In one of the wildest college football seasons ever, on and off the field, the four-team playoff is officially set.
Who knows how long this format will last going forward, but it’s officially #1 Alabama vs. #4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl and #2 Michigan vs. #3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
They all got here a different way, but they’re all fueled by one thing: hate. Hope may be the most powerful resource in college football, but hatred has been abundant.
Let’s take a look at how each team got here and how.
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Some may say things along the lines of “Alabama has nothing left to prove. They’re the reigning National Champions, have won 6 National title games under Nick Saban, and have built an empire that sends the most players to the NFL. They should be confident and expect to win, and this was no surprise.”
This Alabama season has been called a “down year.” They’re coming off of maybe the best season and roster ever, which sent a roster full of superstars to the pros. The roster turnover left them with practically an entirely new team, including a young freshman quarterback in Bryce Young learning the game as the season has gone on. It feels different- they haven’t been blowing away the competition like they normally do, and they even lost to Texas A&M earlier in the year.
It brought Nick Saban to call out the “self-absorbed” fan base unhappy with not winning their games in dominant fashion in a rant on his weekly radio appearance in Tuscaloosa.
They’re angry now. They heard the naysayers say this was a down year, and they got where they are simply on merit. Saban is even fiery towards his own fans and alumni at this point.
They got tired of hearing it’s a less impressive team and went out and demolished Georgia in the SEC Championship, the prohibitive best team in the nation all season, just as they always do to vault them back to the top.
“The rat poison that you usually give us is usually fatal, but the rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy.” -Nick Saban, after the win.
That’s the most psychotic we’ve ever heard, Saban! Bama never left. And now they’re playing like we’ve treated them like underdogs, which has never been more dangerous.
#2 Michigan Wolverines
This is Michigan’s first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff, but it already feels like they’ve won the year. Why? Jim Harbaugh, the coach, criticized for never being able to win the big game year after year with an 0-6 record against Ohio State, the biggest rivalry in sports, finally did it. Michigan destroyed them on rivalry weekend and didn’t take their foot off the pedal in a 42-27 game where they rose from the ashes. Then they went out the next week in the Big 10 Championship and must have thought Iowa was Ohio State by mistake and continued to steamroll the competition, 42-3.
They’re playing with the most confidence of anyone in the league after getting the monkey off their back of the guys from Columbus.
But that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied.
Jim Harbaugh wants to continue to shove it to the haters. In the NFL, he lost in the Super Bowl with the Niners. Now, having this stigma in college as the guy who can’t win when it counts, this is his victory lap- and no one is as insane and overly-competitive as Harbaugh. He’s going to come into the Orange Bowl with his pleated khaki pants and a three-ring binder full of the 300 different plays he’s going to run within the next two games to win it all on 4 hours of sleep between now and then.
He’s a mad man running on caffeine and spite.
#3 Georgia Bulldogs
Let’s face it: the Georgia Bulldogs are feeling the most deflated out of the four teams heading into this playoff. They’re the only team that lost their conference championship game, and after an entire year being ranked #1, they were just Wile E. Coyote once again as Alabama, the Roadrunner, led them into a wall of TNT once again with their beatdown in the SEC Championship. “No one can beat Georgia this time, not even Bama!” We all pleaded. “This is finally the year Georgia jumps the shark of Alabama!” after they had lost their last three high-stakes games in incredible fashion. The Braves even broke the Georgia sports curse earlier this year!
Not this time.
Now that Georgia has to go back to the playoff with essentially no expectations and the stigma of “same old Georgia,” they are hungrier than ever for a rematch. They want not only to plow through Michigan in the semifinal, but they want Alabama to beat Cincinnati so that they have another shot at redemption.
Georgia, after coasting through the season, now has something to prove.
#4 Cincinnati Bearcats
It finally happened: a group of five teams made the College Football Playoff. It took the most chaotic of outcomes from all of the powerhouses for them to have a decent resume, but Cincinnati went out and won every single game on their schedule in order to prove that they were worthy.
They did what they could in order to look like a powerful team on paper- it required destroying the weak competition not on the level of an SEC or Big Ten team to pass the eye test of the committee, and winning a huge game in Notre Dame to look like a team that wasn’t just a product of an easy schedule. They’ve not only had to win every game, but they had to look impressive doing it, too, in the shabby American Conference.
All year they’ve been slandered by people who think they don’t play any competition. They haven’t made a mistake yet and got into the playoff, and a large population of the country will argue that they still don’t deserve to be there. But the reality is that while everyone else in the country has made a mistake, they’re the only ones that haven’t yet in spite of the doubters. They were at a lower risk to make one, but they’re about to face the maximum level of exposure: facing Alabama, who is expected to practically Bautista Bomb their skulls into the turf.
Cincinnati has heard the noise all year. They’ve proven themselves worthy, but they know the job is far from over. For the Bearcats, it’s time to spite every single reporter, fan, or media pundit who has ever doubted their capabilities.
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