Then, there were four. Let the battle begin.
The College Football Playoff revealed its final rankings Sunday following conference championship weekend. Two schools will be making the return to the CFP, while two newcomers ar hopeful of making history.
Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati were the committee's selection to make the cut. The Crimson Tide will face the Bearcats in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl while the Wolverines will take on the Bulldogs in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Both games will take place on Dec. 31.
Alabama (12-1) proved once again they remain the team to beat in the SEC with a 41-24 over then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship. Quarterback Bryce Young delivered a Heisman-worthy performance, throwing for 421 yards and scoring four total touchdowns on the way to clinch the top seed.
"You guys gave us a lot of positive rat poison," Alabama's Nick Saban told reporters postgame. "The rat poison you usually give us is fatal. But the rat poison you put out there this week was yummy."
Michigan remains at No. 2 following its 42-3 victory over No. 13 Iowa in Indianapolis. The Wolverines (12-1) relied on defensive play and the run game to carry the load through four quarters. Running back Hassan Haskins led the way on the ground with two touchdowns while five different runners tallied 20-plus yards on the ground.
"We defied all expectations," Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said postgame on ESPN. "Nobody ever thought we could do this, especially this season and we did it — in dominant fashion."
The Bulldogs (12-1) fall short of a perfect season in large part due to quarterback play and their defense. Georgia allowed a season-high 536 yards against its No. 2 ranked defense, and a high in points against Young and the offense. Stetson Bennett IV, who had been the leading man for the offense, threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to safety Jordan Battle in the fourth quarter.
Kirby Smart, who served as the defensive coordinator under Saban from 2007-15, is now 0-4 against his former boss. Saban improves to 24-1 against former assistants all-time.
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Cincinnati (13-0) made its own history with a 35-20 win over No. 21 Houston in the AAC Championship. The Bearcats become the first Group of Five program to make the College Football Playoff since the its inaugural season in 2014.
Luke Fickell, who was rumored to become Notre Dame's next head coach following the departure of Brian Kelly to LSU, improves to 21-1 over the past two season. Quarterback Desmond Ritter close out his final game at Nippert Stadium with 190 yards and three touchdowns.
"The resounding statement is what we did on that football field," Fickell said when asked about making the CFP. "Nobody is going to call and ask us what we think. I don't think these guys can be denied that opportunity. It would be a shame."
Alabama returns to the CFP for its seventh time. Georgia returns for its second while Cincinnati and Michigan make this season its debut. The 2021-22 CFP will mark the second time that two schools from the same conference make the final four.
Several New Year's Six Bowl game teams were also decided on conference weekend. No. 17 Utah (10-3) which took care of No. 10 Oregon for the Pac-12 title, will play in the Rose Bowl. They are expected face No. 6 Ohio State (10-2) as the Big 10's representative.
No. 15 Pittsburgh (11-2) which handled No. 16 Wake Forest in the ACC Championship, will head to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. They are set to face an at-large bid.
No. 9 Baylor (11-2), who held on to defeat then-No. 5 Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title, will head to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. They will face Ole Miss, who will act as the SEC's representative in place of both Georgia and Alabama.
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