Notre Dame was picked Sunday over Texas A&M for the final College Football Playoff spot and will face No. 1 Alabama in the semifinals while Clemson and Ohio State were paired in the CFP for the third time.
The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide will meet Jan. 1 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after a late pandemic-related relocation from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tigers and Buckeyes are set to play the same day at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans — if all goes according to plan.
The national champion of this college football season played through a pandemic is scheduled to be determined Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The Fighting Irish (10-1) are back in the playoff for the second time in three seasons, becoming the first team to lose a conference title game and make the selection committee’s final four. The ACC is the second conference to have two teams in the playoff, joining the SEC in 2017, thanks to the famously independent Fighting Irish joining the league in football for a year because of the pandemic.
After sitting second in the CFP rankings for a month, Notre Dame was blown out 34-10 by Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. That opened the door for Texas A&M (8-1), which had been lurking in fifth.
The Aggies (8-1) closed their regular-season Saturday by cruising to a win over Tennessee, but were unable to become the third team in the playoff’s seven-year history to make the field without even winning its division.
Notre Dame’s reward will be a matchup with Alabama (11-0). The last time the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide played was the 2012 BCS championship game and the Tide won 42-14.
The Southeastern Conference champion Crimson Tide is back in the playoff for the sixth time after missing out last year.
Clemson (10-1) is in for a sixth straight season, only missing out on the first playoff. Ohio State (6-0) is making its third appearance. The Tigers have won two playoff titles and the Buckeyes won the first after the 2014 season.
Clemson-Ohio State is a rematch of last season’s dramatic semifinal in Glendale, Arizona, won 29-23 by the Tigers. The two teams also met at the Fiesta Bowl in the 2016 playoff and Clemson beat the Buckeyes 31-0.
One of the semifinals was scheduled to be played at the Rose Bowl but a move was announced Saturday night. The change was made after coaches and school officials from playoff contenders complained about California’s COVID-19 restrictions that bans spectators from sporting events and would have made it impossible for players’ families attend the game.
The Rose Bowl twice asked for a special exemption from the state and was denied.
The season has been filled with disruptions as teams navigated COVID-19 outbreaks, contact tracing that sent players into extended quarantine and daily uncertainty about whether games will be played.
Ohio State had three regular-season games canceled and the Big Ten had to change minimum games played rule earlier this month just so the unbeaten Buckeyes could play in the conference title game Saturday against Northwestern.
Still, 87 percent of the games scheduled were played.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has said a team selected to a semifinal would not be replaced if it could not play on the scheduled date. The game would be postponed if necessary and a every effort would be made to make it up.
The final drama of this season will not only be in the crowning of a champion but simply getting to the games.