Date: Dec. 31, 4 or 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Miami Gardens, Florida | Sun Life Stadium
No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners
Best moment: The Sooners avenged two blowout defeats to Baylor by taking down the two-time defending Big 12 champs in Waco, 44-34. The win put Oklahoma in command of the Big 12 title race and sent a message to the CFP selection committee that the Sooners were in fact playoff-caliber.
Lowest moment: It’s crazy to think that Oklahoma lost to Texas. But the 24-17 result was no fluke. The Longhorns dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, stuffing the Sooners’ running game while harassing quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Longhorns converted enough big offensive plays, too. Afterward, it didn’t seem possible that Oklahoma could become a playoff team. But the Sooners used the Texas loss as a turning point to forge their playoff run.
Key player: Mayfield has completely transformed the Sooners, both tangibly and intangibly. He’s completed 69 percent of his passes while throwing 35 touchdowns to just five picks. Just as importantly, he’s brought a swagger that’s rubbed off on the rest of the team, which had been lacking in Norman in recent years.
Motivational level: The Sooners haven’t played for a national title since 2008, so the motivational level should be high. Much like Ohio State last year, Oklahoma should be out to prove it’s still one of the best programs in the country. The Sooners have been playing with an edge for several weeks now.
-- Jake Trotter
No. 1 Clemson Tigers
Best moment: It’s not that there wasn’t already a belief that Clemson could win it all, but it wasn’t until Carlos Watkins wrapped up DeShone Kizer on a two-point conversion try that sealed a 24-22 win over Notre Dame that the Tigers convinced the nation they were for real. The win over No. 6 Notre Dame in a deluge of rain at Death Valley was perhaps the signature victory of coach Dabo Swinney’s tenure, and it vaulted Clemson from a good team with high aspirations to a great team with an expectation to win.
Worst moment: There haven’t been many low points for this team. Clemson has cruised through most of the season. But in its first road game of the season, after the Tigers scored to go up 10 on Louisville, Traveon Samuel ran the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a score. The Tigers played the final 9:41 of that game nursing a three-point lead, sweating out a missed 38-yard field goal that would’ve tied things, and picking off Kyle Bolin’s final pass in Clemson territory to survive.
Key player: Deshaun Watson is the engine that makes Clemson go. He’s been a weapon with both his arm and his legs this season, throwing for 420 yards to beat Boston College and running for 114 to secure a win over South Carolina. More than anything, however, Watson has been a steadying force for a young team, oozing confidence at every turn.
Motivation level: High. It’s the playoff. What could be better? Clemson has looked every bit the No. 1 team in the nation, and the key has been Swinney’s ability to convince his team that every game matters. That job won’t be tough the rest of the way. The Tigers have their sights set on a national title.
-- David M. Hale