Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and Stetson Bennett celebrate on the awards stand after UGA defeated LSU 50 - 30 in the SEC Championship between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers In Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. (Bob Andres / Bob Andres for the Atlanta Constitution)

Kirby Smart reacts to CFP pairing with Ohio State, ‘it’s about who plays better’

ATHENS — Kirby Smart threw the rankings and conference affiliations out the window when reacting to the College Football Playoff seedings on Sunday.

But The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (13-0) have been slated to play No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 in the CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Michigan (13-0) is ranked No. 2 and will play No. 3 TCU (12-1) at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 in the CFP Fiesta Bowl Semifinal in Glendale Ariz.

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The winners of the semifinal games will meet in SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Jan. 9 in the CFP Championship Game.

“Whether you are one through four, it doesn’t matter —what matters is how you manage this time building up to this game,” Smart told ESPN on Sunday.

“It’s not about Big Ten and SEC, it’s football, it boils down to the line of scrimmage, turnovers and explosive plays,” Smart said, rejecting the notion conference affiliation could factor into the matchup. “It’s really about who plays better.”

ESPN analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit deal a narrative that the Buckeyes will be viewed with disrespect as a team that backed in without having to play in a conference championship game.

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Smart, however, pointed out that Georgia recruits many of the same national talents as Ohio State and said “it boils down to how you play, not who you play.”

Indeed, and the Buckeyes have the distinct advantage of having gotten an extra week of rest by not playing in the Big Ten Championship after losing to Michigan at home in the final game of the regular season.

Georgia, of course, saw two starters leave the game during its 50-30 slugfest with LSU in the SEC title game.

The status of starting right tackle and team captain Warren McClendon (MCL, knee) and leading wide receiver Ladd McConkey (knee) remains unknown.

“I’d like to give my guys a little time to recover, relax worry about final exams,” Smart said. “You see a team (in Ohio State) that didn’t play a conference championship game and they’ve had a week off.

“They will be fresh and ready to go and bounce back.”

Alabama finished the CFP Rankings at No. 5 and Tennessee was No. 6.

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