On the menu for the fourth College Football Playoff is a heapin’ helping of Deep Southern-fried football. With a rich side dish of Baker Mayfield.
The selection committee grabbed Alabama over Ohio State for the fourth and final spot Sunday, choosing the eye test over the Buckeyes’ stronger resume. That sets up a decidedly regional playoff, with three teams rooted in the Southeast. Oklahoma is the interloper.
In the New Year’s Day semifinals, No. 1 Clemson will play No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, following No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl.
That left out the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions — No. 5 Ohio State and No. 8 Southern Cal — who conveniently will clash in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The three-time defending Big 12 champion Sooners, featuring Mayfield, the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner, and SEC champ Bulldogs have never met.
Clemson-Bama will hook up for the third consecutive year in the playoffs, the last two in classic title games. The ACC king Tigers won it all last year, and the Tide’s appearance makes the SEC the first conference to place two teams in the final four. Bama is the only team to make all four playoffs.
Oklahoma was the only Big 12 team to earn a New Year’s Six bowl invite. Runner-up TCU, ranked 15th, is Alamo Bowl-bound against No. 13 Stanford, the Pac-12 runner-up, giving the Dec. 28 San Antonio game the top matchup outside the major bowls.
The Big Ten pocketed three New Year’s Six bids, with No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami in the Orange Bowl and No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 11 Washington in the Fiesta.
Eight Big 12 teams are going bowling, including Texas to the Dec. 27 Academy Outdoors Texas Bowl against former conference rival Missouri.
Texas A&M will kick off the Jimbo Fisher era with a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to play Wake Forest in the Dec. 29 Belk Bowl.
Of the 16 teams to make the playoffs, 14 have been conference champions. The exceptions are Ohio State last year and Alabama this year. The Buckeyes went 2-1 against top-10 teams — the Crimson Tide was 0-1 vs. the top 15 — but were dragged down by a hideous 55-24 loss to Iowa.
“Week in and week out, we saw Alabama as the more consistent team over Ohio State,” said selection chairman Kirby Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director. “Alabama’s only loss was to Auburn in a competitive game. Ohio State had two, including a 31-point loss to an unranked team.”
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer understood.
“I thought our strong resume would carry us through, but I get it,” he said. “We had a road loss that was tough to overcome.”
Mayfield, expected to run away with the Heisman voting this week, will be tested by Georgia’s top-3 defense.
“Baker Mayfield is a showman. He makes college football a lot more exciting,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “He stretches and extends plays, extremely explosive, not afraid to make any throws. It’s really almost like when you watch Brett Favre back in the day. Seems like he’s been around forever.”
Oklahoma and Mayfield reached the CFP in 2015 and were routed by Clemson 37-17. The Sooners have a good history against the SEC, though, winning their last four and 7-3 in their last 10.
Other Big 12 team destinations:
- Texas Tech will be in the league’s only pre-Christmas game, the Dec. 23 Birmingham Bowl against Charlie Strong’s South Florida.
- Kansas State, which closed strong, will face UCLA in the Dec. 26 Cactus Bowl.
- West Virginia drew the Pac-12’s Utah in the Dec. 26 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
- Oklahoma State will fling its NCAA-leading passing offense at Virginia Tech in the Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl in Orlando.
- Iowa State, the league’s surprise team, will play Memphis on the Tigers’ home field in the Dec. 30 Liberty Bowl. Expect a quick sellout there.
Elsewhere, North Texas will break in the 40-game postseason by playing in the first game, the Dec. 16 New Orleans Bowl against Sun Belt co-champ Troy.
Ex-Lake Travis coach Chad Morris’ SMU team, snapping a five-year postseason drought, stays close to home in the Dec. 20 Frisco Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech.
Houston, in former Longhorn Major Applewhite’s first full season as head coach, wins the travel award. The Cougars landed the Hawaii Bowl gig against Fresno State on Christmas Eve.