Alabama, which won the national championship two years ago and lost in last year's title game, had the better record at 11-1.
Ohio State (11-2), which won it all three years ago after beating Alabama in the semifinals, had better wins.
Two storied programs, with room for only one to get in. The other would be, well, not happy.
Alabama was ranked No. 1 most of the season. But it didn't win the SEC West.
Ohio State, which got into the four-team playoff field last year despite not winning the Big Ten East, handed Wisconsin its first loss in Saturday's conference final in Indianapolis, 27-21.
Turns out it wasn't enough. Maybe because the Buckeyes lost at 7-5 Iowa by 31 points a month ago.
There wasn't any right or wrong answer. Still, the selection committee had to make one. And on Sunday it did.
The decision went to Alabama, which had to wait two weeks to learn its fate after losing its regular-season finale by 12 at Auburn.
Guess we'll have to wait at least one more year to see if it's really possible to hold a college football playoff without Nick Saban.
Clemson (12-1), the defending champion, is the top seed, followed by Oklahoma (12-1), Georgia (12-1) and the Crimson Tide, which has made the field in all four years of this format.
Clemson will now get Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in the 8:45 p.m. semifinal, after Oklahoma faces Georgia in the 5 p.m. Rose Bowl.
Clemson and Alabama met in the last two finals. Last January's was one of the best games ever. Your other semi, the same day, will be the Rose Bowl. So who do you think Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would have rather faced? The Tigers beat Ohio State in last season's semis, 31-0.
For what it's worth, Alabama opened as a slight favorite. As did Oklahoma.
The title game is Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The No. 1 seed has never hoisted the trophy.
"I certainly trusted in the committee to put the best teams in," said Saban, who has won four titles at Alabama and one at LSU. "There's a lot of good teams. I really believe, based on our body of work, that our team deserves the opportunity.
"We had to put our fate in someone else's hands. That's a lesson to be learned. We didn't finish the season the way we should have … It's always going to be subjective."
Maybe they should just have a play-in game.
"I think we had a job to do in Indianapolis and we did it," said Ohio State's Urban Meyer. "The College Football Playoff committee had a job to do, and they did it. We respect it.
"I think we had three wins against the top 16 teams in America [Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin]. But I get it."
Hey, last year some folks were wondering how the 11-1 Buckeyes got in over 11-2 Penn State, when the Nittany Lions won the head-to-head, division and Big Ten. But they had a 39-point loss to Michigan.
It's the first time two teams from the same conference (SEC) got in. The champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12 (11-2 Southern Cal) were left out. The Trojans beat Stanford (9-4) by three on Friday in Santa Clara, Calif.
In Saturday's other finals, Oklahoma won the return of the Big 12's title game after a six-year hiatus, 41-17 over TCU (10-3) in Arlington, Texas. They'd also beaten the Horned Frogs at home on Nov. 11, 38-20.
Georgia avenged its lone blemish in the SEC finale by beating Auburn (10-3), 28-7 in Atlanta. The Bulldogs had lost at Auburn, 40-17, also on Nov. 11, when the Dawgs were ranked No. 1.
Clemson clubbed Miami (11-2), which was coming off a bad loss at Pitt, 38-3 in Charlotte to take the ACC crown for the third straight time.
Oklahoma lost to Clemson in the semifinals two years ago, 37-17. The Sooners won the title in 2000, under the old BCS format, and lost in the final in 2004 (to USC) and 2008 (to Florida).
The Sooners and first-year coach Lincoln Riley (at 34 the youngest in FBS) have the almost certain Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Baker Mayfield. They've won their last six by double digits and haven't had a turnover in the last four.
Georgia won its last national title in 1980. This was its first SEC title in 12 years.
Wisconsin (12-1) was sixth in the final CFP rankings, followed by Auburn, USC, Penn State (10-2) and Central Florida (13-0), the only FBS unbeaten.
The Nits will play Washington (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30. In the other New Year's Six matchups, Ohio State will have to settle for a trip to the Cotton on Dec. 29 to take on USC. Dallas is some 1,400 miles east of Pasadena. Wisconsin and Miami will meet in the Orange on Dec. 30. And the Peach on Jan. 1 will feature Auburn and UCF.
Temple will play Florida International University in the Dec. 21 Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at St. Petersburg, Fla., according to a source. Kickoff is 8 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN.