The Capital One Orange Bowl might hope the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to this year’s College Football Playoff.
The CFP committee’s initial rankings, released Tuesday evening on ESPN, put Clemson (8-0) at No. 1 with LSU (7-0), Ohio State (8-0) and Alabama (7-1) behind the Tigers in that order. Proximity plays a role in assigning the semifinal games. That would put LSU in Dallas with Ohio State for the Cotton Bowl semifinal.
That would leave No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama for the Orange Bowl. That’s two rabid fan bases returning to Sun Life Stadium, site of recent postseason glory for each. Alabama crushed Notre Dame 42-14 in the 2012 BCS Championship Game amid a scintillating atmosphere a year before Clemson outlasted Ohio State in a 40-35 Orange Bowl shootout.
And those Clemson fans with gray hair remember the Tigers won their only national title by upsetting Nebraska in the New Year’s Day 1982 Orange Bowl, one of the few times a consensus No. 1 team entered its bowl game as the underdog.
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The Orange Bowl will find out Wednesday afternoon whether or not it’ll host the 2018 CFP championship game.
Much more recently, Clemson brought the apocalypse to the University of Miami’s Al Golden era with a 58-0 rout that got Golden fired. Beating a Power Five conference team with a winning record on the road by over eight touchdowns tends to impress folks, no matter how dead that team looked.
“I think the quality of their victories, certainly the Notre Dame victory at home, but they have four teams with better than a .500 record that they have defeated,” CFP committee chairman Jeff Long said on ESPN. “That, combined with an offense and a defense that are very strong on both sides of the ball, I think, is what won the day in the eyes of the committee.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney promised a gargantuan pizza party if Clemson makes the Playoff. He’s not telling the local pizza kings to start tossing dough yet, however.
“I think it’s a sign we’ve had a great season to this point,” Swinney said on ESPN. “I certainly think we should be in the conversation regardless of what the ranking is. I don’t think anybody should be having a party over what the poll is and I don’t think anybody should be disappointed.
“If you look back at last year, Ohio State was, I think, 15th or 16th in the first poll and won the national championship.”
As Swinney said, there’s a month worth of games left before Orange vs. Crimson matchup fills South Florida hotels and bars.
In fact, the alarm clock could ring on that dreamy matchup this Saturday. Florida State, ranked No. 16 in the poll, goes to Clemson in a game that’ll decide the ACC’s Atlantic Division. An FSU win propels the Seminoles up the rankings. If they eventually land in the top four, expect whatever matchup involves them to be in the Orange Bowl.
LSU goes to Alabama. A second loss and the only Tide that might be in the CFP will be washing the uniforms. Or, Alabama could knock LSU out of the top four. Ole Miss could truly make the committee think by beating LSU to win the SEC West, especially if that’s LSU’s only loss.
Clearly, neither record nor past performance shackled the committee. Despite its loss to Ole Miss, Alabama got ranked ahead of undefeateds Baylor, Michigan State, TCU and Iowa, Nos. 6-9. Sitting behind Alabama, at No. 5, is 7-1 Notre Dame, its record besmirched only by the close loss at Clemson.
Voters in the Associated Press poll and USA Today Coaches poll installed last year’s Playoff champion, Ohio State, at No. 1 and kept the Buckeyes there through less-than-devastating wins.
College Football Playoff rankings
3. Ohio St.
5. Notre Dame
7. Michigan St.
14. Oklahoma St.
16. Florida St.
19. Texas A&M
20. Mississippi St.
The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will issue weekly rankings each Tuesday, with the final rankings being announced Sunday, Dec. 6 (Noon EST). The playoff semifinals will match the No. 1seed vs. the No.4 seed, and No.2 will face No.3. The semifinals will be hosted at the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. The championship game will be on Jan. 11 at Glendale, Ariz.