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No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia: Orange Bowl CFP semifinal preview, best bets

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Orange Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia

Location: Miami | Time: 7:30 p.m. (Dec. 31) | Line: UGA -7.5 | Total: 45.5

How these teams got here

Georgia (12-1): Georgia was the No. 1 team in the country for a big chunk of the season. The Bulldogs opened the season with a dominant defensive effort in a 10-3 win over Clemson. They were 4-0 entering October and proceeded to beat three ranked SEC opponents — Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky — by a combined margin of 101-23. 

The defense was completely dominant and the offense was very efficient with Stetson Bennett at quarterback. UGA ended up completing a perfect 12-0 regular season, only to lose 41-24 to Alabama in the SEC title game. That loss bumped the Bulldogs down to the No. 3 seed in the CFP with the potential for a rematch with Alabama in the national title game.

Michigan (12-1): The 2020 season was a disaster for Michigan, but the school opted to stick with Jim Harbaugh. That move has paid off tremendously. Harbaugh made some changes to his coaching staff and was able to lean on dominant play along both lines of scrimmage, a stellar run game and a continually improving passing game with QB Cade McNamara. 

The Wolverines started the season strong, winning five of their first seven games by double digits. Then came the only loss of the year, a 37-33 heartbreaker to rival Michigan State when both were ranked in the top 10. From there, Michigan rebounded and closed out the regular season with four more wins. The biggest of all was the triumph over Ohio State that clinched the Big Ten East title. UM then trounced Iowa 42-3 in the Big Ten title game to seal a place in the CFP.

Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson plays during an NCAA college football game against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson plays during an NCAA college football game against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Players to know

Georgia TE Brock Bowers: The Georgia defense is full of All-American caliber players, but Brock Bowers is the name you need to know on the UGA offense. A freshman tight end, Bowers has emerged as the go-to pass-catcher for the Bulldogs over the course of the season. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers can line up all across the formation and is deadly in the red zone. So far this season, he has tallied 47 catches for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a bright spot in the SEC title game as he went for 10 catches for 139 yards and a score.

Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson: After going down with an injury early in the 2020 season, Aidan Hutchinson came back with a vengeance in 2021. The star defensive end finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting and was as disruptive as any pass rusher in the country. For the season, Hutchinson has 58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Late in the season he had three-sack efforts in wins over Penn State and Ohio State. He will be a focal point for Georgia’s coaching staff.

What’s on the line

Georgia: All season long, this felt like it was going to be the year for Georgia. The Bulldogs have not won a national championship since 1980, but surged to No. 1 in the rankings and emerged as a massive title favorite for much of the year. Kirby Smart got UGA to the national title game in 2017, but lost to Alabama in excruciating fashion. Since then, the Bulldogs have been scratching and clawing for a chance to get back to that stage. Even after losing to Alabama in the SEC title game, here is their chance.

If Georgia doesn’t win this game, Smart is going to face a ton of questions about his handling of the quarterbacks. Bennett, a former walk-on, has played well for most of the season, but struggled against Alabama and in multiple big games in 2020. Will Smart go to JT Daniels if Bennett struggles again? It’s a situation worth monitoring.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks to hand the ball off against Alabama during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks to hand the ball off against Alabama during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Michigan: Michigan already won the Big Ten for the first time since 2003 and now it can win the national title for the first time since 1997. The Wolverines went 12-0 that year but shared the national championship with Nebraska. Already at the 12-win mark for the first time since that season, the Wolverines are after an outright championship.

This is just the third time in program history that Michigan has reached 12 wins and the first time the program is a CFP participant. With a CFP semifinal win over Georgia, the Wolverines would reach 13 wins in a season for the first time.

Best bets

Sam Cooper: I'm expecting a much better performance from Georgia's defense in this game. Michigan wants to run the ball and doesn't have the same dynamism at the skill positions (or quarterback) that Alabama has. At the same time, part of me wonders if Georgia's confidence and swagger took a big hit following the Alabama performance. I'm a little leery about the spread. I can make cases for either side. What I'm most confident in is a low-scoring game. Pick: Under 45.5

Nick Bromberg: I like Sam's pick of the under in this one. This is going to be two teams smacking each other with sledgehammers for three hours. I think the slow pace of the game favors Michigan at least being able to keep it close and I wouldn't be stunned to see the Wolverines win it outright. The line sitting at over seven points means I have to take the Wolverines. Pick: Michigan +7.5

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