ATHENS — Georgia is headed to the College Football Playoff, where it will play in an iconic bowl, against a team it has never played, and against the probable Heisman Trophy winner.
Georgia was selected as the No. 3 seed by the CFB committee Sunday and matched with No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, one of the two national semifinals.
The other semifinal matches No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Day. The semifinal winners will meet in the national championship on Jan. 8 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
So Georgia will have a chance to come back to the site of where it won the SEC Championship Game and win the national title in its home state. And it could potentially be an all-SEC match-up, with Georgia coach Kirby Smart facing his mentor Nick Saban and Alabama.
But first Smart and the Bulldogs have a long trip, and a difficult game.
The last and only time Georgia played in the Rose Bowl was during World War II: Georgia defeated UCLA on Jan. 1, 1943, to win the national championship.
But Georgia and Oklahoma have never faced each other in football. Both teams are 12-1 and stamped their playoff tickets on Saturday: Georgia beat Auburn 28-7 to win the SEC championship while Oklahoma beat TCU, 41-17.
This is the first appearance in the playoffs for Georgia since its inception in 2014. Oklahoma appeared in the semifinals two years ago, falling to Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners have a first-year coach, Lincoln Riley, who stepped in before this season when Bob Stoops retired. But quarterback Baker Mayfield remains from that 2015 playoff team.
Mayfield is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, passing for 4,140 yards with 41 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He has also rushed for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
Georgia’s best player has been linebacker Roquan Smith, who will now play in the stadium he originally committed to play in.
Smith committed to UCLA on signing day 2015. But he immediately waffled, after the UCLA assistant who recruited him left for the NFL, and Smith eventually enrolled at his home-state school.
Oklahoma opened as a three-point favorite, according to Las Vegas analyst David Purdum.