Four-time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma impressed enough people on the College Football Playoff committee to earn a spot in the final four.
But what a draw. OU, which had to battle Georgia and Ohio State for the fourth spot, must play top-ranked Alabama at 7 p.m. Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl. Because the Crimson Tide were the top-seeded team, coach Nick Saban chose the semifinal site. He didn’t want to play in the Cotton Bowl at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, which would’ve been packed with Sooner fans.
The Cotton will feature No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame at 3 p.m. Dec. 29.
In other Big 12 bowl news:
Texas is headed to New Orleans to take on Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
Baylor, which won only once in 2017, will play Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston on Dec. 27.
TCU, which needed to win its final two games to earn a postseason spot, will face California in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 26 in Phoenix.
The Alamo Bowl, which had second choice among Big 12 teams after the CFP, selected Iowa State to play Washington State. The game will be played in San Antonio on Dec. 28. The main story line probably will be the return of Cougars coach Mike Leach, formerly of Texas Tech, to the state.
West Virginia, which finished third in the Big 12, heads to the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28 to play Syracuse.
Oklahoma State was invited to play Missouri, which left the Big 12 to join the SEC, in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.
Oklahoma, the league’s glamour team, believed it would be in the playoffs late Saturday after beating Texas for the league title. But there was a big push to keep Georgia, an 11-2 team and SEC runner-up, in the top four as the playoff committee debated the rankings during a meeting in Grapevine.
Said Ron Mullens, the selection chairman: “Some committee members believed Georgia should be No. 4; some believed Ohio State should be No. 4. Some believed Ohio State should be No. 5. Boy, did we debate it. As we considered three teams for the No. 4 slot, the committee did not believe that any one team was unequivocally better than the next.”
Mullens said the Sooners earned the fourth spot “because they’re a one-loss conference champion with a dynamic offense, and their one loss was a close game to a ranked team at a neutral site.
“Georgia was ranked No. 5,” Mullens said “because of their wins against highly ranked teams, their impressive performance against Alabama in the conference championship game, and because of how balanced a team they are.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley was at the airport in Oklahoma City when the four-team bracket was revealed. He posted a video on Twitter: “Sooner nation, we just got some great news.” Then Riley and two of his assistants took a private jet to make recruiting visits.
It’s the third time OU has earned a spot in the final four. The Sooners lost in their previous two trips, including last year at the hands of Georgia.
The Sooners will learn Monday whether the program has a chance for consecutive Heisman Trophy winners. Baker Mayfield won it a year ago. His successor at quarterback, Kyler Murray, is expected to be named a finalist. Ballots are due Monday.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been the longtime favorite for the Heisman. But he suffered through his worst game in the SEC championship, throwing one touchdown pass and two interceptions. He reinjured his ankle and was replaced by Jalen Hurts, who led Bama to the come-from-behind win.
Saban told reporters Sunday that Tagovailoa had a surgical procedure to help his high ankle sprain heal.
“Hopefully by the time we start practicing again, Tua will be back on the field and ready to go,” he said.