Nov 29, 2015 12:36 AM
PLAYOFF PULSE: Final 4 field falls into place for committee
The Associated Press
The College Football Playoff selection committee is set up to have a pretty easy championship weekend.
Clemson is in with a win.
Alabama is in with a win.
The winner of the Big Ten championship game between Iowa and Michigan State gets in.
And Oklahoma pretty much sealed up its spot on Saturday night with a 58-23 win at Oklahoma State in its finale.
Barring surprises in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game or the Southeastern Conference title game next Saturday, Jeff Long's crew should be able to get a decent night's sleep before revealing the field.
The committee might want to send Stanford a thank you note. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, it probably won't come with an invitation to the final four.
The Cardinal beat Notre Dame 38-36 on a last-second field goal, handing the Fighting Irish (10-2, No. 6 CFP) their second loss of the season. Notre Dame at 11-1 probably would have forced the committee to at least reconsider whether the Fighting Irish belonged in over maybe the Big 12 champion Sooners or the Big Ten champion.
Not a problem anymore.
Stanford heads to the Pac-12 championship game against USC, hoping for an upset in the ACC or SEC.
Clemson has to get through North Carolina, which has won 11 straight since an opening loss to South Carolina. The Tar Heels (11-1, No. 14 CFP) haven't gotten much love from the committee without marquee victories on their resume and two FCS wins. Beating Clemson (12-0, No. 1 CFP) would be about as big as it gets, but North Carolina has a long way to jump.
Maybe Florida can throw the committee a curve? The Gators (10-2, No. 12 CFP) trudge into the SEC championship game against Alabama (11-1, No. 2 CFP), coming off a 27-2 loss to Florida State. A Florida victory next week would likely leave the SEC out of the playoff. More likely though, the SEC championship will be an opportunity for Crimson Tide tailback Derrick Henry to wrap up the Heisman after he went for 271 yards on a school-record 46 carries in a victory against Auburn on Saturday.
Who else is hoping for chaos? Hello, Ohio State (11-1, No. 8 CFP).
The Buckeyes were a week too late with their best performance of the season, pounding Michigan 42-13 behind Ezekiel Elliott, who got plenty of touches and ran all over the Wolverines.
Ohio State might have to settle for the Rose Bowl as a pretty cool consolation prize.
WHO'S NO. 1
Rivalry games can be tricky and both Clemson and Alabama had difficultly pulling away in their annual in-state grudge matches.
The Tigers again gave the selection committee some reason to reconsider whether they should be No. 1. Deshaun Watson was great, running for three touchdowns and passing for another, but the Clemson defense had a tough time containing South Carolina in a 37-32 victory.
"I'm just looking to be 13-0 next week," said Watson, who bolstered his Heisman Trophy credentials.
Clemson takes a 15-game winning streak into the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
A more dominant performance by Alabama, which beat Auburn 29-13, might have given the committee reason to flip the Tide and Tigers. While Alabama's overall resume features more wins against good teams, Clemson gets the edge in big victories with wins against Notre Dame and Florida State.
Body of work probably still goes to the Tigers.
What's on the line is home-field advantage of sorts.
The No. 1 seed gets to play as close to home as possible. That would put Clemson in the Orange Bowl in Miami if it's still the top team. The Cotton Bowl in North Texas will host the other semifinal. Ideally, the committee would not want put a team seeded third or fourth too close to home, but if the rankings stay as is with Oklahoma at No. 3, the Sooners would get a short trip to the Dallas area to play the Tide.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP