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Did you notice on New Year’s Eve night Saturday that the College Football Playoff national semifinals had a clear, familiar vibe to it?
It felt like the NCAA Tournament of college basketball. Yes, March Madness as midnight on 2022 approached.
Only better in this way. It was more encapsulated drama over eight hours instead of three weeks.
And what was really cool about TCU-Michigan and Georgia-Ohio State on Saturday night was the fact that the CFP showcased the opening round excitement of the NCAA Tournament’s elite seed upset specials and the finality of a Regional title to reach the Final Four all in one.
No. 3 seed TCU taking a 21-3 lead, then holding on for a 51-45 win over No. 2 seed Michigan was reminiscent of the classic 12 seed upset of a No. 5 on those first Thursdays and Fridays of The Tournament.
The Night The CFP Became The NCAA Tournament
Some would say TCU’s upset of the touchdown-favorite Wolverines was more like a 15 seed beating a No. 2. It was the largest upset of the CFP format period that began in the 2014-15 season. And the Big 12 is a bit like a mid-major. TCU (13-1) was the first Big 12 team to reach the national championship game in the CFP format.
A second basketball game with upset alerts broke out in the nightcap Saturday as No. 4 seed Ohio State went on a 14-0 run in the first half to take a 21-7 lead over No. 1 overall seed Georgia. Some national media at the game – with perhaps a little too much SEC love – practically viewed this as a No. 16 seed about to topple Kansas or something.
Some still mistakenly think the Big Ten is sort of a a mid-major conference. Yes, the Big Ten went 0-for-2 Saturday, but it did have two teams in The Big Dance. The SEC had only one in what has been an off year.
But you OutKick readers knew this was no surprise by Ohio State. And the Buckeyes almost won and should have won. They dominated and led most of the game.
But Georgia went on a 17-0 run to take a 24-21 lead late in the second quarter. Then Ohio State went back up 28-24 as quarterback C.J. Stroud threw another touchdown from the top of the key. That’s two lead changes to end the half with another to come in the final moments as Georgia went up 42-41 with 54 seconds left.
And the game ended on a missed 3-pointer as Ohio State coach Ryan Day choked over the final 24 seconds after Stroud’s magnificent 27-yard scramble set the Buckeyes up at the Ohio State 31. Three plays netted -1 yard. One more decent completion or a better run call gets Noah Ruggles in better position to make a virtual buzzer beater with :03 to play.
It doesn’t get any better. Finally, the two CFP semis resembled the NFC and AFC title games, which tend to be better than the Super Bowl.
College Football Playoff Semifinals Most Viewed In 5 Years
And the proof is in the TV ratings.
The two games on ESPN Saturday night drew 21.7 million viewers and were the most viewed non-New Year’s Day games of the CFP era. They were also the third most watched playoff games of the entire CFP era, drawing the best ratings in five years. Both games had viewership among the top five non-NFL games this season.
There were 336 million minutes streamed on all platforms – up 33 percent from last yeat’s two games. Those two CFP games were nothing like this year. No. 1 seed Alabama beat No. 4 Cincinnati, 27-6, and Georgia beat Michigan, 34-11. Yawn.
Even a timeout was exciting in the Georgia-Ohio State game.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart called the greatest timeout of 2022 with 8:58 to play in the game and trailing 38-27. Ohio State lined up to punt on fourth-and-one from its 34-yard line, but Smart noticed something funny.
“They were just not in their traditional formation,” he said. “They came up to the line quick. Everybody’s lined up tight. And we’ve seen it in the SEC.”
Smart smelled a fake, and called the timeout. “It was one of those gut reactions,” he said. “I didn’t think we had it lined up properly, so we called timeout.”
Day then decided against the fake that likely would have worked without the timeout. And the Buckeyes punted. On the next play, Georgia quarterback Stetwon Bennett threw a killer, 76-yard touchdown to cut Ohio State’s lead to 38-35. Had the Buckeyes converted the fourth down, they conceivably could have gone up 41-27 or 45-27. And game over. This was must-see TV, even on ESPN.
Can’t Wait For 12-Team College Football Playoff
With games like this, surely more will be better. Can’t wait for the 12-team playoff, which will begin in the 2024 season with other networks involved thank goodness.
That will be even more like the NCAA Tournament. Can’t wait for that No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchup.
There will be more upsets and more near-upsets.
Georgia fans and those SEC near fans in the national media need to learn what Smart learned Saturday night from this Big Dance.
“We didn’t play our best football game,” Smart said. This often happens with top seeds in the first round.
“A lot of that had to do with Ohio State,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for them. If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football than we played tonight.”
Or TCU could finish what Ohio State started in the national championship game on January 9 (7:30 p.m., ESPN) in Inglewood, California.
That’s what happens in The Big Dance.
And the best thing about Saturday night? Didn’t hear that much at all about the mafia-like corrupt Name, Image & Likeness and prostitution-like NCAA Transfer Portal.