The Georgia Bulldogs will try to get back to Atlanta by way of Pasadena, Calif.
Georgia, which won the SEC championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, received the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff on Sunday and will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma in a national semifinal in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
If Georgia beats Big 12 champion Oklahoma, the Bulldogs will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the national championship game Jan. 8 against Clemson or Alabama.
Clemson, the ACC champion, was seeded No. 1 by the playoff selection committee and will meet No. 4 Alabama in a semifinal in New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl, also on Jan. 1.
Despite not reaching the SEC title game, Alabama got the final spot in the four-team playoff over Big Ten champ Ohio State, giving the SEC half of the four-team field.
Georgia, seeking its first national championship since the 1980 season, is in the playoff for the first time in the event’s four-year existence. The Bulldogs will play Oklahoma for the first time ever in football and will play in the Rose Bowl for just the second time, the other on Jan. 1, 1943.
“I think it’s awesome that it’s in the Rose Bowl,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Sunday. “You get to go out to the granddaddy (bowl) of them all and play in a venue that a lot of these kids in the Southeast don’t get an opportunity to go to.”
Both Georgia and Oklahoma are 12-1, and both won their conference championship games handily, the Bulldogs defeating Auburn 28-7 and the Sooners beating TCU 41-17.
The Rose Bowl -- kickoff is 5:10 p.m. on Jan. 1 -- will match Georgia’s stellar defense against Oklahoma’s explosive offense. The Sooners’ senior quarterback, Baker Mayfield, is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He has passed for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season and thrown just five interceptions.
Oklahoma ranks No. 1 nationally among FBS teams in total offense, averaging 583.3 yards per game, while Georgia ranks No. 4 in total defense, yielding 270.9 yards per game.
Smart said Georgia’s defense hasn’t faced anyone like Mayfield.
“We haven’t played against any Heisman Trophy winners -- nobody of that caliber at that position,” Smart said.
Both teams’ head coaches are relatively new to their positions: Smart, 41, is in his second season and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, 34, in his first.
The Clemson-Alabama semifinal is a rematch of the past two national championship games. Clemson won 35-31 last season after Alabama won 45-40 the season before.
Clemson is 12-1 and Alabama 11-1 this season.
The controversial issue facing the selection committee Sunday was whether to take Ohio State, a conference champion with two losses, or Alabama, a non-champion with one loss, as the fourth team in the field.
Despite Ohio State’s two wins over top-10 opponents -- two more than Alabama had -- the Buckeyes’ second loss apparently made the difference. That was a 55-24 defeat to Iowa.
Throughout the season, the selection committee ranked Alabama ahead of Ohio State. And in the end, a Big Ten championship didn’t change that view.
“The committee views Alabama as ... unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country,” Kirby Hocutt, the selection committee’s chairman, said Sunday. “And that’s why they are in.
“Alabama has one loss, and it was on the road to now No. 7 Auburn. Ohio State has two losses, one by 15 points at home to Oklahoma and the other more damaging by 31 points at unranked Iowa. ... We know how important it is to get it right, and that’s what we did.”
Alabama has reached the playoff in each of the event’s four seasons.
By putting the Crimson Tide in the playoff this season along with Georgia, the committee chose two teams from one conference for the first time.
“Our charge is ... to find the four very best teams in college football, regardless of conference affiliation,” Hocutt said.
Two of the five power conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, were shut out from the field.
The Big Ten had the Nos. 5 and 6 teams in the selection committee’s final rankings: Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively.
By putting Georgia and Alabama in different semifinals, the committee left open the possibility of an all-SEC championship game in Atlanta. If that happens, Smart would coach against his former boss, Alabama’s Nick Saban. But both the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide have to clear big hurdles in the semifinals to get there.