Clemson is the only undefeated team remaining in the country and was rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff when the rankings were announced Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers will face No. 4 seed Oklahoma in a semifinal game on Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
In the other semifinal, No. 2 Alabama meets No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31.
The two winners will play for the national title on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
“These are four phenomenal teams. We’re No. 1 because we’re undefeated,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I don’t think we’re better than them other ones. We’re splitting hairs when we’re talking about these teams.”
Clemson routed Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season, cruising to a 40-6 win without injured star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who missed the game with a torn ACL.
Still, Swinney said what happened last year has no impact on this year’s game. In the Russell Athletic Bowl, Oklahoma fell behind 17-0 early and turned the ball over five times while Clemson did not have a turnover.
“People are going to bring up last year’s game. That absolutely has nothing to do with this year,” Swinney said. “I’ve been on the other side of that where the ball, you just can’t hold on to it … You’re playing a really good team and the next thing you know, the whole gameplan’s out the window. It’s just uphill. It’s really difficult, and that’s what happened in that game.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between this year’s Oklahoma team and last year’s is quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Heisman Trophy candidate has thrown for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 420 yards and seven scores.
The Sooners have won seven straight since a 24-17 loss to Texas, scoring 50 or more points in five of those seven games.
“They’re playing as good as anybody in the country right now, maybe the best of anybody in the country. So we know they’ll be fired up to play us, and we will be, too,” Swinney said. “Their quarterback looks like Johnny Manziel running around out there. He’s a nightmare. He’s an absolute nightmare. We’ll have our hands full with that guy.”
While Mayfield is a big addition to Oklahoma’s offense, the Tigers are excited to have their Heisman candidate playing this time around. Clemson’s Jordan Leggett, who didn’t play last year against the Sooners, will also face OU for the first time.
“That was the first thing that popped in my mind was a rematch. It’s definitely going to be fun,” Leggett said. “I didn’t get to play them last year just because of injury, so it’s definitely going to be a fun experience for me being my first time playing them.”
Leggett, who leads Clemson with seven touchdown catches, said the Tigers are confident entering the College Football Playoff semifinal.
“We have all the momentum. They’re not an obstacle for us. They’re just an opportunity for us to get better and move on to the next game,” he said. “So far for me, I’m 2-0 in that stadium, so I don’t think it’s going to change.”
Clemson has won three straight bowl games, and Swinney plans to use the same formula that has worked in the past.
“You’ve got to get everything done here. When you get to the bowl site, there’s just not a lot of time for game planning and things like that,” Swinney said. “’Let’s get ready to play the game right here, and then let’s get down there and polish the plan and get these guys really dialed in on what we’re doing, play fast and play free.
“We’ve just got a formula that we believe in, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
The final four
No. 1 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1)
Dec. 31, Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla., 4 p.m.
No. 2 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 3 Michigan State (12-1)
Dec. 31, Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Tex., 8 p.m.
National Championship Game
Jan. 11, 8:30 p.m., Glendale, Ariz.