Soon­ers snag 4th spot

Alabama, Clem­son, Notre Dame take top three spots

The Progress-Index - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

Faced with a tricky choice, the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off se­lec­tion com­mit­tee played it safe and fell back on some sim­ple cri­te­ria: One loss is bet­ter than two. Win­ning a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship is bet­ter than not. Go with the team that avoided get­ting blown out.

Ok­la­homa is in the play­off over Ge­or­gia and Ohio State, mov­ing into the fourth and fi­nal spot Sun­day af­ter the Soon­ers avenged their only loss by win­ning the Big 12 cham­pi­onship against Texas.

“I feel like we have a team wor­thy of it, a team that can go make a run,” Soon­ers coach Lin­coln Ri­ley said on ESPN.

The Soon­ers (12-1) will face No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Or­ange Bowl on Dec. 29 in a matchup of Heis­man Tro­phy front-run­ner quar­ter­backs — Kyler Mur­ray of Ok­la­homa and the Tide’s Tua Tago­v­ailoa, who sprained his an­kle in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game Satur­day and is ex­pected to be laid up for two weeks.

No. 2 Clem­son (13-0) plays No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cot­ton Bowl on the same day. The win­ners meet in the cham­pi­onship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia.

The rest of the New Year’s Six bowl matchups are UCF vs. LSU in the Fi­esta Bowl; Florida vs. Michi­gan in the Peach Bowl; Ohio State vs. Wash­ing­ton in the Rose Bowl; and Texas vs. Ge­or­gia in the Sugar Bowl.

Ge­or­gia (11-2) dropped a spot to fifth and Ohio State (12-1) re­mained sixth in the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee’s fi­nal top 25. The Bull­dogs lost to Alabama in the SEC cham­pi­onship game Satur­day and the Buck­eyes won the Big Ten against North­west­ern. The Soon­ers paid back a three-point loss to Texas in a Red River Ri­valry re­match.

The 13-mem­ber se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, given the in­ten­tion­ally vague task of pick­ing the four best teams in col­lege foot­ball, was watch­ing games and de­lib­er­at­ing at a ho­tel in Grapevine, Texas, un­til 1:30 a.m. CT Sun­day, com­mit­tee chair­man Rob Mul­lens said. The com­mit­tee fin­ished its top four at 10:30 a.m. CT.

Alabama, Clem­son and Notre Dame sep­a­rated from the pack by go­ing un­de­feated.

The tough call was at No. 4. Mul­lens said the com­mit­tee de­ter­mined none of Ok­la­homa, Ge­or­gia and Ohio State was un­equiv­o­cally best and that brought the se­lec­tion pro­to­col into play. The pro­to­col says con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships, head-to-head re­sults, strength of sched­ule and com­par­a­tive out­comes are used as vir­tual tiebreak­ers when teams are close. No fac­tor is weighted more than another.

“This is an art, not a sci­ence,” said Mul­lens, who is the ath­letic di­rec­tor at Oregon.

Ok­la­homa’s con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship gave it the edge over Ge­or­gia. The Bull­dogs’ strength of

sched­ule, with losses to ranked teams, gave Ge­or­gia the edge over Ohio State, Mul­lens said.

Ok­la­homa is mak­ing its third ap­pear­ance in the five-year-old play­off. De­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Alabama has played in them all. Clem­son is mak­ing its fourth straight ap­pear­ance. Notre Dame is in the play­off for the first time, mak­ing it 10 teams in five sea­sons to par­tic­i­pate in the play­off. Un­beaten UCF fin­ished eighth in the fi­nal rank­ings, nowhere to be found in the com­mit­tee’s play­off dis­cus­sion. The Knights will put their 25-game win­ning streak on the line against another SEC team af­ter beat­ing Auburn in the Peach Bowl last sea­son.

The de­bate lead­ing up to cham­pi­onship Satur­day was whether Ok­la­homa or Ohio State would take the fourth spot if Alabama beat Ge­or­gia.

The wild card was Ge­or­gia beat­ing the mighty Tide, which could have meant two SEC teams for the sec­ond straight sea­son. In­stead, the Bull­dogs lost but played well enough to al­low coach Kirby Smart to make that case that Ge­or­gia should re­main in the top four. Smart told re­porters af­ter the SEC ti­tle game to ask Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban which team he would like to avoid in the play­off? Sa­ban, of course, en­dorsed his for­mer de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and con­fer­ence-mate.

The com­mit­tee didn’t buy it and stayed with the one con­sis­tent data point through­out the five years of play­off se­lec­tions: No team with more than one loss has ever made the play­off.

Also, Mul­lens noted, only two of 20 play­off teams have not won a con­fer­ence ti­tle.

For the sec­ond straight sea­son, two Power Five con­fer­ences were left out of the play­off. Again it was the Big Ten and Pac-12.

“The CFP com­mit­tee does its best and I ap­pre­ci­ate their com­mit­ment to col­lege foot­ball,” Big Ten Com­mis­sioner Jim De­lany told the AP in a text mes­sage. “Not frus­trated at all be­cause I know we have three teams ca­pa­ble of win­ning it all, but only have four play­off slots.”

Ohio State was the first team out last sea­son and again was squeezed be­cause of a lop­sided loss to an un­ranked team. The Buck­eyes were blown out by Pur­due in Oc­to­ber, sim­i­lar to the way they lost at Iowa in 2017.

“A three-point loss to a ranked team on a neu­tral field is dif­fer­ent than the only loss amongst that peer group to an un­ranked team, and ob­vi­ously we did take note that Ge­or­gia’s two losses were against the No. 1 team in our rank­ings and what ul­ti­mately ended up be­ing the No. 11 team (LSU),” Mul­lens said. “Sure, that was part of the dis­cus­sion, but it was just one part of it.”

Ge­or­gia has been rolling since los­ing by 20 at LSU in Oc­to­ber and had Alabama on the ropes be­fore the Tide erased a 14-point deficit. The Bull­dogs proved they could hang against the best, but it was not enough to sway the com­mit­tee into mak­ing an un­prece­dented play­off pick.

[JEFFREY MCWHORTER/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray hoists the Most Out­stand­ing Player tro­phy af­ter beat­ing Texas 39-27 in the Big 12 Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship on Satur­day in Arlington, Texas.

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