Ultimately, the better resume won out. In the end, Notre Dame’s ugly last game — a 34-10 rout at the hands of Clemson in Saturday’s ACC championship game — didn’t cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff. Overall results prevailed over recency bias.
The Irish snagged the heavily debated last seed on Sunday, and will meet No. 1 Alabama, back in the playoff after missing out for the first time last year, in one of the two semifinal matchups. Clemson, ranked second, will face No. 3 Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl won by the Tigers. It will also be the second meeting between Georgia quarterbacks and friends Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, potentially the first two quarterbacks taken in April’s NFL Draft.
“In the end, the committee felt Notre Dame had earned its way there based on the complete analysis of its resume, and that probably came down to having an extra win over a ranked team,” College Football Playoff committee head Gary Barta said on ESPN.
Texas A&M finished ranked fifth and Oklahoma, after knocking off Iowa State in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday, was sixth. Undefeated Cincinnati wasn’t close, another year in which a non power-conference school really had no shot at getting invited to the four-team tournament.
“The committee decided that Ohio State belonged in the field because they are undefeated, they defeated two ranked teams, including (Saturday) night, and they won the Big Ten championship,” Barta said of the 6-0 Buckeyes. “Certainly, we talked a lot that there would be a difference in games played.”
After Notre Dame’s one-sided loss to Clemson on Saturday, social media was filled with debate over whether the Irish still belonged, since their one big win came over the Tigers without Lawrence and three defensive starters. Texas A&M was the team most thought was competing with Notre Dame.
The Aggies had won seven straight games, and lost just once, back on Oct 3, to Alabama, 52-24. But Notre Dame had four wins over teams above .500 and Texas A&M just two. It had two top-25 wins, compared to one for its SEC counterpart, and had played two more games, and as a result owned two more wins. The Aggies failed to win their division, and did not become the third team to reach the playoff that failed to play in its conference title game.
And so the playoff will feature typical familiar faces, the four teams that have been atop the playoff rankings the entire way. Alabama and Clemson will return for a sixth time in seven years. Ohio State will be among the final four for a fourth time and Notre Dame will be making its second appearance.
If Alabama and Clemson prevail in the semifinals as expected, it will be the fourth time the two meet for the title in five years, with the Tigers winning two of the previous three meetings. The Irish’s only other trip to the playoff came two years ago, and it was not a memorable one, a 30-3 loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. Ohio State won the inaugural playoff in 2015, but hasn’t returned to the championship game since, losing to Clemson in the semifinals each of its last two playoff trips.