With numerous storylines being built around the College Football Playoff semifinals, one of the most compelling came from Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon: When were the SEC teams last to compete in the event?
Most fans’ references will come from the early 2000s: the first time five SEC teams competed in the game, from 2000-03. But the last two SEC teams to participate in the title game came in 2012, when Alabama hosted LSU and then met up with undefeated Florida for the second time the following season. The Peach Bowl, played in 2013, was the last time both SEC teams played for the title, and both were ranked in the top five for the time and won their respective title games.
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South Carolina, which plays in the early Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at 1pm ET, was ranked No. 16 for all of the 2018 season. Georgia, which will play in the first semifinal at 6pm ET, won the SEC East after winning at least a share of the conference title in every season it played since the formation of the SEC, for much of the 2000s. While this will be the first meeting between the two programs, they face off against SEC East and the total division record and most recent conference game.
There will be an incentive for the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game to win the conference championship. They would lock up a spot in the national championship game, while the loser would face a very competitive College Football Playoff selection committee if they cannot go toe-to-toe with Alabama in the national championship game.
To try to stoke some fire, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp had some choice words about the SEC during the SEC championship game preview on Tuesday. “I’m going to try and figure out how you can quantify SEC teams in terms of playoff qualifications,” Muschamp said. “I think the metrics are for the SEC to take control of that.”
“Does a team have to do it against everybody outside the SEC to compete?” Muschamp continued. “Does one team in our league have to do it against the entire country?”
Maybe not. But after the SEC fell behind the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 in this month’s CFP rankings, Muschamp’s hands are tied until his team gets to Atlanta.
Georgia, though, has shown itself in the past to have a propensity to show up and win big games. This will be the Bulldogs’ fourth postseason game in five years, after one title and two Peach Bowl appearances. Going in as the unanimous No 1 team, the Bulldogs were aware they would be the underdogs against Alabama. Coach Kirby Smart, asked how Georgia handles being the underdogs, mentioned the Gators’ win last season against Alabama.
“Obviously we know we’re in the underdog position this week,” Smart said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “That’s normal. The Florida game is what we’re all about. The game went in different directions. We’re able to pull it out and come out with the win.”
The Peach Bowl, which comes with a $7.5m payout, is being held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The venue will host the Super Bowl in 2020. The stadium, which was built on the site of the old Georgia Dome and has a capacity of nearly 73,000, is expected to be the site of at least three more National Football League games in the future.
In addition to Alabama and Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State are also in the College Football Playoff semifinals.