How the College Football Playoff teams got here

How the Playoff teams earned their rankings (0:58)

Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama put up big numbers and impressive victories this season on their way to the College Football Playoff. (0:58)

We've all been there, right? That moment when you feel like you're in one those "Hangover" movies. When you and three buds find yourselves looking around, looking at one another and going, "Wait ... how did we get here?"

The college football season is like a great party. It can get out of hand fast. So fast that when it's over, you find that it went on much longer than it felt. You also discover that there are huge chunks of events that went by so quickly, you forgot almost them as soon as they happened.

That's likely how the four teams in this year's College Football Playoff felt Sunday afternoon when their names were revealed as the combatants for this season's national championship. The year started with 130 teams, and now, here they are, the final quartet standing. They are all relieved but are all still asking, as a group, "Wait ... how did we get here?"

Well, we're here for you, fellas. Honestly, we're also here for us. Because if we're being truthful, we kind of forgot, too.

No. 1 Clemson

Preseason AP Top 25 ranking: 5
What they want us to remember: They lost Deshaun Watson, yet here they still are
What they want us to forget: That Friday night in the Carrier Dome

The defending national champs were all set to settle into a rebuilding season, having trudged through spring and fall practice sifting through a QB controversy. Once Kelly Bryant seized the job, their direction was set, but still, they seemed predestined for a slight step backward in 2017, especially with ACC division rival Florida State seemingly finished with a reclamation project of its own.

Then they gutted out a 14-6 slugfest at home against Auburn in Week 2. OK, this was going to be their new identity, a defensive force while the QB transition took place, right? Wrong. The next week, Clemson defeated Lamar Jackson and Louisville on the road by scoring 47 points. Just two games later, they won by two touchdowns at Virginia Tech, giving them three wins over top-15 opponents in four weeks.

Then the Tigers went to 4-3 Syracuse and laid an egg on national television. Yes, Bryant was hurt in the game, but the real shocker was the sudden absence of that defense, which surrendered three TD passes and 440 yards to the Orange.

So, was Clemson finally succumbing to what had been foreseen? No. Turns out this is just what it does. See: Pitt one year ago. Despite that stunner, Clemson still made the CFP and won it all. Now the Tigers have a chance to do it again thanks to a season-ending, six-game winning streak with a trio of top-25 wins, including Saturday night in Charlotte, when they took away Miami's turnover chain and smacked them with it.

No. 2 Oklahoma

Preseason AP Top 25 ranking: 7
What they want us to remember: Four wins over ranked teams, including two on the road vs. top-11 teams
What they want us to forget: Iowa State, crotch grabs

The Sooners started the season with a new coach and a bunch of new offensive skill players but the same reliably flashy dude behind center. Baker Mayfield was so good in the opener against UTEP that he didn't play a single down of the second half. He played every down the next week at Ohio State in what turned into a second-half rout. He also tried to plant an OU flag into the Horseshoe turf. It totally didn't work, but it still looked cool. If you're from Oklahoma.

But in midseason there was a bit of a, well, hangover. The Sooners had to survive a high-scoring affair at Baylor, a team that finished the season in the Bottom 10, then lost at Iowa State. They got by Texas and Kansas State, but both by only one touchdown.

However, they won their final seven contests by an average margin of 28 points, including Saturday's 24-point victory over then-No. 11 TCU. After his team's second loss to Oklahoma in four weeks, TCU coach Gary Patterson said to the Sooners' future playoff opponents, "Have fun with that."

They only hitch in OU's giddyup was when Mayfield decided to make headlines that had nothing to do with actual football, via crotch grabs, F-bombs and beaning opponents during pregame warm-ups. But here's the thing: His on-field performance improved as he went bad-boy down the homestretch.

No. 3 Georgia

Preseason AP Top 25 ranking: 15
What they want us to remember: Their dismantling of Auburn on Saturday
What they want us to forget: Auburn's dismantling of them on Nov. 11

There were myriad reasons the Dawgs entered the season with the lowest ranking of the four playoff participants. They had a second-year head coach in Kirby Smart, they had a second-season QB in Jacob Eason (unless he got beat out of the job) and they lost three starting offensive linemen and one of their most dynamic offensive players in Isaiah McKenzie. Oh, and they had history. Since their 1980 national title, the Dawgs have suffered more heartbreak than a Taylor Swift album, developing a well-earned reputation for being perfectly capable of getting to within sight of the mountaintop only to immediately figure out a way to slide back down. Even if they did win the SEC East, which most predicted they would, that division hadn't left Atlanta wearing the conference crown since 2008.

UGA got the nation's attention when it did what it never does: It traveled north of the Mason-Dixon line and won at Notre Dame by the skinniest of margins, 20-19, in Week 2. From there, every win seemed to come with an asterisk. Yeah, the Dawgs smashed a ranked Mississippi State team 31-3, but was State really the 17th-best team in the nation? Yeah, they smoked Tennessee on Rocky Top 41-0, but weren't the Vols in the process of firing their coach? Vandy and Mizzou, even Florida and South Carolina -- every game was won handily, but all were punctuated with their own "Yeah, but ..." even as the CFP selection committee moved Georgia into the top spot. And, oh yeah, in the middle of it all, Eason did indeed lose the starting QB job -- to freshman Jake Fromm.

How Georgia reacted to being No. 1 felt an awful lot like the old days. It lasted one week. There was no "Yeah, but ..." attached to UGA's trip to Auburn for the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, unless you count, "Yeah, but Georgia just got stomped." Final score: Auburn 40, Georgia 17.

"From there, we just hoped that we could learn from it and then maybe get a chance to redeem ourselves," Smart said on Saturday night in Atlanta. His comments came just moments after his team had defeated the only team that had defeated it, second-ranked Auburn, in a reversed-roles 28-7 performance. "We were given that chance tonight, and I think we proved we were ready to fix what went wrong before."

No. 4 Alabama

Preseason AP Top 25 ranking: 1
What they want us to remember: They were ranked No. 1 all season
What they want us to forget: Most of November

While all the other teams in our quartet entered the season with a long list of questions and all sorts of new stuff to worry about, The Process came chugging into the season undaunted and continued along that path all the way into mid-November. Over their first nine games, the Tide rolled over their opponents by an average victory margin of a scant 31.1 points. During that time, the only contrived controversies anyone could come up with were, "Hey, how did Texas A&M hang around until the fourth quarter?!" (they really didn't but scored late to lose 27-19) and, "Is Jalen Hurts really the best option at quarterback?!" (he has thrown for 1,940 yards, has rushed for 768, is a finalist for the Manning Award and has lost two games in two years). Winning got so ridiculously routine in Tuscaloosa, we even wrote a story about how hard it is to write stories about the Tide.

Then came late autumn. Bama had to rally late to win at Mississippi State. Then it was hammered nationally for scheduling Mercer in Week 13. And then it lost on The Plains to its most loathed rival, running out of steam in the fourth quarter and losing to Auburn 26-14.

When Nick Saban found himself lobbying publicly for the fourth CFP slot while his team was forced to stay home and watch the conference title games on TV, he looked highly uncomfortable. He wasn't alone. It was weird. But, in the end, it was also necessary. And he wasn't alone, as AP poll voters and even the Vegas wise guys all proclaimed that the nation's top team for most of the season still deserved a chance to prove it was indeed still that.

Now we'll see whether it was worth all the trouble.