ATLANTA — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said the 41-24 loss to Alabama Saturday “reinvigorated energy” for the Bulldogs, and that’s a good thing for them.
“You have the most important prize in front of you, now we’re going to see the coaching and the leadership,” SEC analyst Tim Tebow said. “It’s easy to lead when you are undefeated, it’s hard when you’re devastated.”
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (12-1) will be facing a No. 2-ranked Michigan team (12-1) that’s playing its best football of the Jim Harbaugh Era in a College Football Playoff Semifinal.
“Michigan is trending in a direction where they are playing their best football,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “Michigan is a dangerous team in this group.”
The Bulldogs and Wolverines will play in the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., at 3:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. It’s the third all-time meeting between Georgia and Michigan, and the first since a 15-7 UGA win in Ann Arbor in 1965.
Top-ranked Alabama (12-1) will play No. 4-ranked Cincinnati (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, at 3:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. The Bearcats capped their second straight undefeated regular season with a 35-20 win over Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday night.
Georgia is the only playoff team coming off a loss.
The Wolverines (12-1), meanwhile, are sky-high.
Michigan is coming off a 42-3 blowout victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Wolverines, whose only loss came to a Michigan State team coached by former UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, beat then-No. 2 Ohio State in its previous game, 42-27. The win snapped what had been a well-documented eight-game losing streak in the series.
“I think just beating Ohio State, just for everybody’s minds, we overcame them and we were moving on to bigger and better things,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on Saturday night. “Nobody’s owed anything. Nobody’s entitled to anything.
“But, as I said, when you’re around a group of guys that attack everything the way they attack their school work, their practice, and they want to give it their very best, you got a good feeling it’s going to happen.”
Smart, meanwhile, referenced how Alabama responded to its only loss when discussing how the loss could affect Georgia.
“It didn’t do any damage; what it did is reinvigorated our energy,” Smart said. “It recenters you, right?
“(Alabama’s) greatest thing is when they lost their game against Texas A&M, they garnered some focus and some attention. To me, that’s an opportunity for a wake-up call, if anything.”
It’s Georgia’s second CFP appearance.
Smart led the Bulldogs to an SEC Championship Game victory his second season as head coach, beating Auburn, 28-7.
The Bulldogs followed that up with a 54-48 double-overtime Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma in a CFP Semifinal. Alabama beat UGA 26-23 in the CFP Championship game in Atlanta.
Georgia will hold a 1 p.m. meeting at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Sunday.
“The outside noise begins now,” Smart said. “We’ve heard it before.”
The CFP Championship Game takes place on Jan. 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.