The inaugural College Football Playoff brought excitement, anticipation, controversy, and in the end a surprise champion as #4 Ohio State took the crown. It was a championship that would never have been possible for the Buckeyes without the playoff, but one they earned with wins over #1 Alabama and #2 Oregon. As we embark on playoff #2, we are more prepared for the notion that any of the four teams can win. In fact, the #4 team is actually the favorite of many to win it in Glendale, Arizona, on January 11.
But first things first: the national semifinals taking place on New Year’s Eve. In the first game, #1 Clemson will take on #4 Oklahoma in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Then in the second game, it will be #2 Alabama against #3 Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Oklahoma and Alabama have opened as favorites in those games and are the two teams playing the best football coming in. The Crimson Tide defeated Florida to win the SEC Championship last Saturday while the Sooners crushed Oklahoma State two weeks ago to take the Big XII. Clemson defeated North Carolina in the ACC Championship and Michigan State broke Iowa’s heart at the end to capture the Big Ten.
After Championship Saturday there was no drama as to who was in. There were only questions concerning ranking. It was a surprise to many that Michigan State jumped Oklahoma for #3. But the Spartans made the last impression in taking the Big Ten, overtaking Iowa with an epic 22-play, 9:04 drive scoring with 27 seconds remaining to win 16-13. Following a controversial 39-38 loss to Nebraska, the Spartans came alive and played like everyone expected, with their win at Ohio State giving them their opening. As for Oklahoma, an early loss to Texas did not hurt them as they bludgeoned their way through the rest of the Big XII.
Clemson and Alabama have been the top two teams in the last five committee rankings. The Tigers stand as the only undefeated team left. Each team is led by a Heisman Trophy finalist, Deshaun Watson for Clemson and Derrick Henry for Alabama. Clemson has an explosive offense, Alabama has the nation’s best defense. Alabama’s lone loss was to Ole Miss in a game where they had five turnovers. Jacob Coker nearly saved them that night, and has been the Tide’s starting quarterback ever since.
The committee does not only come up with the final four teams for the playoff, it also creates the match ups for the other four games that make up the New Year’s Six. New Year’s Eve’s first game will match Group of Five and American conference winner Houston against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. After the note drops and the calendar flips to 2016, on New Year’s Day we have Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl; Stanford vs. Iowa in The Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual; and Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It is the Rebels’ first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 1970.
The final committee rankings after the top four were led by Iowa and Stanford at five and six; Ohio State and Notre Dame at seven and eight; and the ACC’s Florida State and North Carolina at nine and 10. The second 10 consist of TCU, Ole Miss, Northwestern, Michigan, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Houston, Florida and LSU. The bottom five are Navy, Utah, Tennessee, Temple and Southern California.