No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs draw No. 4 Ohio State in College Football Playoff

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Teams will meet in Atlanta at Peach Bowl on Dec. 31

ATHENS — There were no watch parties at Georgia’s football complex Sunday.

Avoiding drama is a great thing to do in life, and it’s also wonderful in college football. The No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (13-0) avoided any drama by winning the SEC Championship on Saturday, just like they did by winning every game all season.

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So, it was at a team meeting well after ESPN’s elaborately produced final College Football Playoff show that Georgia players were officially informed of their status as the top seed in the national semifinals, which get underway on Dec. 31. The only suspense was about who the Bulldogs would play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

That will be Ohio State.

The teams will meet at 8 p.m. in Atlanta. It will be the Bulldogs’ third game in The Benz this season.

No. 2 Michigan (13-0) and No. 3 TCU (12-1) will play in the other semifinal in Phoenix in the Fiesta Bowl at 4 p.m., also on Dec. 31.

“We’ve watched them and studied them from afar in years past and in offseasons,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of playing the Buckeyes (11-1). “I always knew that an opportunity to play them would probably come along, but not knowing when it would happen, and it came to fruition this year. Always have a lot of respect for them and their players, a lot of whom we’ve recruited.”

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Ohio State moved up Sunday to No. 4 – ahead of No. 5 Alabama (10-2) and No. 6 Tennessee (10-2) – after occupying the No. 2 spot in the CFP rankings almost the entire season. That was before falling at home to Michigan 45-23 in the final regular-season game. That loss dropped the Buckeyes to No. 5.

After missing out last year, getting back into the semifinal was enthusiastically celebrated at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday.

“I can just tell you that our team is very excited to be in this position, to be in the CFP,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Sunday. “It’s been an emotional week here. But to be in our facility today and see our name pop up there gave us a lot of juice, a lot of energy. We’re looking forward to a great month of preparation and great week in Atlanta.”

There was some discussion about whether TCU might fall to No. 4 after losing in the Big 12 Championship game. That would have meant moving the Buckeyes to No. 3 and setting up a rematch between Michigan and Ohio State.

But selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan insisted that avoiding the rematch was not part of the decision-making criteria and was not discussed at all.

“Ohio State’s always been valued high by the committee, but as we looked at it our goal is to get 1 through 4 correct, and really 1 through 25,” Corrigan said in a teleconference call with reporters Sunday. “What it comes down to is making sure you have them in the right order. When you look at TCU, they’re 6-1 against teams over .500, 2-1 against ranked teams; Ohio State had wins over Penn State and Notre Dame and played Michigan close for three quarters of the game. At the end of the day, we came back to TCU and there was nothing that occurred in the (Big 12 Championship) game against Kansas State that we believed should take them out of the 3 spot.”

Nobody was happier about the matchup than Peach Bowl organizers. It’s the third time since it became part of the playoff rotation that Atlanta has hosted the nation’s No. 1 team. That the top-ranked team happens to be Georgia this season makes it even better.

“To have the No. 2 scoring offense in the country (Ohio State) and the No. 2 scoring defense (Georgia) should make for a great New Year’s Eve fireworks show,” Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan said. “To also be in prime time, we’re excited.”

Georgia and Ohio State will meet in football for only the second time in the schools’ storied histories. The last time they played was in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., in 1993. The Bulldogs won 21-14 over the Buckeyes, who were led by quarterback Kirk Herbstreit.

Georgia has a lot of work to do in the 27 days between now and then, especially on defense. The Bulldogs gave up 549 yards and 30 points to LSU in their 50-30 SEC Championship win.

“What really matters is how you manage your time as you get ready for the game because there’s a lot of buildup,” said Smart, who led the Bulldogs to their first national championship in 41 years last season. “We can’t play the kind of defense we played (Saturday) night and expect to be any kind of champions, semifinals or national championship.”

Stokan doesn’t see Georgia playing in Atlanta for a third time having a negative economic impact on the city. The game is already sold out, and ticket prices on the secondary market were soaring Sunday afternoon. A “get-in” price of $365 last week was quickly moving up past $400, with some of the best seats in the stadium going for well over $1,000.

It’s the third time in the last five years that Georgia will participate in the four-team playoff. The Bulldogs first made it as a No. 3 seed after winning the 2017 SEC Championship. They defeated No. 2 Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in the Rose Bowl semifinal. The Bulldogs lost to fourth-seeded Alabama 26-23 – also in overtime – in the national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Last year, Georgia lost to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship game to fall from No. 1 to No. 3. The Bulldogs met No. 2 Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal in Miami and won 34-11. The Wolverines, who return this year as back-to-back Big Ten champions, were saying Sunday how they are motivated for a rematch with Georgia because of that result.

Revenge proved to be a great motivator for the Bulldogs last season. It certainly seemed to be a contributing factor as Georgia came roaring from behind in the second half to vanquish Alabama 33-18 to secure the school’s first national championship in 41 years.

This season, the Bulldogs seek to become the first back-to-back national champions in football since Alabama did it in 2012. Smart then was the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. The national championship this season will be played Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

“I’m just so happy we got a chance to win an SEC championship,” Smart said Sunday. “I’d like to get my guys a little time to recover, to relax, to get in shape, to worry about final exams; we’ve got official visits next weekend. There’s so many things going on. And now we have to get ready for a team that didn’t play in a conference championship game and had a week off to rest and recoup. They’re going to be refreshed and ready to go.”

Meanwhile, despite considerable lobbying by coach Nick Saban in the previous 24 hours, Alabama was left on the outside looking in. The Crimson Tide lost their two games to No. 6 Tennessee and LSU on the road, and both on the final play of the game. However, Alabama also narrowly won games against Texas and Texas A&M.

There were six SEC teams in the final CFP Top 25 rankings, which were released later Sunday afternoon. LSU fell to No. 17, South Carolina was 19 and Mississippi State was 22. Georgia defeated all of them but did not play Alabama.