CFP: Orange Bowl semi pits star defenses in Michigan-Georgia

Sports

Iowa running back Gavin Williams, center, is tackled by Michigan linebacker David Ojabo, right, and defensive back Vincent Gray (4) during the first half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The College Football Playoff semifinal in the Orange Bowl will match surging Michigan against a Georgia team that went unbeaten through the regular season before a humbling loss to the defending national champion.

The Dec. 31 matchup at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, was set up when the Wolverines were slotted No. 2 and the Bulldogs No. 3 in the final CFP rankings released Sunday.

Michigan (12-1) and Georgia (12-1) are two of the more storied programs in college football, but they have met only twice before. They split two meetings, one in 1957 and the other in 1965.

The Wolverines are in the four-team playoff for the first time after winning their first Big Ten title since 2004. They’re also the first team to start a season unranked to make the playoff. They didn’t crack the AP Top 25 until after their second game, a 31-10 win over Washington on Sept. 11.

They had close wins against unranked Rutgers and Nebraska, and their only loss was 37-33 at Michigan State. But they got on a roll in late November, closing the regular season with a 42-27 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State and putting a 42-3 beat-down on Iowa in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night.

Georgia, with the most dominant defense in the country through its first 12 games, came into the season with high expectations. The Bulldogs were No. 5 in the preseason and No. 2 to Alabama in the first five polls of the regular season. They took over the top spot after Alabama lost at Texas A&M on Oct. 9 and were there seven straight weeks.

The Bulldogs went into Southeastern Conference championship game as a touchdown favorite against Alabama. But their offense went flat and committed two turnovers, one an interception returned for a touchdown, and they converted only 3 of 12 third downs. Alabama’s Bryce Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns and the Bulldogs lost 41-24.

Defense is the identity for both Michigan and Georgia. The Wolverines feature two of the best defensive ends in the country in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who have combined for 25 sacks, and Georgia has the premier defensive tackle in Outland Trophy finalist Jordan Davis.

The Orange Bowl also hosted national semifinals in 2015 and 2018. Hard Rock Stadium was site for Alabama’s win over Ohio State in the 2021 national championship game.

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