TAMPA – (Wire Service Report) – The guessing game is over. But the second-guessing has just started. Alabama will be gunning for back-to-back College Football Championship titles, and the Crimson Tide’s next step will be against the Washington Huskies. The College Football Playoff committee revealed the top four teams on Sunday who will vie for the third CFP title.
Despite having a nonconference schedule ranked 127 out of 128, Pac-12 champion Washington earned its way into the mix. The CFP committee awarded the Huskies the fourth and final spot on Sunday over Big Ten champion Penn State, which was ranked fifth.
Alabama was ranked No. 1, to no one’s surprise. Last year, the Crimson Tide outlasted Clemson 40-35. The pairings have set up a potential rematch.
Clemson, which defeated Virginia Tech 42-35 for the ACC championship, was ranked No. 2.
Ohio State, which lost to Penn State 24-21, was ranked third. The Buckeyes, a nonconference champion, have wins against three Top 10 teams and went on the road to beat Oklahoma.
Penn State won the Big Ten East to earn a spot in the conference title game against Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions suffered two losses, one a 39-point loss to Michigan and a 42-39 loss to Pittsburgh.
“(Washington’s) strength of schedule has been a concern,” said chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee Kirby Hocutt. “If Washington had a stronger strength of schedule, I don’t think the conversation would have been as difficult.”
The Crimson Tide (13-0) will play the Huskies (12-1) in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. The Tigers (12-1) and Buckeyes (11-1) will tangle in the Fiesta Bowl that same day.
The winners of each semifinal will meet for the national title on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.
In selecting Ohio State over Penn State, Hocutt said the mission of the committee was to identify the best teams, and that winning a conference title was just one of many things to consider.
Alabama is in the playoff for the third straight season, while Ohio State, which won the first CFP title, and Clemson are both making their second CFP appearances.
Las Vegas installed Alabama as an early 14-point favorite over Washington. Ohio State is a 3-point favorite over Clemson.
While the Nittany Lions might be disappointed about not getting into the playoff, they have landed nicely on their feet.
The “consolation prize” for the Nittany Lions will be a Jan. 2 date in the Rose Bowl with Southern California. The matchup of the two hottest teams in the country should offer plenty of intrigue.
The Trojans (9-3) got blasted by Alabama in the first game of the season and were sitting at 1-3 after a loss to Utah. Now, USC is riding an eight-game winning streak and is led by redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who has thrown 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions since taking over in a loss to Utah.
Penn State (11-2) has a nine-game winning streak and is led by junior quarterback Trace McSorely. He completed 22 of 31 passes for a Big Ten championship game-record 384 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin.
Western Michigan, this season’s Cinderella team, and coach P.J. Fleck earned a date in the Cotton Bowl where the Broncos will face Wisconsin.
Western Michigan, the MAC champion, was one of two teams to go undefeated — the other school was Alabama. The Broncos (13-0) earned the automatic bid from the “Group of Five” as the highest ranked champion from the American, Mid-American, Sun Belt, C-USA and Mountain West conferences.
Wisconsin (10-3) had an outside chance to crack the top CFP playoffs, but lost the Big Ten title game to Penn State on Saturday. The Badgers’ three losses were to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Michigan, which also had hopes of crashing the playoff party, will head to Miami and the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 where Florida State will be awaiting. The Wolverines went 10-2, losing two of their last three to Iowa and Ohio State. The Seminoles finished the season 9-3, their final game an impressive win over Florida.
The Sugar Bowl pits Big 12 champion Oklahoma against Auburn. The Sooners (10-2), like Penn State and USC, are on a significant win streak — they have not lost since a Week 3 beat down to Ohio State. Auburn (8-4) ended the season losing two of three, but does have a potent running attack, which is ranked sixth in the country.
The only time the two teams have ever played was in the 1972 Sugar Bowl when Oklahoma defeated Auburn 40-22