It started out as potentially the craziest college football Saturday in recent years, with as many as eight teams having a legitimate chance to qualify for the championship playoff.
Then the puzzle pieces slowly began to fit, and the formula took shape.
By the end of the night, three teams were in, with one huge question mark remaining.
Who would claim the fourth spot, fifth-ranked Alabama, with its 16 national championships, or eighth-ranked Ohio State, with eight titles to its credit?
Most experts seemed to think the Buckeyes’ victory over Wisconsin to win the Big 10 would propel OSU into the playoff, especially given Bama’s weak schedule.
Most experts were wrong.
The College Football Playoff Top 4: pic.twitter.com/JfoqQadhUV
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) December 3, 2017
So how did we get here? Let’s recap:
The top team in the country did its part, as defending national champion Clemson beat Miami 38-3.
Another one. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/kRu69MKdiy
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) December 3, 2017
Based on its No. 1 ranking heading into Saturday, it seemed like the Tigers would stay right there, and they did.
Second-ranked Auburn couldn’t overcome injuries or the physicality of Georgia, falling in another blowout, 28-7.
The Bulldogs were in the sixth spot last week, but their impressive victory avenged their only loss and propelled Kirby Smart’s team to No. 3.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 3, 2017
Oklahoma started Saturday as the committee’s third team but was facing a plucky TCU team looking for revenge for last month’s loss.
Baker Mayfield made sure that didn’t happen, and almost assuredly wrapped up the Heisman Trophy with yet another one-sided game, 41-17.
The Sooners were so impressive that they wrapped up the second seed for the playoffs.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) December 2, 2017
The blowouts were underway, and it certainly looked like the Big 10 championship game was heading in the same direction.
Ohio State dominated Wisconsin early. The Badgers were a tenuous fourth seed despite being undefeated. A weak schedule made it hard for the committee to believe in them.
Early on, it appeared to be a mismatch. J.T. Barrett shook off knee surgery last week, and it was 21-10 at the half. The Buckeyes’ athleticism was just too much for Wisconsin.
A decisive win would likely edge Ohio State past Alabama.
But, as the great Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend” — Wisconsin wasn’t done just yet.
A Chris James touchdown near the start of the fourth quarter cut the lead to 24-21, and we had a ballgame.
The Buckeyes held on to win 27-21, but their near-collapse had left the debate wide open: Ohio State or Alabama for that fourth spot?
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) December 3, 2017
Urban Meyer or Nick Saban?
Would Bama’s losing its last game to a red-hot Auburn team be counted as a strike against it? That was the only blemish on a perfect season.
On Saturday, Saban told ESPN’s Chris Low that his team belongs. “It shouldn’t matter when you lost. All that should matter is getting the four best teams, and it’s also supposed to be your whole body of work. “
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 3, 2017
Side note: Didn’t the coach call praise of his team “rat poison” a few weeks ago? But we digress.
Meyer agreed that body of work should be the deciding factor, saying Ohio State’s superior schedule made a compelling case.
“We played the three top-5 teams and won two of them,” the Buckeyes coach said. “It’s amazing how important this playoff is and how the whole world revolves around it. I hope we get a shot.”
According to playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, there were two critical factors conspiring against a Buckeye bid. First was a late loss to Iowa — and giving up 55 points in the process. Second was Wisconsin’s second-half comeback to make Ohio State sweat.
“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 résumé it was impressive, but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them in above Alabama.”
Ohio State finished fifth, while Wisconsin came in sixth.
The inclusion of Alabama to go with Georgia marks the first time in the three years of the playoff that two teams from the same conference both qualified.
OSU fans are not happy about it, to say the least.
WHATS THE POINT OF CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP?
— Jags (8-4) (@JAGSSUPERBOWL) December 3, 2017
1 ranked win vs a team who lost to Troy.
— goth.wav (@beatsbyamadxus) December 3, 2017
What a joke
— gocards govols (@DavidDowney260) December 3, 2017
Clemson will play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while Oklahoma will take on Georgia in the Rose Bowl.
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