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Alabama (12-1) is No. 1 again and will play No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) in a national semifinal in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 31, the College Football Playoff selection committee announced Sunday morning.
The Tide was No. 3 Saturday night when it defeated No. 1 Georgia, 41-24, in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Georgia (12-1) fell to No. 3 and will play No. 2 Michigan (12-1) in the other national semifinal on Dec. 31 in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Game times for the two semifinals have not yet been announced.
Michigan and Cincinnati are in the playoffs for the first time, and Cincinnati is the first American Athletic Conference to make the final four.
The two semifinal winners will play in the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis at 7 p.m. central time on ESPN.
Alabama previously won national championships under coach Nick Saban in 2009, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17 and ’20. Georgia last won a national title in 1980. The Bulldogs and second-year coach Kirby Smart lost the national championship game to Alabama on Jan. 8, 2018, 26-23, in overtime.
Alabama is the No. 1 team entering the playoffs for the fifth time in the eight years of the system.
“I’m extremely proud of our coaching staff, our players, the entire organization,” Saban said after the SEC title game in which he was a touchdown underdog. “Georgia should be congratulated on the great season that they had. To go undefeated is really something of significance.”
Notre Dame (11-1) finished No. 5 with Ohio State (10-2) at No. 6.
“We have a two-game season now, I hope,” Saban said.
“Give Alabama credit, but we’ve got a lot to work on,” Smart said. “We can’t turn the ball over and give up 60- and 70-yard passes and expect to be successful.”
Georgia senior quarterback Stetson Bennett threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice. Smart was asked if he had a decision to make about who starts at quarterback in the semifinal. Junior backup J.T. Daniels, a transfer from USC after the 2019 season, has played in six games this season, completing 68 of 94 passes for 722 yards and seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
“We have a decision to make every week at every position,” Smart said, avoiding the question. “But I have the utmost confidence in Stetson Bennett. He did some really nice things tonight. We go and reevaluate everything all the time, but he played well. We have to be able to run the ball (109 yards, 30 carries) and have a little bit of semblance of balance. But I certainly have a lot of confidence in Stetson, and I have a lot of confidence in J.T., too.”
The rest of the top 10 of the final in-season top 25 by the CFP rankings had Baylor (11-2) at No. 7, Ole Miss (10-2) at No. 8, Oklahoma State (11-2) at No. 9 and Michigan State (10-2) at No. 10.
Utah (10-3) led off the second 10 at No. 11, followed by No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-2), No. 13 Brigham Young (10-2), No. 14 Oregon (10-3), No. 15 Iowa (10-3), No. 16 Oklahoma (10-2), No. 17 Wake Forest (10-3), No. 18 North Carolina State (9-3), No. 19 Clemson (9-3) and No. 20 Houston (11-2).
The bottom five included No. 21 Arkansas (8-4), No. 22 Kentucky (9-3), No. 23 Louisiana (12-1), No. 24 San Diego State (11-2) and No. 25 Texas A&M (8-4).
Six SEC teams made the final CFP poll before the playoffs – Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas A&M. And a record 13 were invited to bowl games.