Epitomizing a football era of dazzling, tireless offense, Oklahoma became the fourth and final team selected to the College Football Playoff on Sunday, outlasting contenders Ohio State in Georgia in the closing assessment of the 13-member selection committee.
The No. 4 Sooners (12-1), the Big 12 champions, will play No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in a national semifinal on Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The other semifinal, as expected, will pit No. 2 Clemson (13-0) against No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Tex.
The winners will square off in the championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
On the strength of its 39-27 win over then-No. 14 Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game, Oklahoma earned its third playoff bid in the five seasons thus far of the four-team concept, having received the nod previously in 2015 and last year. In a sport with a notable lack of parity, Alabama kept its spotless playoff legacy intact with a fifth bid in five seasons, while Clemson got a fourth straight approval.
Notre Dame will make its playoff debut.
The Sooners had been ranked No. 5 last week, just behind No. 4 Georgia and ahead of No. 6 Ohio State. The committee, which has five former coaches, five athletic directors, one former player, one university president and one journalist, kept Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State by parsing through their achingly similar resumes. When it dropped Georgia from No. 4, it presumably did so by a narrow margin, but it also ensured that no team with two losses in a regular season has reached a College Football Playoff.
Of the 20 teams in five seasons selected so far, six have staged unbeaten regular seasons, while 14 have lost just once. The Bulldogs (11-2) seemed to have a flicker of a chance after their wrenching 35-28 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta, but they also had taken a 36-16 blasting at LSU on Oct. 6.
The Sooners, meanwhile, had played the season in a novel way given the 149-year history of the game, but in a fashionable way given the era. They had operated on the strength of the No. 1-ranked offense, a spellbinding show with first-year quarterback Kyler Murray, also a signee of the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball. They had thrived despite a papier-mâché defense. Even a committee stocked with former coaches who might have found such a defense a cause for headaches and night sweats saw past that.
The Sooners average 577.9 yards per game on offense, a staggering 8.75 yards per play on offense, and 49.5 points per game, all three of those ranking No. 1 nationally, with the 8.75 a whopping 0.83 above the second-place team, Alabama. Conversely, they rank No. 108 in total defense (448.1) and No. 102 in yards-per-play defense (6.03), even as Ohio State stands No. 67 (total) and No. 80 (yards per play) in those areas.
When Oklahoma beat then-No. 14 Texas on Saturday, it had beaten every team on its schedule, having avenged the 48-45 loss it took against Texas in Dallas on Oct. 6. The Sooners' lone loss to a ranked team at a neutral site became a kind of balm when set against Ohio State's lone loss, a 49-20 mauling at Purdue on Oct. 20. Both Oklahoma and Ohio State beat three ranked teams and seven bowl-eligible teams, even as Ohio State had the best win of the lot, a 62-39 mastery of Michigan, the committee's No. 7 team last week, on Nov. 24.
The Sooners might have benefited further from a curious foe on Sept. 22, the date they had to escape at home from a steady and admirable challenge from visiting Army. Oklahoma won 28-21 in overtime, and when Army, an independent in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, went on to finish 9-2, that wound up flattering the Sooners. Ohio State's nonconference wins came against TCU (6-6), Tulane (6-6) and Oregon State (2-10), while another peg in the puzzle came from the fact that another of TCU's six losses came from Oklahoma.
Notre Dame became the third team to reach the playoff without having won a conference, but the first to carry the distinction because it does not play in a conference. The Fighting Irish got close in 2015 but had one loss as season's end approached, then took a second on a last-second field goal in a closing regular-season game at Stanford. They follow upon Big Ten member Ohio State in 2016 and SEC member Alabama in 2017.
The committee will release its final top 25 at 2 p.m. ET, and its eight other bowl bids for the lucrative New Year’s Six games at 3 p.m. ET.