Ohio State to face No. 1 Georgia in College Football Playoff

A week after its national championship hopes looked doomed, Ohio State is in the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes (11-1) are the No. 4 seed and will play top-seeded and defending champion Georgia (13-0) in the CFP semifinals at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta at 8 p.m. Dec. 31.

No. 2 Michigan (13-0) and No. 3 TCU (12-1) will play in the other semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl. The Big Ten has two teams in the playoff for the first time.

The national championship game will be Jan. 9 in suburban Los Angeles.

"It’s hard to explain the range of emotions that have gone on here the last seven days," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "I said before that it’s like a second lease on life. A couple days ago, we were on life support a little bit. Our season was. Now there's a two-game season in front of us. There's unbelievable excitement right now. Guys are just bouncing around the facility."

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When Ohio State lost to Michigan 45-23 on Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes appeared unlikely to make the CFP. But two other contenders – Clemson and LSU – also lost that day, opening the door a crack.

Still, No. 5 Ohio State needed help in this weekend’s conference championship games.

How Ohio State found its way into the CFP

The simplest path was for No. 4 Southern California to lose to Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night in Las Vegas, and that’s what happened. The Utes rallied from a 17-3 deficit for a 47-24 victory, aided by an injury that hampered Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy favorite.

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day leads his team onto the field prior to the NCAA Division I football game against the Toledo Rockets at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch
Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day leads his team onto the field prior to the NCAA Division I football game against the Toledo Rockets at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

“You’re welcome, coach Day,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham quipped after the game.

Utah’s win was its second over USC this season. No two-loss team has ever been selected for the playoff.

Georgia, Michigan and TCU entered the weekend undefeated. Georgia routed LSU 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Michigan pulled away from Purdue in the second half for a 43-22 win in the Big Ten title game.

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TCU lost in overtime to Kansas State 31-28 in the Big 12 championship. The only real drama on Sunday would be whether Ohio State would overtake the Horned Frogs for the No. 3 seed. If that happened, it would set up a semifinal matchup between Ohio State and Michigan. Imagine that.

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett  raises the SEC Championship MVP trophy after a victory against LSU.

Syndication Online Athens
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett raises the SEC Championship MVP trophy after a victory against LSU. Syndication Online Athens

Now if the archrivals meet, it will have to be in the championship game. Getting there is a daunting task for Ohio State, which would have to knock off Georgia in its home state. The school’s campus in Athens is about 70 miles from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"Life is all about opportunity," Day said. "What an unbelievable opportunity this is, going down to Atlanta playing the national champs. (Georgia coach) Kirby (Smart) has done an unbelievable job again this year. But this is all going to be about taking advantage of this opportunity, who works harder over the next month, the coaches and the players. Now we're back in control of our destiny. We weren't, and that was the hardest thing going into this past weekend."

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Ohio State has some favorable history playing in the SEC’s backyard. The 2014 Buckeyes upset No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on their way to winning the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes have been back to the CFP three times since then. The 2016 team lost 31-0 to Clemson in the semifinals at the Fiesta Bowl. The 2019 Buckeyes fell in a heartbreaker 29-23 to Clemson again in the Fiesta Bowl.

OSU got its revenge against the Tigers the next year 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl before losing to Alabama 52-24 in the title game.

Nov 26, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Cody Simon (30) tries to tackle Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) during the first half of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch
Nov 26, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Cody Simon (30) tries to tackle Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) during the first half of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

The Buckeyes will be an underdogs for the first time this season when they play Georgia. They probably welcome that role. They were favored to get revenge against Michigan after their loss in 2021 in Ann Arbor, and they played tight until wilting in the second half.

Day said the Buckeyes have studied what went wrong against Michigan last week, particularly the big plays the defense allowed.

"You come out of The Game like we did at the end of the season and there's some regret that we don't win The Game," Day said. "Now the goal is to have no regret going into this game, playing loose, playing fast, playing aggressive, and having a great month of preparation so we play with great confidence."

Ohio State has played Georgia only once. The Bulldogs defeated the Buckeyes 21-14 in the 1993 Citrus Bowl.

"We recruit a lot of the same kids, and they've got a tremendous program," Smart said. "It'll be a premier matchup, which our guys love. When you make the final four, whether you're 1 through 4, it really doesn't matter."

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State football to face Georgia in College Football Playoff