Big Game Hunting: Is Ohio State too soft for Georgia? Is Michigan too tough for TCU?

We’re about to find out, with the College Football Playoff semifinals set for Saturday.

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SEC Championship - LSU v Georgia

Georgia’s Jalen Carter (88) is the heart of the nation’s No. 1 run defense.

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

All it took was two losses to fierce rival Michigan. Two losses, mind you, in which the Wolverines pounded and pummeled and eventually ran wild. Two losses in which ‘‘that team up north’’ exacted gobs of revenge. But still, only two — enough, after all those Ohio State victories head-to-head, to paint the Buckeyes as soft.

Are the Buckeyes soft?

We’re about to find out.

The College Football Playoff semifinals are here, and let’s begin with the second game of the delicious doubleheader Saturday: No. 1 Georgia (-6½) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (7 p.m., ESPN) in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. The big, bad, unbeaten Bulldogs — who’ve won every game but one by double digits — are in line to become the first repeat champion in the playoff era. The one-loss Buckeyes are going for glory while trying to save face.

‘‘It’s going to come down to who’s more physical, who’s winning the game up front, who’s going to play harder, who’s going to play through the whistle, who’s going to play for four quarters,’’ Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. ‘‘And they’re a very, very good team, but so are we.’’

But if Michigan is harder-edged than the Buckeyes and Georgia is essentially a better version of Michigan — it is, isn’t it? — then this just might be a mismatch.

The Bulldogs are No. 1 nationally in run defense, with lineman Jalen Carter the embodiment of all that’s terrifying about this monster team. Quarterback Stetson Bennett isn’t as talented as Buckeyes counterpart and fellow Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud, but Bennett’s influence on the personality and temperament of his team is unsurpassed. Buckeyes receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is ridiculously good, but is he better than his Hall of Fame father? That, plus in-their-primes Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, might give Ohio State a chance.

Anyway, soft?

‘‘Yeah, I’ve not heard that narrative,’’ Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. ‘‘I don’t look at narratives. I look at tape, and the tape doesn’t say they’re a soft football team.’’

The tape doesn’t lie. Bulldogs, 38-24.

Big Ten Championship - Purdue v Michigan

Michigan’s Donovan Edwards in the Big Ten title game against Purdue.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

No. 2 Michigan (-7½) vs. No. 3 TCU (3 p.m., ESPN) in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, might be a similar story, only in reverse, as far as the Big Ten is concerned. The Wolverines are blazing defensively, as first-year coordinator Jesse Minter’s unit has been even tougher to score on than the more decorated crew of last season. Up front offensively, coach Jim Harbaugh’s team plays bully ball so well that — with All-American running back Blake Corum done for the season — No. 2 back Donovan Edwards went off for 216 yards on the ground at Ohio State.

The Horned Frogs aren’t nearly as physical, though running back Kendre Miller is wildly underrated and QB Max Duggan has gutted out more big drives than anybody.

But this seems like Harbaugh’s day. He keeps building a monster of his own.

‘‘Some people go a lifetime without having an opportunity like our team has,’’ he said.

It’s Maize, Blue and no kisses for the Frogs. Michigan, 27-17.


Sugar: No. 5 Alabama (-6½) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN, New Orleans): All the respect in the world goes out to the Wildcats, who have outperformed expectations to the utmost extent. But the Crimson Tide have QB Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson playing, and they happen to be the best dang offensive player and the best dang defensive player in all the land. Tide, 31-16.

Music City: Iowa (-2) vs. Kentucky (11 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 7, Nashville, Tennessee): Kentucky won 20-17 a year ago in a bowl matchup between these same teams. Oh, what fun it kind of (but not really) was to see two not-completely-terrible offenses do their things. But with backup QBs leading these broken offenses the best they can, 37 total points seems like an impossible dream. Search for ‘‘U-G-L-Y’’ on the remote, and you’ll find Wildcats 12, Hawkeyes 7.

Purdue v Illinois

Illinois QB Tommy DeVito throws on the run.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

ReliaQuest: Illinois (+1½) vs. No. 22 Mississippi State (11 a.m. Monday, ESPN2, 890-AM, Tampa, Florida): This one’s about who isn’t playing as much as it’s about who is playing. Can the Illini run the ball without Chase Brown? Can they hang in against the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense without secondary stars Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown? Sadly, it’s also about who isn’t coaching. Mississippi State wins one for the late Mike Leach, 27-17.

Citrus: No. 17 LSU (-14½) vs. Purdue (noon Monday, Ch. 7, Orlando, Florida): One Brian or the other is going to have a heck of a day. LSU’s Brian Kelly is gunning for victory No. 10, which would be received by a rabid fan base as a successful Year 1. Purdue’s Brian Brohm, coaching on an interim basis, is aiming for a huge upset before he takes off for Louisville to join big brother Jeff’s staff. But the Boilermakers’ offensive stars aren’t playing, and that’s an unsolvable problem. LSU, 34-10.

Cotton: No. 10 USC (-2) vs. No. 16 Tulane (noon Monday, Ch. 7, Arlington, Texas): Will Heisman winner Caleb Williams play? If the Trojans have their QB, it’s too much of a reach to think Tulane can contain him. But if they don’t, it’s a different story. Word is Williams will play, and that makes this a Troy story. USC, 44-31.

Rose: No. 8 Utah (-2) vs. No. 11 Penn State (4 p.m. Monday, Fox-32, Pasadena, California): The Utes are the rugged, Big Ten-style team of the Pac-12. The Nittany Lions know a thing or two about playing this way. Great little matchup, isn’t it? Nits, 26-21.

Season to date: 77-43 straight-up, 60-59-1 against the spread. 

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