The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken, choosing the four teams that still have a shot at the national championship.
On Dec. 28, SEC champion LSU will play Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, while Big Ten champion Ohio State will face ACC champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Here's a look at how all four teams made the final cut.
2019-20 college football bowl schedule: Dates, locations, games
No. 1 LSU (13-0)
Following Clemson's dominating win over Virginia in the ACC Championship, the Tigers come in at number 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
LSU's playoff pursuit began way back in January, when coach Ed Orgeron looked to pluck offensive assistant Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints and pair him with incumbent offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Together, the duo -- along with quarterback Joe Burrow, this year's Heisman Trophy favorite, and some elite receivers -- transformed the Tigers' offense into the modern, pass-heavy attack that LSU coaches past and present long promised but never delivered.
The result was a unit that overwhelmed nearly everyone and led the Tigers to signature wins against Texas, Auburn, Florida, Alabama and Georgia en route to a 13-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff. The 45-38 victory against Texas on Sept. 7 caught the nation's attention (at the time, the Longhorns were thought to be much better than they turned out to be); the Florida win a month later solidified LSU as a contender; and the Nov. 9 showdown against Alabama, a 46-41 win, proved the Tigers were going to be one of the top teams in the country, if not the best. Dominating Georgia 37-10 in Saturday's SEC title game was the icing on the cake.
Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase became one of the nation's most lethal duos. Burrow's 471-yard passing performance against Texas opened everyone's eyes to this offense's potential. And the Tigers' defense, while not the dominant force it used to be, certainly has made a statement in the past two weeks, holding Texas A&M and Georgia to a combined 17 points. -- Sam Khan Jr.
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: No. 1 LSU (-10) versus No. 4 Oklahoma
No. 2 Ohio State (13-0)
After the Sooners' victory over Baylor in the Big 12 championship, Oklahoma comes in at No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Before the season began, there were questions about how quarterback Justin Fields would perform and what the ceiling would be for this Ohio State offense. Those questions were quickly answered, with Fields throwing 16 touchdowns in his first five games. The offense sustained that high-level, balanced play against Michigan State's defense on Oct. 5, as running back J.K. Dobbins ran for 172 yards and a touchdown and Fields threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 34-10 win.
The defense has been just as important, specifically showing just how dominant it could be against No. 13 Wisconsin in late October. Defensive end Chase Young had four sacks and Ohio State held Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor to only 52 yards rushing in a 38-7 win against one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Young finished the season with 16.5 sacks, setting an Ohio State single-season record despite missing two games for a suspension.
The Buckeyes faced some adversity at home against Penn State on Nov. 23. During the third quarter, when Nittany Lions backup quarterback Will Levis entered the game for an injured Sean Clifford, Penn State scored 17 straight points to cut Ohio State's lead to four. But the Buckeyes' defense once again took over, stifling Penn State for the remainder of the game, while Fields connected with receiver Chris Olave (team-leading 11 touchdowns) to seal a 28-17 victory.
Michigan was the final regular-season obstacle. While it was a close game early on, Ohio State showed its balance, pulling away from the Wolverines in a 56-27 win. That left a rematch against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game Saturday. The Badgers' offensive game plan was sound to start, but Ohio State outscored Wisconsin 27-0 in the second half to win a third straight Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. -- Tom VanHaaren
No. 3 Clemson (13-0)
The same narrative has followed defending champion Clemson throughout the entire season: Its conference, the ACC, is so weak, its schedule so shoddy. The Tigers went on to play 13 games, including nine contests against, yes, lowly conference competition, and their starters weren't even on the field for the second half of many of those contests.
Regardless, Clemson showed up and take a 13-0 record into the College Football Playoff.
"We've earned [a playoff spot]," Dabo Swinney said after Clemson's 62-17 ACC title game win against Virginia. "I know we haven't played anybody all year, but hopefully we can get a chance to be somewhere in the top four because I think these guys, they deserve that."
The reality is a bit more complicated. Yes, the schedule was easy, and none of the Tigers' opponents spent significant time in the AP Top 25. Clemson was favored by 24 points or more in 12 of its 13 games and won most of them with ease.
On the other hand, there's something to be said for refining a team throughout a season that featured few true challenges. Swinney's chore in 2019 was less about scheming for a difficult opponent and more about making his team better than the week before. Clemson's biggest adversary in 2019 was ... Clemson.
No game showcased this conundrum better than the Sept. 28 game against North Carolina. The Tigers' offense scuffled, UNC drove for a late touchdown, and the only difference in the game was a failed two-point conversion for the Tar Heels in the final minutes of action. The lackluster 21-20 win became a weight around Clemson's neck for the next two months, despite wins by at least two TDs in every other game. That's the standard for a team coming off a national championship with a star at nearly every offensive position in a league with no serious challengers. Every week had to be perfect.
By year's end, however, Clemson was meeting that standard, dominating all comers as Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins again appeared poised for a stellar playoff run.
Still, the question looms: Is this year's Clemson team as good as last year's, or were the Tigers' big victories more a function of that woeful schedule? Swinney says his team is eager to supply an answer. -- David M. Hale
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: No. 3 Clemson (-2) versus No. 2 Ohio State
No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
The Sooners came into the year as the Big 12 favorites and a contender to return to the College Football Playoff. Except for a couple of hiccups, they proved worthy of that status.
After dominating their first five opponents -- none of whom had winning records -- the Sooners put together a solid performance to win the Red River Showdown against Texas. But Oklahoma's playoff hopes were in doubt two weeks later after Kansas State ran roughshod over its defense. Then, on Nov. 16, Oklahoma found itself on the brink of elimination, trailing Baylor 28-3 in the first half and 31-10 at halftime in Waco. In the second half, the Sooners posted 24 unanswered points to rally for a memorable 34-31 win that kept them in the CFP conversation and the driver's seat in the conference.
After finishing the regular season with a narrow win against TCU and a double-digit victory against a ranked Oklahoma State team in Bedlam, they faced Baylor again -- this time in the Big 12 championship. They wouldn't need a huge comeback this time, but the Sooners did need plenty of fight before outlasting Baylor in overtime.
While quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb have been the offensive stars (Hurts put up similar numbers to his two predecessors, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, while Lamb is a Biletnikoff finalist), it's the Sooners' defense that has been the biggest key to the season.
When Alex Grinch took over the unit this past offseason, he looked to turn the Sooners' "Speed D" into a respectable outfit after being one of the worst in the nation last year. While there were times the Sooners reminded folks of the 2018 edition, the defense mostly took a big step forward.
The K-State game proved to be a tough outing, but the defense came up big on several occasions, including in the Big 12 championship game. Linebacker Kenneth Murray and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore have led the charge. Suddenly, Oklahoma looks like a much more balanced team than it had in the recent past, which should give the Sooners a better shot in the playoff. -- Sam Khan Jr.