CFP committee pairs Clemson-OU, Bama-MSU

The College Football Playoff will feature four conference champions for the second consecutive year, as Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma will play for the national championship.

There was little drama Sunday for the playoff selection committee, which announced its choices after deliberating throughout the weekend in Grapevine, Texas. Jeff Long, chairman of the CFP selection committee, said the decision was easy to select the top four teams for the College Football Playoff, calling Clemson “clearly the No. 1 team in the country.”

Clemson, the ACC champion and only remaining unbeaten team in the FBS, retained its top spot after beating North Carolina on Saturday night. The Tigers, seeking their first national title since 1981, will face No. 4 Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion, on Dec. 31 in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Alabama, which won its second consecutive SEC championship Saturday against Florida, finished No. 2 in the committee’s final rankings. The Crimson Tide will face No. 3 Michigan State on Dec. 31 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

“We stayed focused, we stayed the course, we stayed committed to our mentality and our preparation each and every week,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on ESPN. “Our leadership was phenomenal. We weren’t always pretty, but championship teams find ways to win and that’s what this team has done time and time again.”

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened Alabama as a 9-point favorite over Michigan State. The SuperBook made Oklahoma a 2.5-point favorite over Clemson.

Close to 30,000 Tigers fans showed up to Memorial Stadium for a slice of pizza and a chance to celebrate Clemson’s No. 1 ranking, fulfilling a promise Swinney had made last month.

In an effort to downplay the significance of previous polls, Swinney promised “the world’s largest pizza party” if Clemson was No. 1 in the final poll. Clemson brought in 2,500 pizzas, and fans stood in long lines to get a slice before watching the playoff pairings on the videoboard and hearing from Swinney and the team.

“I don’t know what happened at the other three schools, but I doubt it was like this,” Swinney said of the celebration. “This was crazy. our fans are amazing. I think they all just traveled down from Charlotte with no sleep as well.”

Coach Nick Saban’s team is the only repeat participant from the inaugural playoff. Alabama, seeking its fourth national title under Saban, fell to eventual national champion Ohio State last year in a playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.

Michigan State, seeking its first national championship since 1966, rallied to beat Iowa on Saturday to claim its second Big Ten championship in the past three seasons. The win pushed the Spartans past the Sooners for the No. 3 ranking.

Long said that bumping Michigan State past Oklahoma had nothing to do with avoiding the possibility of having the Sooners play close to home in in the Dallas area. He said the Spartans’ “body of work was just slightly ahead of Oklahoma.”

The Crimson Tide and Spartans have played once — a 49-7 Alabama victory in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. It was the worst bowl loss in Michigan State history and second-largest bowl win for Alabama.

Oklahoma didn’t play Saturday but punched its playoff ticket last week by beating Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 championship. The Sooners are aiming for their first national title since 2000 — coach Bob Stoops’ second year at the school. They are making a record 19th appearance in the Orange Bowl, where they are 12-6 all time.

The Orange Bowl semifinal is also a rematch of last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl, where Clemson cruised to a 40-6 win over Oklahoma.

“Last year’s game, people will talk about that, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” Swinney said.

The winners of the two semifinals will meet Jan. 11 in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, held at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

The Big 12 was left out of the inaugural playoff, as co-champs Baylor and TCU finished Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, in the final committee rankings.

This year, the Pac-12 is the Power 5 conference not included in the four-team playoff. Stanford won the Pac-12 title Saturday by beating USC, but losses to Northwestern and Oregon prevented the Cardinal from a national championship push.

Last year’s playoff featured conference champions from the SEC (Alabama), Big Ten (Ohio State), ACC (Florida State) and Pac-12 (Oregon).

The rest of the rankings and pairings for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, Allstate Sugar Bowl, BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will be revealed later Sunday afternoon.

ESPN’s David M. Hale and David Purdum, ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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