Alabama is in, winning the great debate over Ohio State to reach the College Football Playoff yet again.

The Crimson Tide got the nod Sunday for the fourth and final spot over the Buckeyes and will play Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma and Georgia are in the Rose Bowl semifinal a few hours earlier.

Tide or Buckeyes was the question facing the selection committee, the toughest call in the playoff’s four-year history.

The Tide was more consistent and lost just once. The Buckeyes lost twice, including an embarrassing 31-point loss at unranked Iowa, but have the more impressive set of victories. Ohio State won the Big Ten while Alabama didn’t even win its Southeastern Conference division.

The committee rolled with the Tide, and for the first time the playoff will include two teams from the same conference. Alabama joins SEC champion Georgia and an all-SEC title game on Jan. 8 in Atlanta is possible.

Ohio State was ranked fifth by the CFP, Wisconsin was sixth and Auburn was seventh. Southern California finished eighth, followed by Penn State and Miami. Washington was 11th and unbeaten Central Florida was 12th.

The rest of the New Year’s Six bowls fell this way: USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29; Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30; Miami (11-1) vs. Wisconsin (12-1) in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30; and Central Florida (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3) in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1.

The committee chairman, Kirby Hocutt, said the Iowa loss hurt Ohio State and the Buckeyes weren’t close enough to the Tide for the Big Ten championship result – a 27-21 win over previously unbeaten Wisconsin – to matter.

“As we saw Alabama play week in and week in out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team,” Hocutt told ESPN. “When we looked at Ohio State, when you looked at their resume, it was impressive but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them in above Alabama.”

The committee protocol states conference championships are to be considered it the teams are close, like a tiebreaker.

“In this case the margins weren’t close enough to look at those,” Hocutt said.

Alabama (11-1) made it 4 of 4 in the playoff, the only team that has made them all. Coach Nick Saban told ESPN he trusted the committee would come to the right conclusion.

“I really do believe based on the total body of work that our team deserved to be in,” Saban said.

And for the third straight season, college football gets an Alabama-Clemson matchup, though this time in a semifinal.

The Tide beat the Tigers in a classic national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, two seasons ago. The teams played another thriller last season and Clemson won in Tampa, Florida.

“Alabama’s been the standard for a long time,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said.

Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer said he wasn’t surprised that the Iowa loss cost the Buckeyes.

“I was kind of hoping we had those good wins. Three against the top 16 teams in America,” Meyer told ESPN. “But I get it.”

He added: “The bottom line is we had a tough road loss.”

Clemson (12-1) will make a third straight playoff appearance but first without quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tigers won another Atlantic Coast Conference championship with Kelly Bryant at quarterback.

Georgia (12-1) and Oklahoma (12-1) have never met. The Bulldogs surged in their second season under Coach Kirby Smart. After winning eight games last year, Georgia won the SEC for the first time since 2005.

Oklahoma is in the playoff for the second time and likely will bring the Heisman Trophy winner. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is the favorite to win the award next weekend. If so, he’ll be the third player to go from winning the Heisman on to the playoffs, joining Marcus Mariota of Oregon in 2014 and Derrick Henry of Alabama in 2015.

The Alabama-Ohio State debate was the trickiest of the playoff era. Most talented or most accomplished? Neither team neatly matched precedent. Ohio State made it to the playoffs without even playing in its conference title game last season, but those Buckeyes had a more convincing resume, with three victories against top-10 teams. Alabama didn’t match that.

Not only had no team ever made the playoff with two losses, but none had as ugly a stain as Ohio State’s 31-point loss at Iowa. Saban mentioned it Saturday night on ESPN as the selection committee went to work for the last time this season.

That the most controversial playoff pick yet came down to these two teams made it an even juicer plotline. Alabama has dominated college football for a decade since Saban took over. Ohio State is one of the few teams to interrupt the Tide’s championship machine during the Saban era, beating the Tide in the semifinals in 2014 on the way to a national title.

They are two of college football’s flagship programs, both rich in tradition. Also, they are the teams the rest of college football loves to hate, the teams that always seem to get the benefit of the doubt in the rankings.