You again, Alabama? It’s been how long, Michigan? Good to see you, Georgia. This way to orientation, Cincinnati.
The College Football Playoff selection committee on Sunday announced those four schools — representing three conferences, 31 claimed national championships and plenty of hopes, hypes and expletives — as the field that would vie for this season’s title.
Left out without meaningful dispute: Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma, among the bluest of blue bloods but programs that will be elsewhere on Jan. 10, when the championship game will be played in Indianapolis.
The selection committee’s choices for the four-team tournament were widely expected after conference championship games on Friday and Saturday. Sunday’s rankings were responsible, though, for settling the matchups for the semifinal games on Dec. 31.
No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, and No. 2 Michigan will meet No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl.
The Southeastern Conference again filled half the playoff field, and a rematch of its championship showdown, where Alabama defeated Georgia, is a prospect for the national title game. The Big Ten will be pleased, too, particularly about the opportunity to remind fans that Ohio State is not its lone power. And the American Athletic Conference, home to Cincinnati, will step into history as the first Group of 5 league to have a team appear in the playoff, which made its debut in the 2014 season and replaced the Bowl Championship Series.
The Atlantic Coast Conference missed the playoff field for the first time, while the Pac-12 Conference failed to qualify a team for the fifth consecutive season. The Big 12 Conference, which started the weekend with Oklahoma State ranked fifth but then saw the Cowboys lose to Baylor in the league’s title game, will be absent for the second straight year.
Alabama, which, under Coach Nick Saban, has won six national championships since 2009, enters the playoff with the momentum of its most recent game as its finest of the season. Alabama (12-1) arrived at the SEC championship game as the playoff’s third-ranked team and opened that contest against Georgia, which was then No. 1, slowly. But Bryce Young, now a favorite to become Alabama’s second consecutive Heisman Trophy winner, ultimately threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns; he also rushed for one against a Georgia defense that had been better than any other in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Alabama struggled in November, when it won three games by a touchdown or less, and it lost to Texas A&M in October. But Saturday’s demolition of Georgia’s perfect season, on top of 11 other wins, locked up a chance for the Tide to repeat as national champions. (Alabama routed Ohio State in last season’s title game.)
But Alabama may have some trouble ahead. Saban signaled on Saturday night that John Metchie III, who had 97 receiving yards on eight catches against Georgia before an injury late in the first half, was likely to miss the playoff.