IRVING, Texas — Cincinnati will play Alabama and Michigan will face Georgia on New Year’s Eve after being selected to the College Football Playoff as a surprise-free field of four was set Sunday.
Fourth-seeded Cincinnati becomes the first team to break through college football’s glass ceiling and reach the CFP from a non-Power Five conference. The Bearcats (13-0) won the American Athletic Conference and head into the postseason as the only unbeaten team in the country.
Coach Luke Fickell and the Bearcats made history with little debate. Playoff selection committee chairman Gary Barta said on ESPN there was strong consensus for Cincinnati at No. 4 ahead of No. 5 Notre Dame, which had only one loss — to the Bearcats in South Bend, Indiana, in early October. Ohio State finished sixth.
The rest of the committee’s final rankings and the matchups for the other four New Year’s Six bowls were to be announced later Sunday.
Cincinnati’s reward will be a matchup with the defending national champions in the Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide is in the playoff for the seventh time in the postseason format’s eight-year history after handing Georgia its first loss of the season in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday.
Alabama (12-1) seemed to a loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention heading into its game with Georgia. Instead, Bryce Young and the Tide lit up the Bulldogs’ vaunted defense to earn the top seed.
“Not only did Alabama beat Georgia, but the way they beat them — they controlled the game, pretty much from start to finish,” Barta said on ESPN.
Barta said the committee gave no consideration to avoiding a rematch between the Tide and Bulldogs in the first round when seeding the teams.
Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty has won three playoff championships to go along with three BCS titles since 2009.
Georgia (12-1) managed to stay in the field as the third seed, becoming the second team to lose its conference title game and make the playoff. Notre Dame did the same thing last season, when it lost a rematch with Clemson in its one season playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a move prompted by pandemic-altered schedules.
The Bulldogs will be making their second CFP appearance when they meet second-seeded Michigan (12-1) in the Orange Bowl. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are in the playoff for the first time after winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004. Michigan, which went 2-4 last season, is also the first team to make the playoff after being unranked in the AP preseason Top 25.
This is the third time two teams from the same conference are in the CFP and second time it has happened with the SEC. In the 2017 playoff, the Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the national title.
This year’s semifinal winners will play for the national championship on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.