The Oklahoma Sooners entered Saturday as the No. 5 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings, but winning the Big 12 Championship was impressive enough to award them the final spot. The Sooners leaped over Georgia, who lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship.
The Crimson Tide, who has been the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll since preseason, stayed there. They were followed by No. 2 Clemson, who won the ACC Championship over Pitt, 42-10. No. 3 Notre Dame is not in a conference, and did not play on Saturday.
Georgia’s loss began a debate with the committee on which team should be No. 4. The contenders were the Bulldogs, No. 5 Oklahoma, and No. 6 Ohio State.
“In the end one-loss conference champion with their only loss being on a neutral field to a ranked team, which they avenged in their conference championship,” selection committee chairman Rob Mullens said. “Every combination was vetted, looking at their full body of work, their resumes side-by-side. In the end, what we decided was amongst the group of three, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, the committee voted that no one was unequivocally better than the other so then we leaned on the protocol. So we went with the one-loss conference champion.”
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he believes his team can win the national championship.
“I get that there are other great teams out there, but I feel very confident this team can go forward and continue to win,” Riley said. “I think our best ball is ahead of us. We’ve got some great players behind us I think that a lot of people don’t want to play.”
Minimal Debate for No. 4
Ohio State easily defeated Northwestern in the Big 10 Conference Championship, 45-24, but had a glaring gaffe on its season. The Buckeyes lost to unranked Purdue by 29 points earlier in the season, and that effectively ended any chance.
OSU coach Urban Meyer was not happy with the decision to be ranked behind two-loss Georgia, and was critical of the process.
“Sometimes I see the criteria, and the criteria’s not fitting what’s happening,” he said. “That was a tough job, now. Those are three really good teams. … We’re one of those great teams that obviously didn’t make it. That’s a tough decision to make.”
Georgia Punts Away Chance
Georgia was No. 4 and had an opportunity to take the debate away from the committee by upsetting Alabama, but faltered down the stretch. The Bulldogs, who were a 13-point underdog, were tied with Nick Saban’s team with 3:11 remaining in the game. Georgia was facing a 4th and 11, and tried a fake punt that only gained two yards.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart defended the play, but it turned out to change the momentum of the contest. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who replaced injured starter Tua Tagovailoa, led a five-play, 52-yard touchdown drive to give Alabama the lead for good. Hurts ran the ball in from 15 yards out for the game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left in the contest, after the Crimson Tide erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half.
Despite the loss, Smart still believed Georgia belonged in the playoffs.
“We most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country,” Smart said. “The system is what it is and what happens, happens.”