College Football Playoff run for Michigan, Georgia starts with Orange Bowl semifinal

·5 min read

The College Football Playoff field is set, and two of the four teams are making their way to South Florida in their first stop on the quest for a national title.

The Orange Bowl semifinal matchup, set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at Hard Rock Stadium: The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (12-1) against the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (12-1).

The other semifinal, No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1) and the No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0), will take place at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. That game will also be played on Dec. 31 at AT&T Stadium.

The winners of the semifinals will play for the national championship on Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The four teams advancing to the playoffs were all but decided when conference championship games came to an end on Saturday.

The Southeastern Conference was set to get two teams when one-loss Alabama knocked off previously top-ranked and undefeated Georgia 41-24 in the conference title game.

Michigan’s 42-3 beatdown of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship assured the Wolverines their first-ever spot in the playoffs.

And Cincinnati’s perfect record, including a road win over Notre Dame in the regular season and a win over Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game coupled with the fact that Oklahoma State’s loss in the Big 12 championship left Notre Dame as the only remaining one-loss team with a chance to make the playoff field made it all but impossible for the committee to omit the Bearcats.

The main thing that needed to be decided was the seeding. Does Alabama or Michigan get the top seed? How far to drop Georgia? Would the committee try to stagger the top four to avoid a Georgia-Alabama rematch in the semifinals?

The committee went with the Alabama-Michigan-Georgia-Cincinnati ordering.

All four playoff teams rank among the top 13 in scoring offense and top 20 in scoring defense.

Breaking down the Orange Bowl matchup

Michigan’s playoff hopes appeared to be on life support after a 37-33 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 30, but the Wolverines closed the season with five consecutive wins — highlighted by a 42-27 victory over Ohio State and 42-3 win over Iowa in the conference title game.

The Wolverines are paced on offense by a one-two running back punch in senior Hassan Haskins (1,288 yards, 20 touchdowns) and sophomore Blake Corum (939 yards, 11 touchdowns), while junior receiver Cornelius Johnson (37 catches, 602 yards, three touchdowns) has been the favorite target for quarterback Cade McNamara (64.6 percent completion, 2,470 yards, 15 touchdowns, four interceptions). Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and linebacker David Ojabo have combined for 25 of Michigan’s 34 sacks this year. Junior defensive backs DJ Turner and Daxton Hill each have two interceptions.

Will Anderson Jr. #31 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles James Cook #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the SEC Championship game against the at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Will Anderson Jr. #31 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles James Cook #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the SEC Championship game against the at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Georgia, led by its suffocating defense, had been arguably the best team all season before falling to Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs held every opponent to 17 points or less before giving up 41 to the Crimson Tide.

And the efforts are by committee. Georgia has six players with at least three sacks and eight with at least five tackles for loss. The Bulldogs have intercepted 12 passes and recovered four fumbles On offense, UGA has three capable runners in Zamir White (718 yards, 10 touchdowns), Miami Central alumnus James Cook (619 yards, seven touchdowns), and University School alumnus Kenny McIntosh (319 yards, three touchdowns).

This is Georgia’s second playoff appearance.

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate their win against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate their win against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.

As for the other semifinal

Alabama, making its seventh playoff appearance and looking for its fourth title in the playoff era, had a rare regular-season slip up this year when it lost on a last-second field goal to Texas A&M on Oct. 9 and had one-score wins against Florida (31-29), LSU (20-14), Arkansas (42-35) and Auburn (24-22 in four overtimes) before thoroughly handling Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.

Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young is the frontrunner to win the Heisman after throwing for 4,322 yards with 43 touchdowns against just four interceptions and adding three more touchdowns on the ground. The Crimson Tide has a 1,000-yard rusher in Brian Robinson Jr. and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Jameson Williams and John Metchie III (although Metchie is expected to miss the playoffs with injury). Sophomore linebacker Will Anderson (31.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks) and South Florida native defensive back Jordan Battle (two interceptions returned for touchdowns) are among Alabama’s standouts on defense.

Coby Bryant #7 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates an interception during the second half of the 2021 American Conference Championship against the Houston Cougars at Nippert Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Coby Bryant #7 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates an interception during the second half of the 2021 American Conference Championship against the Houston Cougars at Nippert Stadium on December 04, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati became the first non-Power five team to make the playoffs after running the table during the regular season with a schedule that included a convincing 24-13 win at Notre Dame, a 35-20 win over Houston in the AAC title game and an average margin of victory of 23.2 points.

Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 3,190 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Junior running back Jerome Ford has 1,243 yards and 19 touchdowns. And the Bearcats’ front seven has five players with at least 8.5 tackles for loss, while the team’s 18 overall interceptions are the third most in the country.

The rest of the New Year’s Six Bowls

Peach Bowl (Dec. 30, 7 p.m.): No. 10 Michigan State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-2)

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.): No. 5 Notre Dame (11-1) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2)

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 5 p.m.): No. 6 Ohio State (10-2) vs No. 11 Utah (10-3)

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.): No. 7 Baylor (11-2) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2)

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