INDIANAPOLIS – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The College Football Playoff selection committee untangled one of its most difficult logic pretzels with supreme confidence, picking Alabama over Ohio State on Sunday as the last team into the final four.
The committee set the field by taking the 11-1 Crimson Tide, who didn’t win the SEC West, over 11-2 Ohio State, which won the Big Ten title by knocking off previously unbeaten Wisconsin on Saturday.
Defending national champion Clemson (12-1) is the top seed and will play the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide for the third consecutive year in the postseason. Alabama beat the Tigers for the 2015 national title, with Clemson turning the tables last season.
No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) will play No. 3 Georgia in the other semifinal, in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Clemson-Alabama will take place the same day in the Sugar Bowl.
As debate raged over the value of league championships, quality victories, bad losses, strength of schedule and nonconference scheduling, the 13-member committee simply concluded that Alabama was the better team.
“Alabama was clearly the No. 4-ranked team in the country as a non-champion,” CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN.
“We spent a great amount of time last night and into the morning, and beginning again at 7:30 this morning, talking about the full body of work. The selection committee just favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State.
“And it was consistent. Over the course of the year, as we saw Alabama play week in and week out, the rankings show that when we start with a clean sheet each and every week, the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better football team.
“And it was hard. We spent a lot of time.”
For the first time, two teams from the same conference — Alabama and Georgia from the SEC — are among the final four teams.
For the second consecutive season, the Big Ten champion is left out.
Last season, the committee bypassed Big Ten champ Penn State to take Ohio State, which failed to win the Big Ten East. This year, the committee bypassed the Buckeyes, continuing its streak of not selecting a two-loss team.
Ohio State lost 31-16 at home to Oklahoma and 55-24 at Iowa one week after a thrilling comeback to edge Penn State 39-38. Alabama’s loss came in the regular-season finale at Auburn, which is seventh in the committee’s Top 25 after falling in the SEC title game to Georgia.
“You look at Ohio State — the win over Wisconsin, winning the Big Ten championship,” Hocutt said.
“When you look at their resume, the wins they have over CFP Top 25 teams, it was impressive, but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them over Alabama. … We’re confident we got it right that Alabama is that No. 4 team.”
Ohio State (11-2) finished fifth in the selection committee rankings. Wisconsin dropped from No. 4 to No. 6 after its first loss.
Alabama is the only team to appear in all four years of the playoffs. Clemson is making its third appearance. This is Oklahoma’s second appearance, and the first time for Georgia.
The Alabama-Clemson matchup has turned into a college football heavyweight fight after two entertaining national title games.
“Alabama has been the standard for a long time,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on ESPN. “We’ve had a couple of huge battles with them. Excited about it.”
Oklahoma and Georgia feature two contrasting units that will look to impose its will on the other.
The Sooners, behind near-certain Heisman winner Baker Mayfield at quarterback, lead the nation with 583.3 yards per game. The Bulldogs, led by linebacker Roquan Smith, are fourth in the country in total defense, yielding 270.9 yards per game.
The national title game will be held Jan. 8 in Atlanta