After all the arguments and frayed nerves, the final weekend of college football changed nothing.
The top four seeds in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings held form in Sunday's announcement, although Ohio State and Clemson swapped places, which merely means the color of their uniforms will change when they meet on the field.
No. 1 Alabama, the 13-0 SEC champ, will play No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. No. 2 Clemson (12-1) will meet No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. The semifinals will be held Dec. 31.
The hand-wringing debate involved the intersection of nonconference scheduling, head-to-head outcomes and conference championships, and how to apply appropriate value to each. The committee's big choice for the final spot came from among Washington, two-loss Big Ten champ Penn State and two-loss Michigan, which beat the Nittany Lions 49-10 in late September.
It was quite a logic pretzel to unravel.
"It was detailed, it was difficult conversation," CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN. "We looked at a lot of things."
Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech, said Penn State was hurt by the lopsided loss to Michigan and an earlier three-point loss to 8-4 Pitt (although the Panthers also beat Clemson later in the season). Washington's only loss was to a top-10 USC team, although its lousy strength of schedule in nonconference (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State) dogged the Huskies until the end.
"Obviously, strength of schedule favored Penn State," Hocutt said. "If Washington had a stronger strength of schedule, I don't think the conversation and discussions would have been as difficult."
Hocutt said the committee's statistical analysis of both teams also favored the Huskies, who are fourth nationally in scoring and eighth in scoring defense.
"We talked to our coaches about what they saw in the performance of these two teams on the field, not just in one particular game, but over the course of 13 games," Hocutt said. "And Washington seemed to have the advantage there as well."
While the Huskies overcame their nonconference schedule, Ohio State went over the top because it purposefully challenged itself. The Buckeyes almost certainly wouldn't be in the playoff without a 45-24 win at Oklahoma on Sept. 17. They are the first nonconference champion to make the football final four.
"The selection committee respects that type of scheduling and those wins that come from those kinds of nonconference games," Hocutt said. "In identifying the four very best teams in college football, conference championships are only one piece, one metric, of that conversation that we have."
Alabama, the defending national champion, is making its third appearance in the three-year history of the College Football Playoff. Tide head coach Nick Saban will have on-staff insight into Washington. Co-defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi was on the Husky staff in 2012 and 2013, and Saban added former Washington and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian as an offensive analyst during this season.
Saban will be going for his sixth national championship, his fifth at Alabama.
Clemson, which fell to Alabama 45-40 in last season's title game in Glendale, is headed back to University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I think it is tougher the second time around," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of getting back to the playoff.
"We had a lot of pressure. When you haven't done something, there's a different mindset than when you have done it. You come back this year and there are a lot of expectations, but our team did a great job of staying focused. ... And we feel like mentally we have a great experience to draw on from last year."
Clemson beat Ohio State 40-35 in the Orange Bowl after the 2013 season. Both programs are making their second appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes won it all in 2014 by beating Oregon, 42-20.