COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Shortened schedule and all, Ohio State is headed back to the College Football Playoff and a familiar foe will be waiting.
Despite playing just six games because of a COVID-19 issues, the third-ranked Buckeyes were picked as the No. 3 seed by the CFP and will face No. 2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.
The pairing Sunday by the CFP selection committee sets up a rematch of last year's semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence bested Justin Fields and the Buckeyes in that one, 29-23. Both quarterbacks, potential Heisman Trophy candidates, will be back for the grudge match in New Orleans.
The playoff committee picked Ohio State (6-0) despite the Big Ten's pandemic-delayed season and the Buckeyes having three scheduled games wiped out because of outbreaks.
Committee chair Gary Barta said the Buckeyes deserved to be No. 3 because they were undefeated, beat two ranked teams (Indiana and Northwestern) and won the Big Ten championship game over the Wildcats. The Big Ten changed a six-game minimum rule so the Buckeyes could play for the conference title.
Barta, the Iowa athletic director, said “there was no dissension in the room” over putting Ohio State in.
“We wanted an opportunity to get back to the situation, to win the whole thing," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, reflecting on the close loss to Clemson in last year's semifinal.
If the Big Ten reduces the COVID-19 return-to-play timeline from 21 days to 17 days, Day said “a good amount” of the players who were unavailable for the Big Ten championship game will be able to come back for the Jan. 1 semifinal. Among the missing on Saturday were leading receiver Chris Olave and starting linebacker Baron Browning.
Clemson snatched the No. 2 spot after beating up Notre Dame in the ACC championship game. The Fighting Irish, who had been No. 2 in the CFP rankings for a month, entered the game undefeated, with a victory over Clemson already in the bank. The rematch was a 34-10 blowout by Clemson.
Notre Dame (10-1) made the playoff as the fourth seed and will play undefeated and No. 1 Alabama in the other semifinal.
On the outside looking in was No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1), which finished its regular season with seven straight wins in the SEC and lobbied for inclusion by noting its only loss was to the Crimson Tide more than two months ago.
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