogs are seeking their second national title and have not finished a season No. 1 since the 1980 season. This year, Georgia won the SEC for the first time since 2005.

Oklahoma is in the playoff for the second time and features quarterback Baker Mayfield, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

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