College Football Playoff brings a refresh to the postseason


Photo credit: College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff kicks off on New Year’s Eve, and this year’s national champions will be determined on January 10, 2022.

Carter Sims, Managing Editor

With the final college football rankings released, this year’s playoff features both staple programs and the debut of new names in the playoff that fans have had on their wish lists for years.
Alabama, a mainstay of the postseason, will once again fight for a national championship. After years of close calls, Michigan has finally made it into their first playoff. Georgia is in the semifinal for the second time, and Cincinnati is debuting in the playoff, the first program from the Group of 5 (American, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences) to have done so.
While all 4 teams have the common goal of getting to Indianapolis, the path to the playoff for each team has been anything but common.
Alabama, making its 7th appearance in the playoff, was once again favored after winning the national championship last season, starting the season as the number one team in the nation. The Crimson Tide rolled through the early games, only being shaken in a 31-29 victory over the Florida Gators. After convincing wins against Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss, the champs lost to Texas A&M.
After a pass interference call in the red zone against Alabama safety DeMarrco Hellams, the Aggies were in a comfortable field goal range for kicker Seth Small. As the clock hit triple zeros, Small’s kick flew narrowly inside the left upright, winning the game 41-38 for A&M and burying the Tide’s hopes of an undefeated season at Kyle Field.
With a blemish on the record for a team like Alabama, a conference championship was needed for a bid to the playoff. As the season came down the stretch, an Alabama and Georgia collision in the SEC Championship Atlanta seemed inevitable. With Georgia rolling in undefeated, the matchup was set to be a heavyweight fight.
Up north, however, the Big Ten Championship was not at all as predicted. Instead of Ohio State or Michigan State out of the east and Wisconsin or Minnesota from the west, it was Michigan pitted against Iowa at Lucas Oil.
After a loss to little brother Michigan State, the Maize and Blue had to survive and advance through the rest of the season for even a thought of the playoff. They did just that; the first time U of M had been able to match expectations with execution since the playoff structure was instituted. Powered by Heisman finalist defensive tackle Aiden Hockinson, Michigan frustrated OSU in a 42-27 snow sprinkled affair in “The Big House” before embarrassing the Hawkeyes 42-3 in the Big Ten Championship.
The Wolverines come into the semifinal red hot and playing their best football, a stretch that has cooled the seat of head coach Jim Harbaugh after years of falling short. With Michigan trending up, an intriguing matchup with a Georgia team picking itself up awaits in the Orange Bowl.
The Georgia Bulldogs started the season with a bang, beating the Clemson Tigers in the opener of the 2021 campaign. As the year progressed, the Bulldogs tore through the south untouched with a 37-0 shutout against Arkansas, a 30-13 victory over Kentucky, and a 45-0 thumping against Georgia Tech decorating the resume.
As favorites going into the SEC championship game, a clash featuring Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young against the nationally renowned “Junkyard Dawg” defense seemed to be the final test for Georgia. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the undefeated run came to an end courtesy of a 41-24 defeat from Alabama.
Georgia still has hope, as the Bulldogs found a spot in the playoff with a potential revenge game against the Tide awaiting in the national championship if the two southern juggernauts prove victorious in their semifinal games.
This won’t happen on the Cincinnati Bearcats’ watch, as they are set to face Alabama in the first semifinal of this year’s playoff. Coached by former Buckeye Luke Fickell, UC has knocked on the doors to the playoff repeatedly until this year, beating the door down and snatching the fourth spot. Quarterbacked by Dennis Ridder, Cincinnati had statement wins against Indiana and Notre Dame, a perfect regular season, and topped the resume with a 35-20 win against Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship.
The Bearcats embody the beauty of college sports, the payoff of patience and discipline in the biggest moment. While the other 3 contenders may be household names, Cincinnati finally has the chance to put the final touches on the masterpiece they’ve been crafting for years and make a statement to the football world.
The College Football Playoff Semifinals will be the final page of the 2021 sports story, with #1 Alabama and #4 Cincinnati kicking off the Cotton Bowl from AT&T Stadium in Arlington at 3:30 on New Year’s Eve. #2 Georgia and #3 Michigan will start up at 7:30 from the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, leaving the championship matchup for January 10th in Indianapolis set just before the ball drops.