Little suspense with playoff teams, but plenty of intrigue in the matchups

College Football Top Plays: Week 14 (1:51)

Check out the top plays from Week 14 of the college football season, including conference title game wins by Clemson, Stanford and Houston. (1:51)

Bob Stoops versus the SEC? Nick Saban versus Michigan State? The Spartans' menacing defense against Clemson's high-powered offense?

Those are the only remaining questions about the second edition of the College Football Playoff. As the selection committee deliberated late Saturday night, the semifinal matchups were the only remaining unresolved issue before the committee announces the four-team field on Sunday.

However, the committee still has to decide which teams will play in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and which teams will play in the Capital One Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve, and that's where it can get a little tricky.

Unlike the inaugural edition of the playoff, when Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU were left out of the four-team field, there doesn't seem to be much controversy about the teams that will play for the national championship this season. ACC champion Clemson, Big 12 champion Oklahoma, Big Ten champion Michigan State and SEC champion Alabama are the best teams in the country and more than deserve to be in the field.

There's no question Clemson, which defeated North Carolina 45-37 in the ACC championship game to improve to 13-0, has earned the right to be the No. 1 seed.

"Well, we've got three top-10 wins," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Does anybody else have that? I don't think so. We're 13-0. Can't do no better than winning them all. Nobody made it easy on us, either. It ought to be an easy decision for them."

Alabama, which beat Florida 29-15 in the SEC championship game, should be No. 2. The Crimson Tide have looked unbeatable since they turned the ball over five times in a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19. Now, the Tide will be going for their fourth national championship in seven years.

"I don't think anybody really thought after the Ole Miss game this team would wind up here," Alabama coach Saban said. "To be honest with you, I had some questions in my mind as to whether we'd wind up here."

That leaves the Sooners and Spartans, who both suffered one loss this season. Which team is going to be No. 3, and which is going to be No. 4?

The Spartans might have the more impressive overall body of work, having defeated four teams ranked in the top 12 at the time they played, including road wins at No. 12 Michigan and No. 3 Ohio State. Michigan State also handed Iowa its first loss of the season with a 16-13 triumph in the Big Ten championship game.

Elevating the Spartans from No. 5 to No. 3 would solve another dilemma for the selection committee. If Alabama is No. 2 and Oklahoma is No. 3, the Sooners would get to play a relative home game in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. A matchup between the Crimson Tide and Spartans would make "Jerry World" a more neutral field.

An Alabama-Michigan State matchup is also intriguing because Saban coached the Spartans from 1995 to '99. The Crimson Tide blasted MSU 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. The Spartans are a much different team now. Maybe Alabama realized that two years ago, when it canceled a home-and-home series against MSU that was supposed to be played in 2016-17.

As good as that game sounds, the Sooners might be a better team than the Spartans. OU has reeled off seven straight victories since falling to Texas 24-17 in the Red River Rivalry game. The Sooners defeated three ranked teams in their final three regular-season games, including road wins at then-No. 6 Baylor and then-No. 11 Oklahoma State.

As far as sidebars go, an Alabama-Oklahoma matchup in the Cotton Bowl might be the most intriguing. Two years ago, OU coach Bob Stoops famously popped off about the SEC's supposed superiority, calling it "propaganda." For a while, he was public enemy No. 1 in the South -- until the Sooners upset two-time defending national champion Alabama 45-31 in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Stoops' teams have never lost in three meetings against the Tide.

A Clemson-Oklahoma matchup in the Orange Bowl is also intriguing because Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables spent 13 years as a Sooners assistant. Venables was OU's defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2011, until he was unceremoniously pushed out so Stoops could rehire his brother Mike, who had been fired as Arizona's head coach.

Although there might be some lingering bad feelings, a Clemson-Michigan State matchup in the Orange Bowl would be a perfect contrast of playing styles. Clemson loves to spread the field and let Heisman Trophy contender Deshaun Watson do his thing. MSU's defense likes to hit opponents in the mouth. The Spartans are loaded on the offensive line; the Tigers are loaded on the defensive line.

Fortunately, the selection committee can't go wrong, whichever way it decides to go.

Playoff teams after Championship Saturday

1. Clemson: The Tigers became the first Clemson team to win 13 games in a season by defeating No. 10 North Carolina in the ACC championship game, and that should solidify their No. 1 spot. (The 1981 Clemson team, which won a national championship, finished 12-0.) This season marks the Tigers' second ACC title under coach Dabo Swinney after also winning one in 2011.

2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide won their third SEC title in four years (and 25th overall) by dominating Florida in the SEC championship game. Alabama's defense held the Gators to only 180 yards of offense, while its offense held the ball for nearly 43 and a half minutes. The Gators went 0-for-11 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down.

3. Michigan State: The Spartans' winning touchdown drive, which lasted 22 plays and more than nine minutes in the fourth quarter, pretty much personified their blue-collar mentality under coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans have four victories over top-12 teams, including road victories at then-No. 12 Michigan and then-No. 3 Ohio State. Will that be enough to move them into the No. 3 spot?

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners were able to watch the other playoff contenders play Saturday after finishing their regular season with a 58-23 win at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State last week. OU has won seven games in a row since falling to Texas 24-17 in the Red River Rivalry game. The Sooners' three consecutive victories over ranked opponents (two on the road) at season's end put them in the playoff field, but their loss to the Longhorns might drop them to No. 4.

Next four in contention

1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes' dreams of finishing undefeated and reaching the playoff ended when Michigan State's L.J. Scott somehow stretched the ball across the goal line. Still, Iowa showed it's a much better team than it was getting credit for. If the Hawkeyes stay ahead of Ohio State in the final committee rankings, they're a good bet to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1990.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes didn't get the help they needed to jump back into the top four. The defending national champions lost only one game, 17-14 to Michigan State on Nov. 21, but it was enough to keep them out of the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes are probably headed to the Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl, which will have first choice between OSU and Iowa.

3. Stanford: The Cardinal dominated No. 20 USC 41-22 in the Pac-12 championship game, which earned them their third trip to the Rose Bowl in the past four seasons. After going 8-5 in 2014, Stanford went 11-2 this season. The Cardinal's 38-36 loss to Oregon on Nov. 14 might be the only thing preventing them from reaching the playoff.

4. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish wrapped up a 10-2 regular season last week. The Irish dropped two-point decisions to both No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Stanford. Notre Dame seems like a safe bet for the Fiesta Bowl, likely against either Ohio State or Iowa.

Heisman candidates

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry made a pretty strong case for the Heisman Trophy by running 44 times for 189 yards and one touchdown against Florida. With 1,986 yards, he broke the SEC single-season rushing record, which was set by Georgia's Herschel Walker 34 years ago (1,891 yards in 1981). Henry also tied the SEC record with 23 rushing touchdowns in a season. He averaged 208.8 yards in his past six SEC games.

2. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Stanford's do-everything sophomore certainly made his case for the Heisman against the Trojans, with 461 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns (one rushing, receiving and passing). McCaffrey had 207 yards rushing, 105 receiving, 120 on kickoff returns and 29 on punt returns. He also threw an 11-yard touchdown. McCaffrey is the first FBS player since 2000 to have 100 yards rushing, receiving and on kickoff returns in the same game. He broke the FBS single-season record with 3,496 all-purpose yards to top Barry Sanders' previous mark of 3,250 set in 1988.

3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson made a legitimate claim to the stiff-armed trophy with a sensational performance against North Carolina. He threw for 289 yards on 26-for-42 passing and ran 24 times for 131 yards with five total touchdowns (three passing and two rushing). The sophomore has thrown 30 touchdowns with 11 interceptions while running for 11 scores this season.

4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Mayfield wrapped up his regular season last week. In his first season as OU's starter, Mayfield completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 3,389 yards with 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 420 yards with seven scores.

Tweets of the night

1. Indeed, the College Football Playoff makes strange bedfellows.

2. What if they were really watching basketball games?

3. Wait, aren't the Gators still paying him, too?

4. OK, then.

Best plays

1. Alabama's ArDarius Stewart beat double coverage to haul in a 32-yard touchdown catch against Florida.

2. Who said Stanford was vanilla in the red zone? Give David Shaw credit for some creative play calling as McCaffrey found quarterback Kevin Hogan for an 11-yard touchdown catch.

3. Temple's Robby Anderson made a sweet, one-handed catch in the Owls' 24-13 loss to Houston in the American title game. Anderson's second one-handed grab of the game might have been better than the first.

4. With plays such as this in the end zone, it's no wonder the Big Ten title game had such low scoring. Iowa tight end George Kittle lost control of C.J. Beathard's pass after being hit by Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough. The ball fell onto Bullough's back and was scooped up by Demetrious Cox for an interception and a touchback.

Worst plays

1. Come on, man! Is this shadowboxing or football?

2. Andy Teasdall won't be freelancing again anytime soon. Dabo Swinney was not pleased with his punter's decision to try to pick up a first down.

3. Plays such as this tend to happen in a regular-season finale involving two teams that combined to win five games.

4. Well, you can't accuse Southern Miss of not leaving everything on the field in its 45-28 loss to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA title game.

Quotes of the night

1. "To my left here is the best player in the nation ... it's not even a debate." -- Stanford coach David Shaw of Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey.

2. "I'm so proud of this team. More than any team I've ever had, I wanted this team to have a chance to win a championship." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban.

3. "I don't have any answers for this team. I wish I did. I wish each and every week could've been like this one. But I'm just so happy. I'm happy for our football team and this whole program. I don't want to make any promises about next year, but we have a lot to look forward to." -- Texas coach Charlie Strong.

4. "This program has gone through a lot before Coach Herman came in. When Coach Herman first came in, we knew he had a plan. We are just very happy and fortunate that we have those guys with us." -- Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. after the Cougars won the American title in coach Tom Herman's first season.

Stats that matter

8-0: Saban's record against his former assistants after the Tide beat Florida and Jim McElwain in the SEC championship game.

1: Florida had 1 yard of total offense in the second quarter against Alabama. The Gators ran for zero yards on 14 carries in the first half.

7-1: Michigan State's record in its past eight games against AP top-10 teams.

11: Western Kentucky improved to 11-2 after beating Southern Miss to capture the Conference USA title. The Hilltoppers haven't had an 11-win season since 2002, when they won the FCS national championship and were coached by Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim and John.