Monday, September 24, 2018
Colleges

Alabama joins Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia in playoff

Alabama is in.

The Crimson Tide got the nod over Ohio State and will play Clemson in the College Football Playoff on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma and Georgia will meet in the Rose Bowl semifinal a few hours earlier.

Tide or Buckeyes was the question facing the selection committee, the toughest call in the four-year history of the playoff.

The Tide had been more consistent and lost just once. The Buckeyes lost twice, including an embarrassing 31-point loss at unranked Iowa, but have the more impressive set of victories. Ohio State won the Big Ten while Alabama did not even win its Southeastern Conference division.

The committee rolled with the Tide, and for the first time the playoff will include two teams from the same conference. Alabama joins SEC champion Georgia and an all-SEC title game is possible.

Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the Iowa loss hurt Ohio State and the Buckeyes were not close enough to the Tide for the Big Ten championship result — a 27-21 win over previously unbeaten Wisconsin — to matter.

"As we saw Alabama play week in and week in out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team," Hocutt told ESPN. "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."

The committee protocol states conference championships are to be considered it the teams are close, like a tiebreaker.

"In this case the margins weren’t close enough to look at those other matters," Hocutt said.

Alabama (11-1) made it 4-for-4 in the playoff, the only team that has made them all. And for the third straight season, college football gets an Alabama-Clemson matchup in the playoff, though this time in the semifinals.

The Tide beat the Tigers in a classic national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, two seasons ago. The teams played another thriller last season and Clemson took the title in Tampa, Florida.

"Alabama’s been the standard for a long time," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Clemson (12-1) is making its third straight playoff appearance, but first without star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tigers won another Atlantic Coast Conference championship with Kelly Bryant as the quarterback.

Georgia (12-1) and Oklahoma (12-1) have never played. The Bulldogs have surged in their second season under coach Kirby Smart. After winning eight games last season, Georgia won the SEC for the first time since 2005.

Oklahoma is in the playoff for the second time and will likely bring the Heisman Trophy winner. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is the favorite to win the award next weekend. If so, Mayfield will be the third player to go from winning the Heisman on to the playoff, joining Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2014 and Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015.

The Alabama-Ohio State debate was the trickiest of the playoff era. Most talented or most accomplished? Neither team neatly matched precedent. Ohio State made it to the playoff without even playing in its conference title game last season, but those Buckeyes had a more convincing resume, with three victories against top-10 teams. Alabama could not match that.

Not only had no team ever made the playoff with two losses, but none had as ugly a stain on its resume as Ohio State’s 31-point loss at Iowa. Tide coach Nick Saban mentioned it Saturday night on ESPN as the selection committee went to work for the last time this season.

That the most controversial playoff pick yet came down to these two teams made it an even juicer plot line. Alabama has dominated college football for a decade since Saban took over. Ohio State is one of the few teams to interrupt the Tide’s championship machine during the Saban era, beating the Tide in the semifinals in 2014 on the way to a national title.

They are two of college football’s flagship programs, rich in both tradition. Also, they are the teams the rest of college football loves to hate, the teams that always seem to get the benefit of the doubt in the rankings.

In the Top 25 released earlier Sunday, Alabama was fourth by a mere seven points over No. 5 Ohio State, but the committee’s process is not the same of the traditional polls. The panel of 13 includes former and current athletic administrators, including the athletic director from Ohio State, and former coaches.

In 2014, fans of TCU and Baylor were upset when Ohio State jumped the Texas schools on championship weekend. Last year, Ohio State was involved in a bit of a controversy again when it didn’t win its conference but got in. The final spot came down to Penn State and Washington and the Huskies won out.

College Football Playoff semifinals, Jan. 1

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

No. 3 Georgia (12-1, SEC) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1 Big 12), 5 p.m., ESPN

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans)

No. 4 Alabama (11-1, SEC) vs. No. 1 Clemson (12-1, ACC), 8:45 p.m., ESPN

Comments
More on Dan Mullen’s return to ‘Stark Vegas’

More on Dan Mullen’s return to ‘Stark Vegas’

As expected, Gators coach Dan Mullen's upcoming return to Starkville, where he led Mississippi State to national relevance, emerged as the dominant subject during his regular Monday press conference. Here's what he had to say about his de facto homec...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Cue the cowbells: Mullen returning to Mississippi State

Cue the cowbells: Mullen returning to Mississippi State

GAINESVILLE — Sonically, the Gators are making a drastic transition during practice this week, from bluegrass to Blue Oyster Cult.Or so Dan Mullen jokes.The new Gators coach knows cowbell will serve as the cacophonous soundtrack for his return ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Matt Baker’s AP Top 25 ballot: Florida’s new top team

Matt Baker’s AP Top 25 ballot: Florida’s new top team

After four full weekends of college football, here's what I know:There is one great team (Alabama). There are three very good teams (Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson).After that? There are a lot of flawed teams with messy results that seem bunched tog...
Published: 09/23/18
UF morning after: Gators answering opportunity’s knock

UF morning after: Gators answering opportunity’s knock

For all the positive vibes they gleaned Saturday night before a gradually disappearing audience, the Gators know they still must conquer their consistency issues.Still too many three-and-outs and muffed progressions. Too few running lanes."The consis...
Published: 09/23/18
Joey Knight’s takeaways from Florida-Tennessee

Joey Knight’s takeaways from Florida-Tennessee

For all their defensive opportunism Saturday, make no mistake: The Gators probably remain a year or two away from seriously contending again in the SEC East Division. Still, it beats the Vols, who appear a light-year or two away.Jeremy Pruitt confirm...
Published: 09/22/18
Updated: 09/23/18
UF journal: A resounding return for LB David Reese

UF journal: A resounding return for LB David Reese

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Gator fans have spent the better part of September wondering if junior LB David Reese ever would get on the field.They spent the better part of Saturday hoping he'd never come off.Reese, whose 2018 debut was postponed by a hi...
Published: 09/22/18
Florida extends Tennessee’s recent SEC futility

Florida extends Tennessee’s recent SEC futility

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On an evening in which Tennessee honored its 1998 national championship squad, the current crop of Vols managed to offset the whole nostalgic shindig.By making the 2018 Gators resemble a national championship-caliber club.A o...
Published: 09/22/18
Deondre Francois throws 2 TDs as Seminoles hold off NIU 37-19

Deondre Francois throws 2 TDs as Seminoles hold off NIU 37-19

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State has been seeking improvement on offense after managing just 10 combined points in its two FBS losses. The Seminoles found some reasons to be optimistic for a turnaround on Saturday. Deondre Francois threw for a season-high...
Published: 09/22/18
A win for what ails the Seminoles

A win for what ails the Seminoles

TALLAHASSEE — For a moment early Saturday evening, it looked as if Willie Taggart was up to old tricks, running it up as he was wont to do when he had USF on the rise and feeling it.Here we go again?Northern Illinois was beaten for sure. The Hu...
Published: 09/22/18
N’Kosi Perry sparks No. 21 Miami past FIU, 31-17

N’Kosi Perry sparks No. 21 Miami past FIU, 31-17

MIAMI — Miami coach Mark Richt’s decision to send quarterback N’Kosi Perry into the game on the Hurricanes’ third possession Saturday was easy. His next decision might be tougher. Perry came off the bench to throw for 224 yards and three touchdowns, ...
Published: 09/22/18