- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2020

Even with all the moving parts this college football season has included — with the coronavirus pandemic forcing cancelations and schedule adjustments galore — the College Football Playoffs looks much like it usually does.

The selection committee chose Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame for the playoffs. At least two of those first three schools have featured in the playoffs each year since 2015. The Irish, meanwhile, maintained their place in the playoffs despite a resounding defeat in the ACC Championship game Saturday against the Tigers.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide will play No. 4 Notre Dame at the Rose Bowl — which has been relocated to Arlington, Texas, this season — while No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State meet at the Sugar Bowl. Both matchups will take place on New Year’s Day, with the final on Jan. 11.

Texas A&M missed out on a playoff place despite winning its final seven SEC games, including a 34-13 win against Tennessee on Saturday. The Aggies’ only defeat came in October against Alabama. Notre Dame’s 34-10 loss against Clemson apparently wasn’t enough to propel Texas A&M into the top four.

The Irish beat the Tigers earlier this season, but that win came when quarterback Trevor Lawrence was out with coronavirus (The Irish still only won 47-40, in overtime). Notre Dame also knocked off a ranked North Carolina squad earlier in the season. Then there’s Ohio State, which didn’t open its season in the Big Ten until October and only played six games.

“Seven straight SEC wins,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said after Saturday’s win. “Some schools haven’t even played seven games. … If you want to pick the best four teams, we’re one of them.”

The committee didn’t agree, though, opting for the Buckeyes and Irish. Texas A&M isn’t the only team feeling wrongly left out of the playoffs. Cincinnati beat three ranked teams en route to a 9-0 season, won its conference title and averaged 39.3 points per game.

Ohio State knocked off Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game, and Notre Dame became the first school to lose a conference championship game yet still make the playoff field.

Despite the Buckeyes’ coronavirus-shortened campaign, they did manage to beat No. 9 Indiana last month, and capped Saturday’s 22-10 win over the top-15 ranked Wildcats with 331 yards rushing from running back Trey Sermon.

In a season of uncertainty, some teams avoided the sort of schedule interruptions Ohio State dealt with. Alabama finished 11-0 this season and saw just one game canceled due to the coronavirus. Florida State became Clemson’s only cancelation. Notre Dame joined the ACC this season and played in a conference championship game for the first time in its history.

So with the committee’s selections, college football sees the usual cohort in the playoffs, even after a season of stops-and-starts and more unknowns than certainty.

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