June 22, 2024

Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama have been selected by the College Football Playoff committee to vie for the national championship, leaving out Florida State — the first time in CFP history an undefeated Power 5 champion failed to finish in the top four.

The Seminoles finished fifth despite going 13-0 and winning an ACC championship on Saturday night, down to its third-string quarterback after injuries to starter Jordan Travis (leg) and backup Tate Rodemaker (concussion). Defending national champion Georgia (No. 6), another team with a compelling argument for playoff inclusion, is also on the outside looking in.

The Wolverines and Huskies as undefeated conference champions were considered virtual shoo-ins to make the CFP. Michigan is in the playoff for the third straight year. Washington, on the other hand, has been in the CFP only once before, losing in the semifinals in the 2016 season.

The path to the playoff was a bit murkier for Texas and Alabama.

Texas is back in the running for the national championship after booking its first trip to the playoff. Led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, the Longhorns went 12-1 and won the Big 12 championship in their first appearance in the conference title game since its return in 2017. Texas’ lone loss came at the hands of Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game. Both schools will head to the SEC after this season, but the Longhorns already got an SEC boost this year. Texas notched perhaps the biggest win of the college football season by going on the road in September and beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama proved that one big win can sometimes make up for one early loss. The Crimson Tide are in the playoff a day after ending Georgia’s 29-game, 728-day winning streak with a 27-24 victory in the SEC championship game. Nick Saban’s squad faced challenges atypical for Alabama, losing at home to Texas in the second game of the season and otherwise scuffling through the early part of the schedule. Part of the issue was uncertainty at quarterback. Jalen Milroe started and finished the season as the team’s top QB, but both Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner were given chances to take control of the position in Tommy Rees’ first year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Bama will now have a chance to win its fourth College Football Playoff title in the final year of the four-team format.

Its win over Georgia shifted the dynamic on Saturday. At that point, it felt like an inevitability that the SEC champion would make it into the playoff, because of the league’s dominance in the CFP since its inception — and the near-nonstop lobbying both Alabama coach Nick Saban and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey have done over the past week to support Alabama’s case.

But the real dynamic shift happened on Nov. 18, when Florida State lost Travis for the season with a leg injury. The Seminoles were placed under greater scrutiny to see how they would respond without their team leader and ACC Player of the Year.

First, Rodemaker led a win against rival Florida on the road to close the regular season. Rodemaker sustained a concussion in that game and missed the ACC championship game against Louisville on Saturday night. Enter freshman quarterback Brock Glenn. Florida State won yet again — beating the Cardinals 16-6 and claiming its first ACC championship since 2014.

Coach Mike Norvell pounded his fist on the table as he made an emphatic case for the Seminoles to make it because they had won all their games — and did it with three quarterbacks.

But because the offense struggled to move the ball in both of those games without Travis, it became clear — at least on offense — this team was not the same. Selection committee chair Boo Corrigan, an ACC athletic director at NC State, pointed to that injury as the key reason Florida State got left out.

Overlooked, however, has been the play of FSU’s defense, which has been stellar since Travis got hurt. Over the past two games, the Florida State defense has a combined 13 sacks — and held its past two opponents to zero or negative yards in the fourth quarter. Florida State, which has won 19 straight games — the second-longest streak in the country — will now head to the Orange Bowl as the ACC champion.

Travis took to social media on Sunday afternoon to lament the timing of his injury.

Corrigan said the decision for the No. 4 spot was between Alabama and Florida State. Alabama won out despite Florida State finishing with a higher strength of record (No. 3) than Alabama (No. 4). The Seminoles also went 2-0 against SEC teams this season — including an emphatic victory over LSU to open the season. But ultimately, all that mattered to the committee was the injury to Travis.

Alabama’s win Saturday ended Georgia’s pursuit of a third straight national championship. The Bulldogs had won 29 straight games, but Saturday’s ill-timed loss to Alabama in the SEC title game left Georgia out. As a result, the Bulldogs become the first No. 1 team in the penultimate CFP rankings to fall out of the top four after losing on Championship Weekend.

Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential, while Washington will play Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Both semifinal games will be played on New Year’s Day and aired on ESPN.

The Wolverines and Longhorns were installed as the early favorites in their respective semifinals by ESPN BET. Michigan opened as 2-point favorites over Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Texas opened as a 4-point favorite over Washington in the Sugar Bowl.

The CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T will be played Jan. 8 on ESPN.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.


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