For a moment, terror spread across Bulldog Nation. Alabama – which we’d all pronounced DOA, CFP-wise – suddenly had life. Movie images sprang to mind. Was Nick Saban really Freddy Krueger, or was he Jaws from Roger Moore’s stint as 007? Was Kirby Smart thinking, a la Michael Corleone in the least of “The Godfather” trilogy: “Just when I think I’m out, he (Saban/Freddy/Jaws) PULLS ME BACK IN”?
At 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Alabama finally flatlined. The lobbying efforts of the Great Saban didn’t sway the playoff committee. Indeed, the chairperson who sounds as if he lurks on Elm Street, invented a criterion. Ohio State, Boo Corrigan said, distinguished itself by “play(ing) Michigan close for three quarters.”
What Corrigan meant to say: “Alabama is lucky not to be 8-4. We thought Ohio State was better all along. Nick can pound sand.”
Georgia fans dreaded the thought of Alabama because Bama always wins when it mattered. Never mind that Bama didn’t win on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, and that mattered a lot. Never mind that this is Saban’s worst team since 2007: It’s still Alabama, and he’s still Saban. The committee did Georgia a great favor by shipping the Tide to a bowl that doesn’t matter. Whew.
Having had a few hours to think, a new narrative has taken hold. The committee’s great favor mightn’t be so favorable. Ohio State is better than Alabama. The semifinal in Atlanta is the de facto title game.
Michigan is No. 2 to Georgia’s No. 1. Those teams met on the final day of 2021. That game wasn’t close for three quarters. It was never close. Georgia led 14-0 after one quarter, 27-3 at the half. The Bulldogs outgained their opponent 521 yards to 328. Michigan’s lone touchdown cut its deficit to 23 points.
Corrigan danced around the issue of Ohio State being No. 4, as opposed to No. 3, which would have meant an instant rematch with Michigan. “At the end of the day, we came back to TCU, and nothing that happened in that game against Kansas State … moved them out of the No. 3 spot.”
Really? Not even the part where TCU lost to a three-loss opponent? But never mind.
If we go by metrics – the committee claims it does – the only reason not to bump Ohio State to No. 3 was because Michigan is No. 2. Brian Fremeau’s Football Outsiders rankings have Ohio State No. 3 in offense, No. 8 in defense, No. 2 in net drive efficiency; TCU is 12th, 24th and 18th. Of Ohio State’s 11 wins, none were by one score. Of TCU’s 12 wins, five were by one score.
Georgia and Ohio State have met once. That came in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 1993. The head coaches were Ray Goff and John Cooper. Georgia had Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst and Andre Hastings. The Buckeyes had Kirk Herbstreit, Robert Smith and Joey Galloway. (It also had Eddie George, a freshman who missed the bowl with a shoulder bruise.)
The Bulldogs won 21-14. Hearst rushed for 163 yards and was MVP. Zeier threw for 242. Frank Harvey scored the winning touchdown with 4:32 left. Herbstreit completed eight of 24 passes, threw an interception and – on a fourth-quarter drive that would have given Ohio State the lead – fumbled a handoff.
That was the best of Goff’s seven teams. It should have won the newly formed SEC East but suffered excruciating losses to Tennessee and Florida. Heath Shuler kept the Vols’ winning drive alive by converting on fourth-and-14; Shane Matthews kept the Gators’ clinching drive alive by converting on third-and-13. The ‘92 Buckeyes were underwhelming, which was Cooper’s signature. They lost to Wisconsin and Illinois and tied Michigan.
Smart hasn’t forgotten his last encounter with Ohio State. Behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott’s 230 yards rushing, the Buckeyes upset No. 1 Alabama 41-34 in the Sugar Bowl semi in the playoff’s inaugural year. Ohio State mustered 507 yards against Smart’s defense, prompting him to call Tom Herman, then the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator, to ask how he’d done it.
This is Georgia’s third playoff, Ohio State’s fifth. With Justin Fields, the quarterback who left UGA after one season of backing up Jake Fromm, the Buckeyes lost to Clemson in an epic semi and to Bama in a rudimentary final to close the COVID season. As Smart said Sunday: “We’ve watched them and studied them from afar ... always knew that an opportunity to play them would probably come along.”
From Labor Day on, the feeling has been that Georgia and Ohio State were the nation’s two best teams. The winner on New Year’s Eve will become the national champ. The score: Georgia 33, Ohio State 24.
The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
FAQ: How do you sign up? Go to the AJC.com home page. Click on “newsletters” at the top right. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks in advance, folks.
About the Author