Buckeyes make CFP, will face Georgia

Published 7:26 pm Sunday, December 4, 2022

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia will be heading back to its home away from home for the College Football Playoff.

The No. 1 Bulldogs (13-0) received the top seed from the selection committee Sunday, earning a spot in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

The reigning national champions will be in a familiar place for their semifinal showdown against No. 4 Ohio State (11-1, No. 4 CFP).

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Georgia will be making its third appearance of the season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, about 75 miles from its Athens campus. The Bulldogs opened with a 49-3 demolition of Oregon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, and they claimed their first Southeastern Conference title since 2017 with a 50-30 rout of LSU on Saturday.

‘”We like this place,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said with a grin. “We play pretty good here.”

Georgia is trying to become the first team since Alabama in 2011-12 to win back-to-back national titles.

The Bulldogs should have a home-field advantage when they face the Buckeyes, even though Ohio State’s fervent fan base figures to be well represented in Atlanta.

“It’s like our second home,” Georgia right end Brock Bowers said. “It makes everything a lot easier”

Georgia certainly had a huge crowd advantage in the SEC title game, where the stands were dominated by red and black.

“It felt like 70%,” Bowers said. “It helps a lot.”

While these are two of college football’s most storied programs, they have scant history against each other. In their only previous meeting, the Bulldogs defeated Ohio State 21-14 in the 1993 Citrus Bowl.

The stakes will be much higher when they face off this time.

The winner heads to Los Angeles to face e ither Michigan or TCU in the national championship game on Jan. 9. Those teams will meet in the other semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.

Despite massive losses in the NFL draft — a record 15 players were selected off its national championship team, including five first-round picks from the defense — Georgia has cruised through the season with a perfect record.

The Bulldogs have had only one close call, winning 26-22 at Missouri. Every other victory was by a double-digit margin, defying skeptics who figured this team was headed for a dropoff.

“This has been a different group,” coach Kirby Smart said. “You guys have tried to label them, tried to figure ‘em out, tried to analyze ’em. They’re not comprehendible. They do what they have to do, and they do it well. They care about each other and they really do it for each other.”

Georgia also took care of some business that eluded last year’s squad.

The Bulldogs failed to win the SEC title in 2021, losing to Alabama, but they bounced back to beat the Crimson Tide in the national championship game.

It was an accomplishment that Bennett and his teammates did not take lightly, even though they were clearly assured of a spot in the playoff no matter how they fared against LSU.

“Winning the SEC is a big deal,” Bennett said, “This is the best conference in football. National championships are huge and great. That’s our next goal.”

Ohio State didn’t even reach the Big Ten championship game. After winning their first 11 games, the Buckeyes were manhandled at home by rival Michigan 45-23 in the regular-season finale.

But Ohio State, which was ranked No. 5 by the CFP a week ago, climbed into the field without playing when then-No. 4 Southern Cal was routed by Utah in the Pac-12 title game.

If Ohio State and Michigan win their semifinal games, their storied rivalry could play out on a postseason stage for the first time.

Coach Ryan Day wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

Certainly not with Georgia lurking in a de facto home game for the Bulldogs.

“You’re playing the defending national championships in their backyard, so it’s gonna take everything we have to go on the road and go win this game,” Day said. “I just think we wanted to be in this situation: the CFP at the end of the year. Took a different road to get here, but we’re here.”