Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama have been selected by the College Football Playoff committee to vie for the national championship, leaving out Florida State -- the first time in CFP history an undefeated Power 5 champion failed to finish in the top four.
Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential, while Washington will play Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Both semifinal games will be played on New Year's Day and aired on ESPN.
"We're going against the best," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Sunday. "Tradition. Two true blue bloods of football, facing Alabama.
"We're excited to face them. It's iconic. It's Alabama. It's Roll Tide. It's doesn't get any better, to be playing in the Rose Bowl. Just going to appreciate the tradition of the Rose Bowl, playing a great team like Alabama. It always has meaning."
The Wolverines and Huskies, undefeated conference champions, were shoo-ins to make the CFP. Michigan is in the playoff for the third straight year. Washington, on the other hand, has been in the CFP only once before, losing in the semifinals in the 2016 season.
The decision for the No. 4 spot was between Alabama and Florida State, CFP selection committee chair Boo Corrigan said Sunday.
Ultimately, however, Corrigan, the ACC athletic director at NC State, pointed to quarterback Jordan Travis' season-ending injury in November as the key reason Florida State was left out.
"Florida State is a different team without Jordan Travis," Corrigan said. "One of the things we do consider is player availability, and our job is to rank the best teams, and in the final decision looking at that, it was Alabama at 4 and Florida State at 5."
FSU (13-0) finished with a higher strength of record (No. 3) than Alabama (No. 4). The Seminoles, who won the ACC title, also went 2-0 against SEC teams this season -- including an emphatic victory over LSU to open the season.
"It was a tough night," Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN on Sunday. "I didn't sleep a lot because there's a lot of good teams out there. Florida State's certainly a good team, and to go undefeated in their league, it's unfortunate that some good team had to get left out.
"But I really think that our team earned the right to be here. We beat No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game. They've worked hard all year to improve, and I'm really proud of what they've been able to accomplish together as a team."
Texas, which is back in the running for the national championship after booking its first trip to the playoff, opened as a 4-point favorite over Washington in the Sugar Bowl, per ESPN BET.
Led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, the Longhorns went 12-1 and won the Big 12 championship in their first appearance in the conference title game since its return in 2017.
Texas' lone loss came at the hands of Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game -- both schools will head to the SEC after this season -- but the Longhorns' case for the playoff was buoyed by their September victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
"I'm just glad to be a part of a team that that is able to enjoy it that much because they know what it's like to be disregarded at 5-7," Ewers said. "I think in the back of our heads we always knew that if we were going to win the Big 12 championship, that other accolades would probably come with it. So I mean, our bull's-eye now is on a national championship for sure."
The Huskies, seeded No. 2, are in the playoff for the second time -- having lost to Alabama in the 2016 semifinal. They all but locked up their playoff spot with their victory against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday.
"The league was as tough as," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said Sunday. "... And so us representing the Pac-12 here in the last year, it's an honor. It's something that, obviously, we take a lot of pride in as far as representing, but we'd love to represent the Pac-12 here in this last year in a great way."
Like Texas, Alabama also proved that one big win can make up for an early loss. The Crimson Tide shifted the dynamic by ending Georgia's 29-game, 728-day winning streak with a 27-24 victory in the SEC championship game on Saturday.
At that point, it felt like an inevitability that the SEC champion would make it into the playoff, because of the league's dominance in the CFP since its inception -- with an appearance by the conference each season since the playoff's inception in 2014.
Saban's squad faced challenges atypical for Alabama, scuffling through the early part of the schedule, including the loss at home to Texas, while dealing with uncertainty at quarterback.
Jalen Milroe started and finished the season as the team's top quarterback, but both Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner were given chances to take control of the position in Tommy Rees' first year as Alabama offensive coordinator.
"We won 10 or 11 games in a row and beat the No. 1 team in the country so we're not the same team that we were when we played Texas earlier in the season," Saban said Sunday. "We were kind of in transition at the quarterback position, it was unsettling. I think it affected our team.
"... This is just one of those years -- and there's been other years like this -- where, you know, somebody that may have been deserving got left out. And Florida State certainly going undefeated was ...you know, [they] did everything they could to get in the playoffs and unfortunately, probably because of the injury to their quarterback, are not going to have that opportunity."
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought it was good that Alabama wasn't punished for losing to the Longhorns in their early season clash.
"There's a lot of value to play in those types of games early in the year, and obviously for the committee to recognize that, I think, is big because now, hopefully, that'll continue to promote more games like that," Sarkisian said.
Corrigan said the CFP selection committee leaned on former coaches such as Chris Ault (Nevada), Jim Grobe (Wake Forest) and Joe Taylor (Florida A&M) to answer two questions while deliberating Alabama and Florida State: "Who do you want to play? Who do you not want to play?"
Both answers led to the Seminoles' situation at quarterback after losing Travis, their team leader and the ACC Player of year, with a broken leg against North Alabama on Nov. 18. Because the FSU offense struggled to move the ball in both games without Travis -- wins against rival Florida and then Louisville -- it became clear that this team was not the same, despite winning its first ACC championship since 2014.
Coach Mike Norvell pounded his fist on the table as he made an emphatic case for the Seminoles to make it because they had won all their games -- and did it with three quarterbacks.
Overlooked was the play of FSU's defense. Over the two games since Travis was hurt, the Seminoles had a combined 13 sacks -- and held those two opponents to zero or negative yards in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, as he watched the selection show with his team, he could only bow his head as the Seminoles' fate was decided by the CFP committee.
"I just hurt for our players, to be honest with you," Norvell said Sunday. "That was one of the tougher moments I've had to experience. ... As we tell our team all the time: 'Your truest identity shows up in times of great adversity.' And we faced it, and they put it on display. So that was really that that feeling in the moment."
Florida State, which has won 19 straight games -- the second-longest streak in the country -- will now head to the Orange Bowl to take on Georgia.
The Crimson Tide will now have a chance to win their fourth College Football Playoff title in the final year of the four-team format, but they will do so as an underdog.
Michigan opened as 2-point favorites over Alabama in the Rose Bowl, according to ESPN BET.
"We're not going to go in there saying, 'Oh, this is Alabama, a team that's won and won and won and won and won.' No. We're that team," Michigan running back Blake Corum told reporters.
The CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T will be played in Houston on Jan. 8 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).
"We've accomplished many of our goals, and now winning it all is what we had also put on the goal sheet," Harbaugh said. "That's what we'll turn our one-track mind to, to this next opponent and playing Alabama in the final four, and we'll do what we always do. We'll play, we'll prepare, we'll practice and get ready to give it our very best."
ESPN's Andrea Adelson, Mark Schlabach, Tom VanHaaren and Dave Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.