It's no secret I've been less than excited for this college football season. Eventually, all ten conferences at the FBS level began play, and amid positive tests, game cancellations, and general making it up as they go along, we'd made it to the college football playoff. The selection committee has placed its four teams: Alabama, who went undefeated against a ten game SEC schedule; Notre Dame and Clemson, who split a regular season matchup and the ACC championship game with one another; and Ohio State, who played only five regular season games and a Big Ten championship game after the conference's schedule commenced in late October. Absent from the field, as always, is any Group of Five representation; this year's most deserving candidate was Cincinnati, who went undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, but never once threatened for inclusion in the eyes of the committee.
If I may use one of the pandemic's catch phrases, this year's playoff looks a little different than years prior. No bands will be present, and crowds will be sparse. Amid California's restrictions on crowds, the Rose Bowl, which hosts a semifinal this year, will take place in AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But the games will play on, with the semifinals kicking off this afternoon and evening.
The Rose Bowl will feature Alabama and Notre Dame in a game that sounds as historic as the sport itself. Surprisingly, the two teams have only met seven times in college football's history, with the last matchup being a decisive Bama victory in the penultimate BCS Championship. While the coaches remain the same, both teams have evolved since that meeting eight years ago.
A game against one another is fresh in the muscle memory of both Clemson and Ohio State, who played to a hard fought Clemson victory in last year's semifinal. Clemson's sole loss this year came against Notre Dame, with QB Trevor Lawrence out with a positive COVID test. The two have traded barbs over their respective paths to the playoff: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney voted Ohio State #11 on his coaches poll ballot, citing their lack of games, while Ohio State offensive coordinator got in a dig at Clemson for their early season matchup against FCS in-state opponent Citadel.
Both games will feature a north vs. south dynamic that has been part of the sport since its founding in the echo of the Civil War, though neither will play out between rival conferences the Big Ten and SEC. Should Alabama and Ohio State win their matchups today, we'll see that play out in South Florida in ten days.