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Fennelly: Tampa, behold your College Football Playoff title game hopefuls

We have our Final Four.

The Florida Gators are still being dusted for fingerprints.

Be on the lookout in Tampa Bay for a short coach brandishing a large dynasty.

It's Alabama. It's Nick Saban.

He's even bringing Lane Kiffin with him. We think.

But who is going to keep the defending national champion Crimson Tide from lifting the trophy in Raymond James Stadium after the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 9?

Security plans are already being beefed up to prevent Jim Harbaugh from holding a satellite camp in the parking lot.

We have our Final Four.

Two will head our way.

Pac-12 champion Washington against SEC overlord Alabama in one semifinal. ACC champ Clemson against proud Big Ten East second-place finisher Ohio State. Sorry. It needed to be said.

Who in the name of Bear Bryant can stop the Saban and the Death Star?

I had Alabama first in my rankings. I had the Alabama defense third.

And now the playoff selection committee has spoken.

The message to No. 5 Penn State: Don't lose twice, don't lose to Michigan by 39 points. The message to No. 6 Michigan: Don't lose two of your last three games.

We have our Final Four.

Forget that concept of conference championships and head-to-head matchups lost big time in the case of Penn State.

On to the games.

On to Saban laying down more Bear tracks.

On to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who watched Sunday's playoff selection show from a maternity ward, where he became a grandfather for the first time. A birth before a berth.

Meyer reportedly was so overjoyed that he didn't even schedule a recruiting visit for that one really big baby he spotted behind the glass.

By the way, granddad, save some smiles for Tampa just in case you get back here to try to win a fourth national championship.

Don't forget the possibility of Buckeyes defensive coordinator and former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano returning to Tampa Bay. Schiano back at Ray Jay, playing for it all. First-team all-irony.

Then there's a Clemson team that's back in the playoff again, having come up short against Alabama in last season's title game. You have a say-anything coach in Dabo Swinney, a sensational Heisman hopeful in Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson — and, best of all, a generous portion of Tampa Bay talent, like receivers Deon Cain, Artavis Scott and Ray Ray McCloud, and injured offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen.

"Coming home, that's the goal," McCloud said. "It's going to be a show."

And there is the show's mystery guest. How many of us managed to make it through one Washington night game this season without falling asleep? It was because it was late, not because the Huskies are boring. Better late than No. 5.

Washington, with head coach Chris Petersen and its balanced attack, will be the first to test Alabama dominance. Maybe Petersen, who used to coach Boise State, can whip out the old hook-and-ladder play Boise used to stun Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Better bring more than that.

But remember: Ohio State stunned Alabama in a national semifinal two seasons ago. Meyer and the Buckeyes steamrolled to a championship. And Clemson did keep it close against Alabama in last season's title game.

But is anyone really close to Alabama this time around?

I can make a really good argument for Penn State being in this playoff.

And I'll miss Crazy Jim and his Wolverines.

Coronations can be very boring.

But it's not about who won't be in Tampa.

It's about who might be on that Monday night in January.

Like McCloud said, it's going to be a show.

College Football Playoff

Peach Bowl, semifinal

No. 4 Washington (12-1, Pac-12) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0, SEC),

3 p.m. Dec. 31. TV: ESPN

Fiesta Bowl, semifinal

No. 2 Clemson (12-1, ACC) vs. No. 3 Ohio State

(11-1, Big Ten), 7 p.m. Dec. 31.


National championship

At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa; 8 p.m. Jan. 9. TV: ESPN

Fennelly: Tampa, behold your College Football Playoff title game hopefuls 12/04/16 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2016 7:58am]
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