The College Football Playoff’s selection committee on Sunday announced the four teams that will contend for this season’s national championship: Alabama (13-0), followed by Clemson (12-1), Ohio State (11-1) and Washington (12-1).
Clemson, the second seed, will face Ohio State, the third, on Dec. 31 in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., which doubles as one of the playoff’s semifinals. The same day, the fourth-seeded Huskies will meet the top-seeded Crimson Tide in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. The semifinal winners will meet Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla., to decide the national title.
The inclusion of Ohio State represents a milestone for the playoff: No team had reached the national semifinals without winning its conference. A similar situation happened only a couple of times in the 16 years of the B.C.S. system, most recently when Louisiana State and Alabama, both of the Southeastern Conference, played in the national title game in January 2012.
Ohio State, a Big Ten team, did not even reach its conference championship game, in which Penn State rallied to beat Wisconsin, 38-31, on Saturday night. The Nittany Lions barely missed the playoff — they were ranked fifth by the committee — and appear set to play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Alabama is the only team that has reached the playoff in all three years featuring the four-team format. The Crimson Tide also played in three of the last five title games of the old Bowl Championship Series system, meaning that, under Coach Nick Saban, the team has been in contention for the national championship in six of the last eight years. A title in January would be Alabama’s fifth in eight years — an unprecedented dynasty in top-tier college football.
Washington, its semifinal opponent, is a much less likely contender. The program’s last claimed national title came in the 1991 season, and it finished the 2008 season 0-12. But Coach Chris Petersen, in his third season after a fruitful tenure with Boise State, guided the Huskies to an 8-1 regular-season record in the deep Pacific-12 Conference, with their only loss coming last month against Southern California. The Huskies routed Colorado by 41-10 on Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game.
The two other contenders have experience in the young playoff system. In the 2014 season, which introduced the playoff, Ohio State made the field as the fourth seed, upset Alabama in a semifinal and then defeated Oregon for the championship. Last season, Clemson, as the top seed, beat Oklahoma in a semifinal before falling, 45-40, to Alabama.