LSU celebrates winning the SEC Championship game Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Playoff field set; No. 1 LSU vs. Oklahoma in Peach Bowl

The LSU Tigers are coming back to Atlanta. 

Their impressive win over Georgia in the SEC Championship game here Saturday earned the Tigers the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, and they will face No. 4 Oklahoma in a semifinal in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

The other semifinal will match No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Both semifinals are on Dec. 28; game times are 4 p.m. for the Peach and 8 p.m. (ET) for the Fiesta.

Peach Bowl officials gathered at The Battery Atlanta to watch Sunday’s unveiling of the playoff matchups on ESPN. They were thrilled to land the No. 1-ranked team and two high-powered offenses.

“It was exciting. It was like Christmas morning when you open up and see No. 1 and No. 4 up there with Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl next to them,” said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc.

Referring to the two teams’ offensive firepower, Stokan joked: “We might have to open the roof in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for all the fireworks.”

Per College Football Playoff guidelines, LSU as the No. 1-ranked team was assigned to the semifinal site that would be most convenient for its fans. LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who said Saturday night it didn’t matter where the committee seeded his team, acknowledged Sunday the potential advantage of playing a second consecutive game in the same stadium.

“First of all, we loved it. What a great stadium,” Orgeron said. “I think familiarity will help your team. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game, but it just means that you’re familiar with it and the guys know the surroundings.

“We’re fortunate that we’re able to play a great team like Oklahoma, fortunate we can go back to Atlanta because we feel it’s close and we’ll have a lot of fans there. It worked out in our favor. That’s just the way the ball bounced.”

In setting the playoff field, the selection committee flip-flopped Ohio State and LSU at the top of its rankings.  For the previous two weeks, the committee had ranked Ohio State No. 1 and LSU No. 2. But the order was reversed after LSU beat Georgia 37-10 in the SEC Championship game and Ohio State beat Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten title game. 

“The committee holds LSU and Ohio State in the highest regard,” selection committee chair Rob Mullens said Sunday. “We flipped them between Nos. 1 and 2 three times this season. That’s what happens when you work off a clean sheet of paper with two teams that are so closely matched.

“LSU’s dominating performance against an excellent Georgia team was a final piece of information that influenced the committee’s vote. LSU’s (best) wins were against Georgia, Florida, Auburn and Alabama, ranked 5, 9, 12 and 13. The committee favorably compared that to Ohio State’s (best) wins against Wisconsin twice, Penn State, Michigan and Cincinnati, ranked 8, 10, 14 and 21.”

Three of the playoff teams -- LSU, Ohio State and Clemson -- are undefeated, each of them 13-0. The other, Oklahoma, is 12-1. All four won their conference championships.

The results of conference title games Friday and Saturday greatly simplified the selection committee’s final decisions. Those games left no “Power 5” team with fewer than two losses other than those that made the playoff. Georgia, Utah and Baylor all suffered their second losses of the season in their conference’s championship games, effectively dropping them out of playoff contention. In the event’s six-year history, no two-loss team has made the field. 

LSU has played in the Peach Bowl six times previously, winning five of those games, giving the Tigers more wins than any other team in the bowl’s history. LSU played in the first Peach Bowl in 1968, beating Florida State 31-27.

Oklahoma, which defeated Baylor in overtime in the Big 12 Championship game Saturday, has not played in the Peach Bowl previously.

“We’re certainly excited to get to Atlanta,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “... This College Football Playoff is what it should be: the best teams in the country getting ready to go at it. It should be certainly an exciting time.”

The winners of the Peach and Fiesta bowls will play for the national championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13.

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