The College Football Playoff is Set

We’ve got Alabama #1, Michigan #2, Georgia #3 and Cincinnati #4.

The playoff game schedule is as follows:

  • Bama vs. Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl (Dallas) at 3:30pm EST on December 31.
  • Georgia vs. Michigan in the Orange Bowl (Miami) at 7:30pm EST on December 31.

The Bearcats are now the first G5 team to ever make it to the playoff, and they were able to do it because they went out of their way to schedule tough out-of-conference games, playing at Notre Dame and at Indiana. Remember, Indiana was ranked to start the season.

Since UCF made their noise in 2017, the rallying cry of fans of G5 teams against a perceived unfair and exclusionary playoff system has been “WE WANT BAMA!” Well, Cincy, you got Bama now.

What’s interesting about Cincinnati being in right now is that, if reports are to be believed, the main issue holding up the expansion of the playoff from moving forward (and thus running the risk that we don’t get an expanded playoff until 2025) is whether it’s going to be automatic berths for all Power 5 Conferences plus the highest ranked G5 Conference Champ, or whether simply the 6 highest-ranked Conference Champs get automatic berths. The latter is being pushed by the G5 teams, because it enables them to get potentially up to 2, maybe even in crazy circumstances 3 automatic playoff berths, while the former caps the number of automatic berths for G5 teams at just 1. If Cincy comes out and gets housed in this game against Bama, the big wigs involved in sorting out this whole playoff situation might just say to the G5 conferences, “Hey, you’re lucky to get just one automatic berth.”

But if Cincy comes out and plays Bama tough–or hell, even does the unthinkable and wins–then it will certainly embolden the G5 conferences and give them justification to push for more guaranteed inclusion in the playoff.

So in this regard there’s quite a bit of pressure on Cincy. They’re representing the whole G5, and their performance could shape the playoff for years to come.

Michigan makes their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance after absolutely housing Iowa 42-3 in the Big Ten Championship (by the way, the FTP Official College Football Power Ratings had that game nailed: we had Michigan as 39 points better than Iowa at a neutral site).

And the game of the year, the Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship, resulted in Alabama taking the top spot and Georgia moving down to #3.

So the analysts were correct in assuming that even if Georgia lost to Bama yesterday, they’d still be in the playoff. They lost, and they’re still in.

Michigan was definitely rooting for Georgia yesterday because a Dawgs win would’ve A. knocked Alabama out and B. probably allowed Michigan to play Cincinnati in the semifinal. Instead, Michigan now has to play Georgia, who for about 12 weeks was considered the hands-down best team in the nation.

We now have the possibility open for an all-SEC National Championship once again after seeing Georgia and Bama square off for all the marbles in 2017.

I’m going to get into the playoff matchups here shortly, but only on a cursory level. The deep dives will come later this month as we get closer to the games.

First I want to go over the Bama-Georgia game, because the outcome probably surprised a lot of people, including myself.

I have been very vocal all week that while I didn’t think Bama would win, I absolutely believed they were going to cover. I bet Bama +6.5 with no hesitation, and I think I was pretty adamant in saying I thought that was a good bet. I made some decent money off of that, and I even put a smaller bet on Bama to win outright as well.

My score prediction for the game was 23-20 Georgia, and obviously that was nowhere close to the outcome, although I did get pretty close Georgia’s final score. I was off on Bama’s final score by 3 touchdowns though.

The reason Bama was able to win that game was because they had great success passing the ball on that Georgia defense. I said in the deep dive that I thought the Georgia secondary was exploitable, but I didn’t think Bama would be able to exploit it because I didn’t think their offensive line would be able to block the Georgia pass rush effectively.

But Bama’s offensive line, as maligned as it has been all year, held up a lot better than I thought it would. In fact, the Bama offensive line didn’t allow a single sack, while the Bama defense was able to sack Stetson Bennett 3 times. That was kind of surprising.

Bama was even able to out-rush Georgia in the game, 115 yards to 109 on the ground, and that was a huge surprise to me. Bama was able to run for 4.4 yards per carry, which is even better than their season average of 4.0 YPC, which I don’t think anybody expected. Bama’s defensive line held Georgia to just 3.6 yards per carry, and that’s something that I did think might happen as Bama has an elite run defense.

However, I do have to point out that 40 of Bama’s rushing yards were on scrambles by Bryce Young, so if you just focus on the Bama running backs, it was 22 carries for 76 yards, or 3.45 YPC. That’s a more accurate assessment of how effective Bama was running the ball.

At the end of the deep dive, I wrote that while I thought Georgia would win, I thought Bama absolutely could win the game because they have the better QB, the best player on the field in Will Anderson, and of course Nick Fucking Saban. And Georgia hasn’t beaten Bama since 2007.

I think Bryce Young ultimately made the difference in this game. He was sensational and in my view absolutely locked up the Heisman with his performance. He was able to average 9.56 yards per pass attempt in the game against a Georgia defense that had only allowed 4.92 YPA all season.

Just look at this incredible stat line for Young:

A 98.0 QBR against the best defense in the country. Just incredible. Young looked amazing out there. I really cannot speak highly enough of him right now. His arm is top-notch, but he can also run the ball as well and it makes him just so dangerous. He’s a true sophomore right now (in past articles I mistakenly said he was a true freshman but he’s actually a true sophomore), and you have to figure if he was eligible for the draft right in 2022, he’d go #1 overall.

Jameson Williams was awesome as well. 7 catches for 184 yards and 2 TDs. He is really something else, and it’s still hard to believe he had to transfer from Ohio State because he would’ve been the 4th receiver on the team this year. He’s like the Joe Burrow of wide receivers, honestly. Williams probably played himself into the first round yesterday, if he wasn’t already in it. He is a game-changing wide receiver. He’s such a deep threat. Really impressed with Jameson Williams.

I think the takeaway from this game is that Georgia just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with a team like Alabama. This is a real problem for Georgia because if Georgia beats Michigan and Bama beats Cincy, and we get a rematch in the Championship, I think Georgia is in real trouble. They cannot win in a shootout against Bama. They just can’t. And while Georgia’s defense is really good, I don’t know if it’s good enough to slow this Alabama offense and hold them to something like 24-27 points, which is about the most Georgia could allow against Bama and still expect to have a chance to win.

Now, Bama did get a 7 points off a pick six, so the Bama offense actually scored 34 points, but remember this is a Georgia defense that allowed 6 points a game on average in the 12 games prior to the Bama game. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Georgia defense got exposed by Bama.

And I don’t think the Bama pick-six was a fluke, either. Bama should’ve had 2 pick-sixes on Stetson Bennett. Very early in the game, a Bama defender dropped what would have certainly been a pick-six. So while you can say Bama was very fortunate that they got a pick six in the game, I’d push back on that a bit by pointing out that A. Bama could’ve easily had two pick-sixes in the game, and B. the pick-six Bama did get came when they were up 31-17. So they were already well-ahead in the game and scoring pretty easily on the Georgia defense.

I also don’t think that Stetson Bennett is capable of throwing the ball 48 times in a game, which is how many attempts he had yesterday. In other words, I think the pick-six was not so much a fluke but rather more something we should’ve expected to see when a QB like Bennett is asked to throw 48 times. Bennett had 2 INTs in the game and it should’ve been 3.

This goes back to what I was saying earlier: I don’t think Georgia can keep up with Bama. I don’t think this outcome was a fluke. You could tell from the very start of the game that Bama was going to be able to move the ball on that Georgia defense. Bama’s offense took a little while to click in the game, but you could tell from the start that their receivers were able to get open and Bryce Young had time in the pocket to throw.

I almost forgot that Georgia went up 10-0 to start the game. They were kind of gashing Bama, you could say, and Bama’s offense was not on the same page, but you could tell that Bama was going to get back into the game. Once Jameson Williams made his house call in the early second quarter to make it 10-7, you knew Bama had it figured out.

It just wasn’t anywhere near as hard for Alabama to score in that game as I thought it would be. That was the biggest surprise. That was the big takeaway. I’m not going to say Bama was scoring at will, because they had a tough time running the ball, but they had a ton of success moving the ball.

I had Georgia’s final score total about nailed: I thought they would score 24, they scored 23. They had 449 yards of total offense.

But Bama, who I thought would only score 20, scored 41. Again, they had a defensive TD, but even if you take that away, that’s 2 TDs more than I thought they’d get. Bama gained 536 yards on that Georgia defense! They were 7-14 on third down. This was a Georgia defense that allowed under 250 total yards per game coming into the SEC Championship.

After this game, it’s hard to look at Georgia the same way we did for the prior 12 games of this season. No longer can we view Georgia as a juggernaut and the prohibitive favorite to win it all, but I think it would be foolish to write them off so quickly. They’re still in the playoff, and my power ratings still have had them as either the best or second best team in the nation all year.

Based on last weeks power ratings, Georgia would still be about a 4.5 point favorite over Michigan at a neutral site, although we’ll have to recalculate the rankings one last time before we can say for sure.

This seems like an appropriate time to segue into the playoff matchups. I guess we’ll start with Georgia vs. Michigan as we’re on the topic of Georgia.

Obviously Michigan would’ve preferred to be playing Cincinnati in this matchup, but Bama had other plans. Now Michigan will probably have to beat two SEC teams in order to win the National Title. That seems like a tall order, but Michigan has been really good this season.

I don’t have Michigan as being quite on the same level as Bama and Georgia, but they should be able to compete. I don’t think Georgia is going to embarrass them.

However, Michigan will be hard pressed to run on that Georgia defense, and that’s a serious problem. If Michigan cannot run the ball, they’ll be in for a long day.

I do think Michigan’s defense should be able to have some decent success against the Georgia offense, however, partly because Michigan’s defense is really good, but also because the Georgia offense simply isn’t all that explosive.

However, Michigan has yet to face an offensive line like Georgia’s all season. I doubt Hutchinson and Ojabo will be able to dominate this game the way they’ve dominated all their other games this year.

This is gut-check time for Georgia. Their air of invincibility has been shattered. Michigan is not going to be afraid of them. The word is out that Georgia can be beaten. Whether Michigan will be able to take advantage of that fact is anyone’s guess, but we do know that it’ll be very hard if not impossible for Michigan to replicate Bama’s performance. Bama’s is just a completely different offense than Michigan’s. Bama has a Heisman quarterback that can air it out, Michigan really doesn’t.

All year I’ve thought Ohio State and Bama were the only two teams that could beat Georgia, and while Ohio State isn’t in the playoff because of their loss to Michigan, Ohio State’s passing-centered attack would have been a better matchup against this Georgia defense than Michigan’s run-centric offense.

Still, Georgia-Michigan should be a good game at any rate. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout.

As for the Bama-Cincy game, well let’s just say Cincy has their work cut out for them. Based on last week’s power ratings, Bama would be about a 14 point favorite over Cincy, and even that might be generous to Cincy.

However, Cincy does have some strong cornerbacks in Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. Gardner is a projected first-round pick in next year’s draft, while Bryant, who is projected to go in round 2 or 3, is a finalist for the Thorpe Award this year, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

By no means do I see them shutting down the Bama passing attack, but they’ve at least got a puncher’s chance, especially now that the Tide have lost John Metchie for the season with a torn ACL.

I still think Bama wins fairly easily, but I’ll be pulling for Cincy to at least make it competitive. I like Luke Fickell and it’s hard not to have a soft spot for the Cinderella team.

The problem is that Cincy is going to just be outclassed in terms of talent to such an incredible degree that it’s hard to give them much of a chance. We’re talking about the most talented team in the nation against a team in Cincinnati that ranks 54th in roster talent, putting them behind such Power Five bottom feeders as Illinois and Colorado. To really put it in context, Vanderbilt ranks 59th in talent, and they’re the worst team in the SEC by a mile.

This Bama-Cincy game is a massive talent mismatch to say the least.

So the odds should favor us getting a Bama-Georgia rematch in the National Championship. There’s a bit of uncertainty in the Georgia-Michigan game, but I think Georgia matches up really well against Michigan, and I think people are going to overreact to the Georgia loss.

Don’t get it twisted here, people: Georgia is still really, really good.

Sure, they lost by 17, but it was to Alabama! It’s not as if they lost to Auburn or Mississippi State.

Georgia and Bama have been in a class of their own all season long. It would be a big mistake to write Georgia off right now.

I’m looking forward to these games. I’ll do a deep dive on both as we get closer to the playoff.

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