College Football Playoff set; semis pit Georgia vs. Ohio State, Michigan vs. TCU

Can the Big Ten take down the big, bad Bulldogs? Might the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet again for all the marbles?

SHARE College Football Playoff set; semis pit Georgia vs. Ohio State, Michigan vs. TCU
Despite losing to Michigan in the regular-season finale, Ohio State will join the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff.

Despite losing to Michigan in the regular-season finale, Ohio State will join the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff.

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Can anyone slay the red-and-black dragon? If so, it’s probably going to have to be the Big Ten that does it.

No. 4 Ohio State goes to Atlanta — the belly of the beast — to take the first crack at No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl, one of two College Football Playoff semifinals Dec. 31. If the Buckeyes can’t handle the unbeaten defending national champion, No. 2 Michigan might be next in line to try. The unbeaten Wolverines begin with No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

The final poll was revealed Sunday, with the playoff foursome and pairings unfolding as most expected they would. Still, critics have things to howl about, as always. Did Ohio State really deserve to get in despite getting throttled by Michigan in its last game and not playing for a conference championship? Is TCU, which didn’t lose until the Big 12 title game against Kansas State, really one of the best four teams in the country, considering it opened as a 9½-point underdog against an opponent not named Georgia? Is the playoff fully legit without Alabama, which would — and this is just a fact — be favored in a bowl matchup against any team in the land other than the big, bad Bulldogs?

This isn’t the first year things have broken heavily in favor of Ohio State during the committee’s final get-together. The Buckeyes — in the final four only because USC lost the Pac-12 title game — open as 6½-point underdogs, a modest number that speaks to the ongoing perception that their talent level poses a serious threat to any opponent, even an SEC superpower.

‘‘It has been an emotional roller coaster,’’ coach Ryan Day said on ESPN. ‘‘But when you go through a few days where you think that maybe your whole season’s gone, and then all of a sudden you start to build hope and then you start to see the opportunity where everything’s right out in front of you, it’s almost like a second lease on life. . . .

‘‘You get an opportunity to go play in this thing, you’re two games away from a national championship.’’

And if the Buckeyes do beat Georgia, if onetime Heisman Trophy front-runner C.J. Stroud outduels Stetson Bennett, if Marvin Harrison Jr. affects the game like the best wide receiver in the country could, if Day’s sometimes-shaky defense rises up like Urban Meyer’s did to end the 2014 season — the first year of the playoff — with a national title, take a flying guess what might happen next.

An Ohio State-Michigan rematch for all the marbles. It boggles the mind just thinking about it.

Committee chair Boo Corrigan said no consideration was given to trying to avoid a Buckeyes-Wolverines repeat in the semifinal round. Maybe that’s true. Then again, it never fails to get harder to believe what the committee says the closer to the playoff we get.

The Buckeyes just plain backed in. Still, as Corrigan did the media rounds, he took pains to refer to their victory against Notre Dame as a compelling one (even though it was an ugly game and the Irish are a run-of-the-mill team) and their loss to Michigan as having been more competitive than the final score indicated (it wasn’t).

‘‘Again,’’ Corrigan said, ‘‘we looked at getting the right four teams.’’

That’s the whole idea — for one more season after this one. Starting in 2024, the playoff will expand to 12 teams, and there will be so much more to argue and complain about. It’ll be a delight.

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