Power Ranking Every Past College Football Playoff Game
Bowl season slowly leads toward the College Football Playoff, but the gradual buildup offers plenty of time to reminisce about how previous champions reached the title.
Game-winning plays and contested fourth quarters have brought the most excitement, though a couple of blowouts also exemplified the dominance of one team.
As the fourth edition of the tournament approaches, we're reliving all nine previous matchups. Yes, there have been some duds, but the CFP has also treated us to a couple of instant classics.
While the ranking is subjective, entertainment value and competitiveness were key factors in determining the order.
9. 2015 Season: No. 2 Alabama 38, No. 3 Michigan State 0
Game info: Dec. 31, 2015; Cotton Bowl; Arlington, Texas; national semifinal
How it happened: Michigan State put together a competitive first half, but an interception seconds before halftime kept the Spartans off the scoreboard. Alabama soon overwhelmed the Big Ten champions. Calvin Ridley caught a pair of touchdowns, and Derrick Henry ran for two more.
Most memorable moment: Cyrus Jones, who also picked off that pass, provided the dagger in the third frame when the Crimson Tide held a 17-0 advantage. Michigan State seemed to have a fighting chance, but a 57-yard punt return touchdown effectively sealed the win for Alabama.
Why it's here: Nick Saban's crew entered the contest as 10.5-point favorites, per OddsShark, and the opening 30 minutes played out that way. The half-ending interception crushed MSU, though. As impressive as the Tide looked, the game wasn't especially entertaining.
8. 2016 Season: No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 4 Washington 7
Game info: Dec. 31, 2016; Peach Bowl; Atlanta; national semifinal
How it happened: Alabama surrendered a touchdown on Washington's second possession and basically nothing else. From that point on, the Pac-12 winners mustered just 123 yards of offense. Bo Scarbrough collected 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns to propel the Tide's scoring attack.
Most memorable moment: Washington played a terrific game defensively, and it kept the Huskies in striking distance. That is, until the 228-pound Scarbrough eluded and powered through seven potential tacklers on a 68-yard touchdown rumble to help put Bama up 24-7.
Why it's here: Once again, Alabama was a multi-score favorite (13 points). While we can appreciate outstanding defense, 17 combined punts didn't make for an exciting game relative to other College Football Playoff matchups.
7. 2015 Season: No. 1 Clemson 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 17
Game info: Dec. 31, 2015; Orange Bowl; Miami Gardens, Florida; national semifinal
How it happened: Oklahoma scored a touchdown late in the second quarter to take a 17-16 halftime lead, but it was all Clemson from there. The Tigers scored 21 unanswered points during the second half to dispatch the Sooners in Baker Mayfield's first year at the school.
Most memorable moment: Though a 31-yard Tigers gain after a fake punt deserves a mention, Deshaun Watson's strike to Hunter Renfrow put Clemson on a winning path. The duo connected for a 35-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving Dabo Swinney's crew breathing room entering the final frame.
Why it's here: This contest was low on the excitement scale. Mayfield tossed a couple of interceptions, and Clemson—while impressive—slowly pounded away on the ground. Watson and Wayne Gallman combined for 295 rushing yards. Oklahoma didn't pose much of a threat by the fourth quarter.
6. 2016 Season: No. 2 Clemson 31, No. 3 Ohio State 0
Game info: Dec. 31, 2016; Fiesta Bowl; Glendale, Arizona; national semifinal
How it happened: Clemson allowed Ohio State to go approximately nowhere. The Buckeyes' first 10 non-kneel-down drives covered 84 yards, and the Tigers built a 24-0 advantage in the meantime. Interceptions on the next two possessions led to the first shutout of Urban Meyer's career as a college head coach.
Most memorable moment: Watson found C.J. Fuller for a 30-yard touchdown shortly before halftime to help give Clemson a commanding 17-0 lead at the break. Mike Weber's fumble early in the third quarter, however, eliminated any doubt of where the game was headed.
Why it's here: We respect the dominance the Tigers showed, and that outstanding defensive effort is what boosted their 2016 semifinal win over the 2015 triumph. But without an enticing fourth quarter, it's not a clash we'll remember as a must-watch when a replay is on.
5. 2014 Season: No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20
Game info: Jan. 12, 2015; Arlington, Texas; national championship
How it happened: Oregon gathered four takeaways, yet Ohio State secured the 2014 season's national title thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. The eventual first-round pick scampered for then-career-high marks of 246 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Cardale Jones accounted for 280 yards and two scores.
Most memorable moment: The victory itself was most memorable for how the Buckeyes needed to reach the championship. Jones had only started two previous games—we'll get there shortly—as the replacement for an injured J.T. Barrett, who replaced an injured Braxton Miller.
Why it's here: After an exciting start, the title matchup turned sloppy and later one-sided. Ohio State committed turnovers on consecutive drives on two occasions, and the Marcus Mariota-led Oregon offense stagnated after kicking a field goal to reduce its deficit to 21-20 in the third quarter. The Ducks didn't cross midfield on their next four drives.
4. 2014 Season: No. 2 Oregon 59, No. 3 Florida State 20
Game info: Jan. 1, 2015; Rose Bowl; Pasadena, California; national semifinal
How it happened: After Florida State took a 3-0 lead, Oregon never trailed again. It hardly stopped scoring until the closing moments of the fourth quarter, in fact. Marcus Mariota passed for 338 yards, and the Ducks sped past the Seminoles for 301 yards and five scores on the ground.
Most memorable moment: Late in the third frame, QB Jameis Winston and the 'Noles needed a touchdown to close a 39-20 gap. Oregon had already crossed the goal line three times in the half. Instead, a hilarious (or at least unique) fumble from Winston led to a 58-yard return for a touchdown and sealed the outcome.
Why it's here: Just two of the game's first 23 possessions ended in a punt. The offenses combined for 1,167 total yards. Yes, seven turnovers were ugly, but the constant back-and-forth action kept viewers enticed until the scoreboard heavily favored Oregon.
3. 2014 Season: No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 1 Alabama 35
Game info: Jan. 1, 2015; Sugar Bowl; New Orleans; national semifinal
How it happened: In the second start of Jones' career—the first being the 2014 Big Ten title game—Ohio State recovered from a 21-6 deficit to stun Alabama. He collected 286 yards of total offense, while Elliott rolled to 230 yards and two touchdowns. Tyvis Powell intercepted a desperation heave as time expired to lock up the Buckeyes' spot in the national championship game.
Most memorable moment: The lasting image of this showdown is Elliott's 85-yard cruise for what became the game-winning touchdown. With about 3:40 remaining, Alabama had two timeouts remaining and only trailed by six. Force a punt, and perhaps the Crimson Tide could put together a go-ahead drive. That dream died as Elliott raced to the end zone practically untouched.
Why it's here: This Sugar Bowl is a "sit down and watch again" kind of meeting. Ohio State overcame that early hole, but Alabama held on to hope until the final play.
2. 2015 Season: No. 2 Alabama 45, No. 1 Clemson 40
Game info: Jan. 11, 2016; Glendale, Arizona; national championship
How it happened: Save for the game-ending kneel-down, the last seven possessions ended in points. Thanks to one bold call, Alabama earned the decisive advantage in the fourth quarter. Watson piled up 478 total yards and threw four touchdowns, but the Tide rode Derrick Henry (158 rushing yards, three scores) and took advantage of two blown coverages on tight end O.J. Howard to celebrate a national title.
Most memorable moment: Kenyan Drake's kickoff return to the house was crucial to Alabama's win. However, Saban's decision to attempt a surprise onside kick—because he felt Watson would keep scoring—shaped the result. Adam Griffith perfectly executed the kick early in the fourth quarter.
Why it's here: Lots of points? Check. Big-play touchdowns? You bet. Unanticipated drama? Got it. The lead changed hands five times, and a surprise onside kick in a tie game during the biggest matchup of the year is among the gutsiest calls possible.
1. 2016 Season: No. 2 Clemson 35, No. 1 Alabama 31
Game info: Jan. 9, 2017; Tampa, Florida; national championship
How it happened: Alabama held leads of 14-0, 24-14 and 31-28, but Clemson kept fighting back. Watson accounted for 463 yards and four touchdowns, and four Tigers receivers collected at least 90 receiving yards to upend the Crimson Tide, who boasted a 14-0 record entering the tilt.
Most memorable moment: With six seconds remaining in regulation, Alabama held a 31-28 edge but Clemson was at the 2-yard line. Rather than playing it safe and forcing overtime, Swinney trusted his offense. Aided by a legal pick play, Watson whipped the game-winning touchdown to Renfrow.
Why it's here: There's no debate, right? Clemson put the championship on the line when it risked throwing an incompletion and watching the clock expire instead of kicking a field goal. The reward, the school's first title in 35 years, proved to be worth the hazard.