Michigan State's 16-13 win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game earned the Spartans a No. 3 seed in the final College Football Playoff rankings, and a game against No. 2 Alabama in the four-team playoff, while No. 1 Clemson will face No. 4 Oklahoma. The Capital One Orange Bowl and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl will host the semifinals at 4 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET, respectively, on Dec. 31. Clemson-OU will be played in the Orange Bowl, while Alabama will face the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.
As the Big 12 champion, Oklahoma was idle Saturday, as the conference doesn't have a title game. The Sooners were passed in the rankings by MSU, which knocked off an undefeated Iowa team for the Big Ten title. That decision put Oklahoma in a semifinal with the Tigers, who have been seeded No. 1 since the initial CFP rankings were released more than a month ago.
Selection committee chairman Jeff Long said on Sunday that the decision on where to seed the Spartans and Sooners was a critical one.
"That's probably where we spent the most time ... Both conference champions, both four wins over top-25 teams. What it came down to was Michigan State with two top-10 wins, then adding a win over last week's No. 4-ranked team (Iowa)," Long said. "I think when you looked at the body of work, the complete resume, that's what pushed Michigan State just slightly ahead of Oklahoma."
A variety of factors made the selection committee's decision on the four-team field a relatively easy one. Unlike last year, when Baylor and TCU were one-loss co-champions of the Big 12 and were left out of the field, this year's field doesn't leave a one-loss Power Five conference champion out. Every team in the Pac-12 lost twice, and when Stanford handed Notre Dame its second loss on Nov. 28, the committee had the opportunity to admit four conference champions with little or no controversy. Had North Carolina upset Clemson on Saturday, or had Florida upset Alabama, controversy would have reigned again.
Instead, the pairings brought far more suspense than the selection of the field.
"I don't think I could characterize it that Stanford or Ohio State were close to getting into the top four," Long said. "... If you were to ask me which (season) was a little more challenging (for the committee), I'd say last year."
Alabama is the only team to qualify for the playoff field in each of the CFP's first two years. A year ago, Ohio State defeated UA in a semifinal in the Sugar Bowl, while Oregon beat Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes beat Oregon, 42-20, in North Texas for the national title.
The entire order of the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings: