'We shoulda been No. 1': No. 2 Michigan to face Georgia in College Football Playoff

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan, which believed it had a legitimate shot at the No. 1 ranking after a rout of Iowa in the Big Ten title game, is the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff and will face Georgia in the national championship semifinals.

The teams will meet Dec. 31 in the Orange Bowl, the winner advancing to the national championship game on Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Kickoff for the semifinal is 7:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on ESPN. This is Michigan's fourth Orange Bowl appearance.

Michigan running back Hassan Haskins celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter.

Top seed Alabama, which defeated previous No. 1 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday, and No. 4 seed Cincinnati will meet in the Cotton Bowl in the other semifinal. The pairings were announced Sunday during the CFP selection show.

"I thought we shoulda been No. 1," Michigan edge rusher and two-time captain Aidan Hutchinson said Sunday. "I mean, we just beat the No. 2 team (Ohio State) in the country, and then we beat the No. 13 (Iowa), but it is what is. We're in it. We're all so excited to play in Miami."

Michigan is 12-1 after a 42-3 rout of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night before a record crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This is the Wolverines’ first Big Ten title since 2004.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he doesn't care what the Wolverines' seed is. The bottom line is, they're playing for a national championship.

"The facts are, you've gotta win two games to be the national champion and my thoughts and from what I can tell from all the players, it didn't make any difference what seed we were. Even had a bunch of conversations with guys, and that's what their thoughts were. And I echo those.

"It's why stop now? Why not us? We're gonna take a few days off here and coaches will start preparation immediately for the game. All the teams in the playoffs are great teams, worthy. We're happy to be one of them. Like I said, you're gonna have to win two to win the national championship, and I don't see the great difference of whether it's one, two, three or four."

The Wolverines, unranked in the preseason, said after winning the Big Ten title they believed Michigan should be the No. 1 seed. But as Harbaugh pointed out, it's all about being in this position, two wins from a national championship. 

“I knew it was going to be either one or two," Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said Sunday, "but I figured either way we’re in the playoff, we got a chance.”

There had been some debate by college football analysts after the SEC and Big Ten conference championship games whether Michigan or Alabama should be No. 1.

Gary Barta, the CFP selection chair, made clear during his interview on ESPN that Alabama's 41-24 victory over Georgia, which had been the CFP No. 1, was enough to launch the Crimson Tide to the top spot ahead of Michigan.

"This was not only Alabama beat Georgia, but they controlled the game pretty much from the start to finish," Barta said. "So there's that, and you add that to their body of work. At the end of the day, now, Michigan, obviously a big win two weeks in a row now, looking great against Ohio State (last week) and against Iowa, but at the end of the end day it was a complete victory over Georgia.

"The committee came out of there with a strong consensus that Alabama was 1 and Michigan 2."

Coming off its 42-27 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 27, Michigan rose to No. 2 in the CFP rankings. This has been a remarkable season for the Wolverines, coming off last year’s 2-4 record and picked in an informal media poll in July to finish fourth in the Big Ten East.

This will be the third meeting between Michigan and Georgia. The teams played in 1957 and 1965 and split those games.

McNamara said he already has reviewed the Iowa game film and will turn his attention to studying Georgia later today. For now, he said it's about the team enjoying the success of winning the Big Ten title and relaxing a bit.

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"We’re gonna have a little time off here. It will be good for the team to get healthy, let our minds settle for a second," McNamara said. "I think we’re gonna come back with just as much juice as we came in the first day. That’s a testament to the amount of effort and how much these guys care about winning. We have great leadership on this team and what needs to be said will be said, but I think we’re in a good place right now."

That place currently is a the reigning Big Ten champions. This was the 11th Big Ten championship and the Wolverines' first appearance. Michigan had not won a league title since 2004.

McNamara said the team celebrated Saturday night before flying back to Ann Arbor early Sunday.

“The boys being able to hold the trophy on the bus," McNamara said. "As soon as we came off the bus with the plane waiting for us, just soaking it in as a team, it’s the best moment. This is something we’re going to remember the rest of our lives and this is a great group to do it with.”

As the seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock Saturday night, the players gave Harbaugh a double dousing of Gatorade.

“We dunked Coach Harbaugh in the Gatorade (and) we got him good,” McNamara said, laughing. “We got him twice, too. He was drenched from head to toe.

"He deserves it. Deserves all the love."


Twitter: @chengelis