The defending national champions, two Big Ten powers and an upstart that wasn’t even expected to contend in its conference this season.
Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State were selected Sunday to play in the College Football Playoff, giving the Big Ten multiple programs in the four-team field for the first time.
The top-ranked and reigning champion Bulldogs and fourth-seeded Buckeyes will meet Dec. 31 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. The second-seeded Wolverines and third-ranked Horned Frogs, the lone first-timer in the final four, will play at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, the same day.
The national championship game is Jan. 9 at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California, and it could be a rematch of rivals Ohio State and Michigan in what will soon be Big Ten country as the conference expands.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines have never played outside of their annual regular-season game in a bitter rivalry that dates to 1902.
With some drama, but not much controversy, the CFP selection committee’s top four fell into place over championship weekend. The most interesting part of the unveiling was whether the committee would pair Michigan and Ohio State in the semifinals and whether Alabama might be able to slip in as the first two-loss playoff team.
In the end, the committee sprung no surprises.
Committee chairman Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at North Carolina State, said Ohio State’s wins against Penn State and Notre Dame helped push the Buckeyes in over Alabama.
“As we looked at the total body of work, the committee was comfortable with Ohio State State at No. 4 and Alabama at 5,” he said in an interview with ESPN. Corrigan also said the committee did not make any special effort to avoid having a rematch of Ohio State and Michigan in a semifinal.
Georgia (13-0), which won the Southeastern Conference championship game in a rout, is a 6 1/2-point favorite against Ohio State, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Michigan (13-0), which took the the Big Ten title, is favored by 9 1/2 points over TCU.
TCU (12-1) suffered is first loss of the season in the Big 12 championship Saturday, falling in overtime to Kansas State. The loss made for an uneasy night for Heisman Trophy contender Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs.
“I was really nervous,” Duggan said about watching ESPN’s slow rollout of the pairings.
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Nothing to fear for the Frogs, they had already built enough equity to stay in the top four during an improbable season after being picked seventh in the Big 12.
Ohio State (11-1) was given a second life in the playoff race when Southern California lost the Pac-12 championship game Friday night. A week after star quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes lost at home to coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, they slipped into the final playoff spot, the best of a flawed batch of contenders.
Alabama (10-2) was fifth in the committee rankings, missing the CFP for just the second time in its nine-year history. The Crimson Tide, with a little lobbying from coach Nick Saban, were hoping to become the first team to lose two games and make the playoff.
The committee instead simply moved Ohio State from fifth last week to fourth this week, setting up just the second matchup ever between the Bulldogs and Buckeyes. The only time Georgia and Ohio State have played was in the 1993 Citrus Bowl, a Bulldogs’ victory.
“They got a lot of really great players because we recruit a lot of the same kids,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
For Georgia, it is the second straight CFP appearance and third overall. This time, though, Smart’s Bulldogs enter as the No. 1 team and clear favorite after following up last season’s national title with a perfect season. Stetson Bennett and the ‘Dawgs will try to become the first team to repeat as CFP champions.
Ohio State is making its fifth playoff appearance. The last time the Buckeyes were the fourth seed was 2014, when they won their last national title.
This will be the fourth time two teams from the same conference reached the playoff. Alabama and Georgia have done it twice of the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference has done it once, when Clemson and ACC guest member Notre Dame made the 2020 pandemic-season playoff.
Michigan is in for the second time, again as the second seed after losing to Georgia in the Orange Bowl semifinal last season.
“It’s a team that really works and competes, and I think they really understand if you want to have good things happen you got to work, you got to compete for it,” Harbaugh told ESPN.
Last year, Michigan was the first team reach the College Football Playoff after starting the season unranked in the AP Top 25.
TCU is now the second. The Horned Frogs also are just the 13th different school to make the field in nine years. That lack of variety is one of the main reasons the CFP will be expanding to 12 teams in the 2024 season.
The Horned Frogs, whose only national title came in 1938, have never played Michigan.
By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press