After all the machinations leading up to it, Championship Weekend left in its wake no reason to debate the final iteration of the College Football Playoff field.
You’ve heard it by now: No. 1 LSU will play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta and No. 2 Ohio State will get No. 3 Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Both games will take place Dec. 28.
This is perfect, really. In the old days, if there were three unbeaten powerhouses standing at the end of the regular season, only two would get a chance to win the national championship. It’s not that way anymore. Now LSU, Ohio State and Clemson will get their shot. And it will be compelling.
It’s not often that four Power 5 conference champions make it all the way to the College Football Playoff. In fact, this is the first time since 2015 that it’s happened.
If there was a dicey decision to make, it would have been deciding between LSU and Ohio State for the No. 1 and No. 2 slots. You can easily define both as powerhouses. But it’s certainly hard to argue that any program has a better pedigree currently than LSU, especially after its recent wins over Alabama and Georgia.
Oklahoma earned its way into the No. 4 slot after Georgia and Utah lost convincingly in the SEC and Pac-12 Championships. And there’s little anyone can say about how LSU, Ohio State and Clemson stacked up ahead of the Sooners.
Admit it, what was the first thing you thought of when the field was announced? Could it have been how fabulous the Ohio State-Clemson game is going to be?
“I’ve seen Ohio State a few times, and they’re unbelievable,” Clemson’s Swinney said on ESPN. “We’ve played them a couple times (in the 2013 Orange Bowl and 2016 Fiesta Bowl), and this is easily the most talented and complete Ohio State team we’ve played.
“This team (Clemson) has prepared. They’ve trained and they’ve believed all year for this moment. So to see it come to fruition is pretty special.”
Frankly, in any other year, Clemson-Ohio State easily could have been for the national championship.
Different time, different teams: It will be a rematch of the 2016 Fiesta Bowl which Clemson won 31-0, handing Ohio State its first shutout since the 1993 season.
LSU had the best weekend of anyone. With certain Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow leading the way, the Tigers crushed Georgia in the SEC Championship. Their fifth win over a Top 10 team tied the record for the most since the AP poll was introduced in 1936.
“Our goal was to go to the SEC championship and win it; that was one of our goals,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said on ESPN. “But we’re not done yet. That wasn’t our final destination. I’m very proud of our offense, I’m very proud of our defense and all our coaches, but we still have some work to do.”
Ohio State earned the No. 2 slot with its 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes, who have won 19 straight, have taken three straight conference titles. But unlike LSU, the win was short on style points; the Buckeyes fell behind 14-0 after the Badgers scored on two of their first three drives.
Defending national champion Clemson came into the ACC Championship Game against Clemson feeling disrespected by the selection committee, which the Tigers felt was wishing they’d lose and drop naturally out of the Final Four.
It was Clemson’s goal to assert itself against overmatched Virginia. And that’s what happened during a 62-17 rout that left nothing to the imagination. The Tigers have now won 28 straight. They outscored opponents this year 605-138.
Not since 2004 have three Power 5 schools ended the regular season unbeaten. Three unbeatens were in the College Football Playoff last season, as well. But one was Notre Dame. And Clemson crushed the Irish, 30-3.
But if Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion, feels as it’s a big underdog, it should be comforted in knowing No. 4 seeds have won more titles in the past five years (two) than No. 1 seeds (0).
Oklahoma’s offense leads the nation in yards per play (8.15), but is last among the Playoff teams in points per game. The Sooners rank fifth (43.2 points per game). Ohio State is first (48.7), LSU is third (47.8) and Clemson is fourth (46.5).
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best projection to win the playoff – a 35 percent chance. LSU is at 29 percent, Clemson 28 percent and Oklahoma nine percent.