No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State: Peach Bowl CFP semifinal preview, best bets

Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State (CFP semifinal)

Location: Atlanta

Date: Dec. 31 (8 p.m. ET)


Line: Georgia -6.5

Total: 62.5

How these teams got here

Georgia (13-0): There was no let up from Georgia after winning its first national championship since the 1980 season. The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent to the NFL yet still cruised to another undefeated regular season. Georgia made a statement in Week 1, too, by destroying Oregon, 49-3. There was a close call on the road vs. Missouri on Oct. 1, but even a visit from then-No. 1 Tennessee on Nov. 5 did not present much of a challenge for the Bulldogs. Other than the 26-22 win over Missouri, Georgia won every game by a double-digit margin. And that includes a 50-30 demolition of LSU in the SEC title game. That win gave Georgia its first conference championship since 2017. The Bulldogs had lost their three previous trips to the conference title game.

Georgia’s defense did not display the same level of dominance as it did last year, but it still finished among the national leaders in most major categories, including No. 1 in rush defense. Offensively, Stetson Bennett turned in another strong season at quarterback and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Bennett had a three-headed monster at running back led by Kenny McIntosh, as well as Mackey Award-winning tight end Brock Bowers among his top weapons. It’s a group that should present a lot of problems to defenses during this postseason run.

FILE - Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter warms up before an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Defending-champion Georgia will host the Buckeyes in its own backyard during the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.(AP Photo/Michael Clubb, File)
Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter is in the running to be the top pick in the 2023 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ohio State (11-1): The Buckeyes' offseason was defined by its loss to Michigan last fall. OSU had owned its rivalry with the Wolverines for years, but Michigan dominated the Buckeyes along the lines of scrimmage last fall to earn the Big Ten East title and ultimately clinch a spot in the CFP. OSU would make major changes on defense, including bringing in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State.

Those changes seemed to have made a difference through the first half of the season. As OSU’s offense continued to put up huge numbers, the defense looked like an improved and more physical unit — until the rematch with the Wolverines. OSU got to 11-0 without much opposition. Only during the Oct. 29 visit to Penn State did it look like OSU could be on upset alert. And when the Michigan game kicked off, OSU seemed to be in control early until things flipped in the second half. OSU’s 20-17 halftime lead disintegrated into a demoralizing 45-23 loss.

For the Wolverines, the win clinched the division and propelled them to a conference title and CFP berth. Ohio State fell to No. 5 in the rankings, but was ultimately able to squeak into the playoff field thanks to USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. Will Ohio State take advantage of its second chance?

Notable injuries/transfers

Georgia: WR Ladd McConkey, OL Warren McClendon (both injured during SEC title game, status unknown), TE Arik Gilbert (transfer)

Ohio State: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (out), RB TreVeyon Henderson (out), S Jantzen Dunn (transfer)

Players to know

Georgia DL Jalen Carter: The No. 1 pick in the NFL could come from the Georgia defensive line for a second consecutive season. Last year, it was Travon Walker. This spring, it could be Jalen Carter. Carter, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle, is extremely disruptive on the interior of Georgia’s defense. He can plug the middle vs. the run and he can also get into the backfield. He was all over the place in last season's national title game and earned second-team All-SEC honors despite starting only two games. He moved up to the first team this year and enters the Peach Bowl with 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks and 25 quarterback hurries.

Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr.: With Jaxon Smith-Njigba sidelined with a lingering hamstring injury for much of the season, Marvin Harrison Jr. has emerged as the go-to target for C.J. Stroud and the Ohio State offense. Harrison, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, is a true sophomore but is already being billed as a future first-round draft pick. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Harrison has 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He has six games with at least 100 receiving yards, including a 10-catch, 185-yard effort vs. Penn State earlier in the year. If Ohio State wants to pull off the upset, Harrison needs to have a big game.

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison makes a catch against Indiana during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 56-14. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will be a focal point for Georgia's defense in the Peach Bowl. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

What’s on the line

Georgia: There has not been a repeat champion in the College Football Playoff era. Alabama and Clemson both have multiple titles in the CFP era, but those programs have not been able to win it all in back-to-back seasons. With a win over Ohio State, Georgia has the chance to become the first to go back-to-back since Alabama won the BCS national championship in 2011 and 2012.

This is Georgia's third CFP appearance. In the other two appearances, UGA advanced to the title game, losing to Alabama in 2018 and then beating the Crimson Tide last season. Georgia has three national championships in program history — 1942, 1980 and 2021.

Ohio State: This is Ohio State's fifth appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes won the inaugural CFP in the 2014-15 season but have not won a national title since. OSU lost in the semifinals in 2017 and 2020 and then got blown out by Alabama in the 2021 national championship.

Ohio State is 45-5 under Ryan Day. Two of those losses came in the playoff and two others came to Michigan. It's a program where winning the Big Ten and competing for national championships is the expectation. On the heels of the most recent loss to the Wolverines, there's a lot of pressure on Day's Buckeyes to deliver in a big moment.

Best bets

Sam Cooper: Maybe I’ll be surprised, but I don’t see it with Ohio State in this matchup. Georgia is too well-rounded of a team. Everybody knows how good the defense is, but the Georgia offense is better than it gets credit for. Stetson Bennett runs the show, but there are threats all over the place from Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington at tight end to Kenny McIntosh at running back and even Ladd McConkey at receiver. I don't think UGA will have a lot of trouble moving the ball. OSU will get some points too, meaning this is probably an over game. But I'll go with UGA under a touchdown with the pressure on C.J. Stroud being the difference in the second half. Pick: Georgia -6.5

Nick Bromberg: I’ve been keeping an eye on the spread in this game ever since it was announced and my pick is pretty easy now that it’s at 6.5. It’s hard for me to see a scenario where Georgia doesn’t do what Michigan did to the Buckeyes’ defense on the ground. Georgia is one of the few teams that can credibly say it can be as good or better than Michigan in the run game and it also has the talent and scheme to slow down the Ohio State passing attack. Pick: Georgia -6.5