It’s that time of the year again in the world of college football. With conference championship week in the books, the buzz all around the nation surrounds one question: Who’s in? That question was answered on Sunday afternoon when the College Football Playoff field was announced. Let’s take a look at who’s in.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The consensus No.1 team in the nation turned in a 13-0 campaign and an SEC championship to follow their 2017 National Championship. For much of the season, sophomore quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa tore apart opposing defenses. The Crimson Tide cruised to 20+ point wins over some of the best teams in the nation including Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State. The Tide finished the season fourth in total offense and sixth in total defense, proving that they are capable of dominating teams on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest scare of the season came in the SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs. In the first quarter, the No. 4 Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-7 lead. A seven point Georgia lead lasted into the fourth quarter when Alabama’s biggest star, Tagovailoa, went down with an injury. All hope was seemingly lost for the Tide, until junior Jalen Hurts entered the game. Hurts led Alabama to two straight National Championship appearances before being benched in favor of Tagovailoa in last year’s National Championship game. With the Tide down late in last year’s game, it was Tagovailoa leading the comeback over the Bulldogs. This year, Hurts flipped the script as he delivered the dagger that ended the Bulldogs’ championship hopes. Hurts led Alabama down the field for two late scoring drives and secured the 35-28 victory over their SEC foe. It will be interesting to see how the Alabama quarterback situation progresses over the next month. With Tagovailoa out for at least two weeks with an ankle injury, there is some speculation as to whether Jalen Hurts could win the starting job back over the sophomore phenom. Either way, Alabama is the team to beat in this year’s playoff. The ‘team to beat” has not fared well in past College Football Playoffs however, as the No.1 team has yet to bring home the hardware in its four year history. Nick Saban and the Tide will look to change that narrative this year.
With a 42-10 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the ACC Championship, the Tigers secured a 13-0 season and their fourth straight ACC title. After being knocked out of the 2017 College Football Playoff by Alabama, it was clear from day one what this team’s mission was. All season long, Clemson and Alabama seemed destined for their fourth straight matchup in the College Football Playoff, and now, each team is one win away from making it happen. While Clemson’s offense led by Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins has generated a lot of hype throughout the season, Clemson’s biggest asset is their star-studded defensive line. Clemson’s D-Line is loaded with four future NFL Players including three projected first-round draft picks. While Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant could all be making millions in the NFL right now, they came back to Clemson because they had unfinished business. Clemson has seemingly gotten better and better as the season has progressed, and it will be interesting to see if this team can play their best games on the biggest stage. They will enter a first-round matchup with Notre Dame as 11.5 point favorites to return to the National Championship game.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame will enter their first ever College Football Playoff appearance with a 12-0 record on the line. With an extra week of rest because of their lack of a conference, the Fighting Irish will come into the matchup against Clemson looking to pull off a big upset. Notre Dame has survived some close calls this semester with one-possession wins over USC, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Ball State and Michigan. To their credit, they have found a way to win in each of their matchups, and they will look to do the same on Dec. 29. In their last matchup with Clemson in 2015, the Fighting Irish gave the Tigers a run for their money in a 24-22 loss that saw them score 19 fourth quarter points in Death Valley. 2015 is very different than 2018 however, but expect the same level of competition in this year’s matchup.
With a 39-27 win over Texas, Oklahoma notched their fourth straight Big 12 Championship and avenged their lone loss of the season. After losing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield to the NFL, questions surrounded the team’s ability to return to the College Football Playoff. Junior Kyler Murray has stepped in seamlessly and been thrown squarely into the Heisman race. After Tagovailoa’s struggles against Georgia and Murray’s electric performance against Texas, some voters may put Murray ahead of Tagovailoa in their voting. With Murray at the helm, Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense, total yards and total offensive touchdowns. Oklahoma will present the Crimson Tide with their biggest offensive threat of the season. While Oklahoma’s offense has been electric, their defense has been downright awful. The Sooners rank 111th in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 449 yards per game. The fourth ranked Alabama offense is licking their lips at the thought of matching up with the Sooners’ porous defense, and a lot of pressure will be on Murray and the Sooner offense to make up for their defense’s shortcomings. Expect a shootout between the Crimson Tide and the Sooners on Dec. 29.
First Team Out: Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs have to be sick after their fourth quarter performances against Alabama over the past two years. In 2017, the Bulldogs were a few minutes away from a National Championship before they let Tagovailoa and Alabama storm back and win. This year, they were a few minutes away from avenging their loss and securing a spot in the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they experienced a bad case of déjà vu. Despite pitches from head coach Kirby Smart and Nick Saban, the Bulldogs’ two-loss resume simply wasn’t strong enough to justify putting them in the four team field.
After the game, Saban said, “They are one of the four best teams in the country. I don't want to play them again. That is the ultimate compliment I can give them." Until the field was released, Georgia fans were hoping for a repeat of last year when Alabama snuck into the College Football Playoff without the benefit of a conference championship. The difference however, was that Alabama had only suffered one loss compared to two from Georgia. Additionally, Alabama ousted a two-loss Ohio State team in 2017 while Georgia faced competition from two one-loss conference champions. The Bulldogs will have to settle for a New Year’s Six Bowl appearance in another season that will cause Bulldog fans to ask, “What if?” for years to come.
Second Team Out: Ohio State Buckeyes
After being the first team out last season in a 11-2 conference championship season, the Buckeyes are on the outside looking in once again in 2018. In most years, a one-loss conference champion gets into the playoffs. Unfortunately for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, the competition was too strong this season. For the second straight season, the Buckeyes missing the playoff is a direct result of a loss to a mediocre team in the regular season. Last year, a 31 point loss to an Iowa team that lost five games prevented the committee from putting them in the field. This year, a 29 point loss to a Purdue team that has already lost six games put the Buckeyes in a hole they couldn’t overcome. While Buckeye fans will claim that their resume is stronger than fellow one-loss conference champion Oklahoma, the Sooners’ three-point loss to Texas which they later avenged is much more reasonable than the Buckeyes’ blowout loss. While another Rose Bowl appearance is nothing to be ashamed of, the Buckeyes know that if they had shown up in West Lafayette in what should have been an easy victory, they could have been competing for another National Championship.
It’s worth noting that UCF, a team that has compiled 25 straight wins, is not listed in the top six. Despite the impressive win streak, the committee has been consistent in not rewarding teams that have a weak schedule. UCF’s 13 wins this season came against 13 teams that will likely finish the season outside the top 25. It has to be frustrating for a team that is seemingly doing everything right to be left out of the College Football Playoff, but the field is simply too small for the committee to guess at how good UCF really is. Perhaps another disappointing result will push the Knights to finally join a power five conference. We’re looking at you, ACC Commissioner John Swofford.
Regardless of pleas from UCF fans and tears from Georgia and Ohio State faithful, the College Football Playoff field is set and filled with compelling storylines. From the Heisman frontrunner standoff between Tagovailoa and Murray to a potential Alabama versus Clemson part four, there are countless matchups that fans can’t wait to see. Fans will have to contain their excitement for a few more weeks until the madness begins on Dec. 29.