Sports

Alabama Leads Rankings as College Football Playoff Field Is Set

DeVonta Smith had 15 catches on Saturday night, a career high and a record for the SEC title game, for 184 yards, and Najee Harris, a senior tailback, rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Mac Jones, Alabama’s quarterback, has thrown 32 touchdowns this season and is averaging about 340 passing yards a game. All three are top-tier candidates for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prized individual honor, which will be awarded next month.

Clemson, which won national championships to cap their 2016 and 2018 campaigns, will appear in the playoff for the sixth consecutive season. Many of the players who navigated the Tigers to last season’s national title game remain on the roster, including the quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, the A.C.C.’s career rushing leader. Clemson (10-1) logged 541 yards on Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., but its defense also showed its strengths, sacking Ian Book, Notre Dame’s quarterback, six times.

“We’re trending in the right direction, we’re playing our best football, and our best football is ahead still,” Lawrence said over the weekend.

“Every game for us is a statement because it’s another chance for people to see us play, and we are what we play like,” he added. “What we put on tape is who we are.”

Ohio State (6-0) wheezed to a 22-10 victory over Northwestern in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game — a contest it only reached because the league changed its threshold to qualify for the game in Indianapolis — and will appear in a semifinal as the most untested team of this playoff field or any other. (When the Buckeyes met Clemson in a semifinal last year, both teams had won 13 games.)

Ohio State had three regular-season games canceled this year because of virus issues in the Big Ten, including a matchup at Illinois because of positive tests within Ohio State’s football program, and faced skepticism across college football that they had proved themselves worthy of a playoff spot. But the committee showed sustained interest in Ohio State anyway.

“People can say whatever they want. They have their opinions,” Ryan Day, Ohio State’s coach, said before Sunday’s rankings were released. “I’m not going to talk about other teams because I think we have enough to talk about positively about our program. But I’ll say this: If we have an opportunity to play anybody in the country one game, I’m going to take the Ohio State Buckeyes. I feel strongly about this team, we’re made of unbelievable character and they’ve been through so much.”

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