First look at College Football Playoff semifinal matchups

Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama are in CFP (5:51)

The top 4 are set for the College Football Playoff. The national semifinals will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, on ESPN and the ESPN App. (5:51)

The final College Football Playoff rankings have been released, and the semifinals are set.

Here's the first look at this year's playoff:

College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl

Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN & ESPN App) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson

All great battles are trilogies, so it's only fair we have a Clemson-Alabama Part III.

The difference this time around is that it's Clemson that has the upper hand. Alabama sneaked into the playoff as the fourth seed, edging Ohio State even after the Crimson Tide failed to win the SEC West.

Clemson arrives playing its best football, red hot after dominant wins over South Carolina and Miami.

This meeting is hardly a reflection of the first two games, which the teams split in the national title games in 2015 and 2016.

For Alabama, it's been an odd season -- few big wins (a fact the committee chose to overlook) -- and a loss to end the regular season to Auburn. It's still Alabama, but not the dominant force that it had been for so long.

Clemson won't be intimidated either way. The Tigers already knocked off the Tide in last year's national championship game. But this is a far different Clemson team. No Deshaun Watson. No Mike Williams. No host of stars with ample experience. In their wake is a new group, led by Kelly Bryant, eager to prove themselves, too.

If questions about the departed stars bothered Clemson early, the Tigers never showed it. Of late, it seems foolish the questions were ever asked. Bryant has inserted a level of swagger where Watson worked with quiet resolve, giving this new Tigers team a new energy that may actually fit its personality even better than Watson's stoicism.

So, yes, this is Part III. But it's not the same matchup as it was two years ago, and nowhere close to last year's stunning Clemson victory.

For Alabama, there's a fight to prove the committee got this right, a rare need for the Crimson Tide to quiet doubters.

For Clemson, this is a new cast, a chance to show it's the culture, the program, the sum of the parts -- not just the stars that carry the weight.

After the Tigers wrapped up the ACC championship Saturday night, Dabo Swinney recalled his last trip to the Sugar Bowl. It came 25 years ago as a member of the Crimson Tide, when Swinney won the national title as a player.

The past will loom large over this trip for both sides, but it's hardly a precedent. This is Clemson-Alabama unlike any before. It's a rematch in name only, but the game is all new.

Key player for Alabama: Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best player on the field for the Crimson Tide, and he'll be critical in slowing the Clemson offense. Fitzpatrick was banged up down the stretch, but his impact was no less significant. Fitzpatrick finished the season with 52 tackles, 6 TFL and seven pass breakups, and he'll easily be the best defender Bryant has had to face off against this year.

Key player for Clemson: Bryant, of course. He's not been exceptional all year, but he's been at his best the past three games. Stretching the field has been Clemson's biggest concern, but the hope is that some of those midseason struggles are in the past. Bryant is an excellent runner, and a big threat with his feet in the red zone. But Alabama will force him to also use his arm to win the game, and that's the nagging question.

Key matchup: Clemson's defensive line vs. Alabama's offensive line. The strength of Clemson for the past three years has been the same, a dominant defensive front led by Christian Wilkins. The Tigers have owned the line of scrimmage against virtually every team they've played, and as Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and a now healthy Dexter Lawrence have come on down the stretch, the unit appears to be peaking now. That's a concern for Alabama, which struggles badly against Auburn's front in its lone loss, and QB Jalen Hurts will need to use his athleticism to help negate that pass rush. Still, look no further than last year's title game, when Hurts was utterly ineffective in the second half, to see a battle plan for Clemson's defense.

X factor: Nick Saban with something to prove is a dangerous thing. In fact, Alabama has been listening to doubters for weeks, after a mediocre showing against Mississippi State and a loss to Auburn. Usually Saban is scrambling for motivation. This time around, there's none needed. And it's possible the doubters are right, that this is the year that injuries and inconsistency catch up with the Tide. But doubt Saban at your own risk. Clemson certainly won't be offering any of that bulletin board material.

-- David M. Hale

College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN & ESPN App) | The Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

Oklahoma has faced teams from the SEC a total of 163 times, but the Sooners have never played Georgia.

The two storied programs will meet for the first time at the Rose Bowl after winning their respective conference championship games in dominating fashion Saturday.

Oklahoma hammered TCU 41-17, as quarterback Baker Mayfield all but clinched the Heisman Trophy. Later in the day, Georgia avenged its only loss of the season, routing Auburn in Atlanta, 28-7.

The Sooners advanced to the playoff for the second time in three years behind the best offense in college football. Mayfield has completed 71 percent of his passes for 4,340 yards and 46 total touchdowns with only five interceptions. Led by Outland Trophy finalist Orlando Brown, Oklahoma also boasts an imposing offensive line and a surging star in sophomore running back Rodney Anderson.

Georgia, however, could be the Sooners' equal on the other side of the ball.

All-America linebacker Roquan Smith leads an intimidating unit that ranks fourth nationally in total defense, and is tied for third in scoring defense. Only three times, this season, have the Bulldogs surrendered more than 14 points in a game. And three weeks after giving up 40 to Auburn, the Bulldogs limited the Tigers to just 259 yards of offense while forcing a pair of turnovers that both led to Georgia touchdowns.

Yet as prolific as the Bulldogs have been defensively and the Sooners offensively, this playoff showdown could come down to the other side of the ball.

After bleeding out for weeks, the Oklahoma defense has quietly rallied late in the season again. The Sooners shut out TCU in the second half of the Big 12 championship, and opened the game with a fumble return touchdown. Defensive end Obo Okoronkwo is one of the best pure pass-rushers in the country, and when the secondary holds up, the Sooners can be difficult to score on, as Ohio State found out earlier in the season.

The Georgia offense has had its moments, too.

The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC with an average of 35 points per game. The running back contingent led by senior Nick Chubb can pound away against opposing defenses. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, meanwhile, does a terrific job taking care of the ball, and is coming off arguably the best performance of his career in the SEC championship game, where he completed 16 of 22 passes and tossed two touchdowns.

Key player for Oklahoma: Mayfield will join former Georgia star Herschel Walker as the only other player since the 1940s to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting in three different seasons. Mayfield currently is also the FBS record-holder in career passing efficiency. And as a starting QB, he has a career win-loss record of 39-7.

Key player for Georgia: Smith is one of the best defensive players in college football. The Butkus Award finalist is fourth in the SEC with 113 tackles, to go along with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Smith also had the big play of the SEC championship game, a fumble recovery on the first play of the fourth quarter, which gave the Bulldogs the momentum for good.

Most important matchup: The Oklahoma offensive line against the Georgia front seven. This matchup of strength on strength figures to set the tone in Pasadena. The Sooners will be almost impossible to slow down if they get Anderson and the running game rolling. But if Georgia can control the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs can put more pressure on Mayfield and begin to bludgeon him.

X factor: As successful as both have been, this will be the first playoff appearance for Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley and Georgia's Kirby Smart as head men. The good news for both young coaches is they have experience as coordinators in playoff games. Riley as Bob Stoops' offensive coordinator in 2015. And Smart as the defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama.

-- Jake Trotter