PASADENA, Calif. — Oklahoma and Georgia are headed out west to play their College Football Playoff semifinal in the 104th Rose Bowl.
The Sooners (12-1) were the second seed in the four-team field announced by the selection committee on Sunday, while the Bulldogs (12-1) were third.
The Rose Bowl will be played without a team from either of its traditional Pac-12 or Big Ten conferences for the first time since Jan. 3, 2002.
Top-seeded Clemson gets the geographical advantage of playing in New Orleans, so fans of Oklahoma and Georgia will go to the West Coast and the historic Pasadena stadium to play for a spot in the national championship game.
“I think it’s awesome that it’s in the Rose Bowl, so that you get to go out to the Granddaddy of Them All and play in a venue that a lot of these kids in the southeast don’t get an opportunity to go to,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
While the college football world argued about the committee’s decision on the fourth team in the playoff, nobody doubts the credentials of the two stellar programs getting together in this matchup. The winner goes to the title game Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia earned a spot with its first SEC title since 2005 under Smart, its second-year coach. The Bulldogs beat Auburn 28-7 in the conference championship game on Saturday. After claiming their 13th SEC crown, they’re chasing their first national championship since 1980.
“I’ve been able to keep up with them a little bit throughout the year, and Coach Smart’s done obviously a tremendous job with that group in such a short amount of time,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “Have a ton of respect for him, the coach he is, the team that they have. Know it’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Oklahoma won its third consecutive Big 12 title on Saturday with a 41-17 victory over TCU, punctuating an incredible debut season for Riley, the youngest coach in the FBS at 34 years old. The Sooners have won eight consecutive games, including six straight by double digits.
The Sooners will be led by fleet-footed quarterback Baker Mayfield, the likely Heisman Trophy winner going against Georgia’s physical defense.
“He’s just such a good athlete,” Smart said. “He stretches and extends plays, extremely explosive, not afraid to make any throws. It’s really almost like when you watch Brett Favre back in the day.”
Oklahoma is in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years after losing the Orange Bowl semifinal to Clemson in 2015.
These two teams were very nearly perfect. The only blemish on the Sooners’ record was a 38-31 loss to a solid Iowa State team on Oct. 7.
Auburn was responsible for Georgia’s only loss, a 40-17 defeat on Nov. 11, but the Bulldogs avenged it in the SEC title game.
Either a Pac-12 or Big Ten team had appeared in every edition of the Rose Bowl for the past half-century since the formation of the then-Pacific-8 Conference — except after the 2001 season, when the Rose Bowl became the BCS national championship game for a year. Miami won the national title in that memorable edition with a 37-14 victory over Nebraska, which was in the Big 12 at the time.
“I can always remember watching it, hearing Keith Jackson call it, and it seems like it was always a great game,” said Riley, who is from Texas. “That was just kind of always one of those places that you kind of put on the bucket list as far as, want to go to that game one day, be involved in that game one day. Kind of seemed like a dream, kind of out there a little bit.”
Oklahoma played in the Rose Bowl once before — on Jan. 1, 2003, beating Washington State 34-14. The Sooners got into the game because Big Ten champion Ohio State earned a spot in the national title game.
Georgia also has made one previous appearance in the Rose Bowl, beating UCLA 9-0 on Jan. 1, 1943.
When Smart was an assistant at Alabama, the Crimson Tide beat Texas in the BCS championship game in January 2010. That game was at the Rose Bowl, although it wasn’t the official Rose Bowl game, which was between Ohio State and Oregon that season.