PLAYOFF PULSE: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan St join Oklahoma

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Posted: Dec 06, 2015 3:26 AM
PLAYOFF PULSE: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan St join Oklahoma

The teams are set. How the College Football Playoff selection committee ranks them is all that remains to be seen.

Here's who is in:

No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 5 Michigan State.

The Spartans (12-1) provided plenty of drama on Championship Saturday, with an epic game-winning drive to beat Iowa 16-13 in an old-school Big Ten championship game that was only missing leather helmets.

The Tigers (13-0) had some nervous moments at the end, but behind Deshaun Watson's brilliance they held off North Carolina 45-37 to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title and stay unbeaten.

Alabama (12-1) had it easy by comparison in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Florida. Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide won 29-15 to cruise into the playoff for the second straight season. The Tide is the only repeat team in the field.

Of course, nobody had it easier than the Sooners (11-1). They wrapped up their season and the Big 12 title last week and got to watch the rest of the playoff pieces fall into place like the rest of us.

For Stanford, which beat USC 41-22 to win the Pac-12, and Ohio State, which was sitting at sixth, there were no upsets to open the door to the playoff. Unlike last year, when Ohio State jumped into the top four on the final weekend, edging past Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor, the committee's picks won't produce any controversy.

So who's No. 1? And remember, the committee is judging the teams' full body of work.

For the second straight week, Clemson made just enough mistakes to keep its opponent in the game, but coach Dabo Swinney is confident in his team's resume.

"We've got three top 10 wins. Anybody else got that? And we're 13-0," Swinney said.

Alabama has only one win against a 10-win team, but has racked up plenty of quality Ws, eight against teams with at least eight wins.

Oklahoma has been rolling since an October loss to Texas.

Michigan State showed no team in the country is tougher when the game is on the line.

The top spot probably will come down to the Tigers or the Tide. Regardless, Clemson would likely head to South Florida to play a semifinal at the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve and Alabama would be sent to the Cotton Bowl in North Texas for its Dec. 31 semifinal.

The committee's job is to give the No. 1 seed as much of a 'home-field advantage' as it can, but to not let that interfere with the rankings. Committee chairman Jeff Long said last week the rankings would not be manipulated to avoid putting Oklahoma in the nearby Dallas-area as a lower-seeded team.

It doesn't seem likely Oklahoma could get into the top two after being third last week, but if Clemson is No. 1 and Oklahoma is third, the Sooners are headed to the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Predicting the playoff :

Orange Bowl — No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma.

Cotton Bowl — No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State.

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HOUSTON, WE HAVE A CHAMPION

Houston won the first American Athletic Conference championship game, beating Temple 24-13 at home to all but lock up the spot in the New Year's Six bowls that goes to the highest-ranked champion from outside the Power Five conferences.

The Cougars are headed for either the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.

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PROJECTING THE REST OF THE NEW YEAR'S SIX

Rose Bowl — Iowa vs. Stanford.

Sugar Bowl — Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi.

Fiesta Bowl — Ohio State vs. Notre Dame.

Peach Bowl — Florida State vs. Houston.

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HEISMAN WATCH

Henry came into championship weekend as the Heisman favorite, ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries against a tough Florida defense — but couldn't run away with the trophy.

Stanford's Christian McCaffrey had another sensational do-it-all game, with 461 all-purpose yards. He ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and threw a touchdown pass against the Trojans. The sophomore broke Barry Sanders' single-season record of 3,250 yards set in 1988 with Oklahoma State, although McCaffrey took two extra games to do it.

Meanwhile, Watson had 420 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns for Clemson.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook also deserve serious consideration from Heisman voters.

Henry has carried an Alabama offense that is limited in the passing game. He tied the SEC record for touchdowns in a season (23) and eclipsed Herschel Walker's 34-year-old conference mark for rushing yards in a year, pushing his total to 1,986.

The guess is he gets the trophy next Saturday in New York.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP