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Ohio State vs. Georgia prediction: Back underdog Buckeyes in CFP semifinal

Bet on Ohio State to hang tough with the defending champs in what should be a thrilling Peach Bowl

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 3,340 yards and 37 touchdowns with just six interceptions during the regular season. Stroud will face the nation's No. 2 scoring defense Saturday when the Buckeyes battle Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal in Atlanta. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 3,340 yards and 37 touchdowns with just six interceptions during the regular season. Stroud will face the nation's No. 2 scoring defense Saturday when the Buckeyes battle Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal in Atlanta. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)Read moreGreg Fiume / Getty Images

Even before the clock hit zero in last year’s national championship game, many figured we’d see an Ohio State vs. Georgia matchup in the 2022-23 College Football Playoff.

However, the presumption was the Buckeyes and Bulldogs would be the last teams standing, not squaring off in a win-or-go-home semifinal matchup.

Yet here we are, with two of the sport’s preeminent programs set to meet Saturday night in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

When the game ends shortly before midnight, the victor will begin a raucous New Year’s Eve celebration, knowing they’re headed to the national championship game in Los Angeles on Jan. 9.

The loser will limp into 2023 dwelling on what could have been.

The same, of course, can be said for those wagering on this titanic College Football Playoff battle. Which brings us to our Ohio State vs. Georgia prediction, which can be summarized thusly: We expect a very close game.

Odds updated as of 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 29.

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Ohio State vs. Georgia Prediction

  1. Ohio State +6.5, -105 (at BetMGM)

Ohio State vs. Georgia Prediction: Analysis

It would be absolutely ludicrous to say something negative about a defending national champion that is 27-1 over the past two seasons.

So we won’t. Instead, we’ll direct our (mild) criticism in the direction of the defending champs’ opponents: They weren’t very good.

It’s true: Only three of Georgia’s 13 victims entered bowl season ranked in the Top 25 — and you could argue one doesn’t belong.

The counter-argument, of course, is that the Bulldogs manhandled all three of those teams: They took out current No. 6 Tennessee 27-13; they blasted No. 16 LSU 50-30 in the SEC championship game; and they bludgeoned No. 20 South Carolina 48-7 back in Week 3.

There’s no refuting any of that. But the fact remains LSU and South Carolina are four-loss teams (the Gamecocks in particular are mediocre at best).

Also undeniable: Georgia didn’t have to deal with Alabama this year, and it caught Auburn and Florida in down seasons.

Additionally, the Dawgs’ most difficult opponent — Tennessee — came to Athens. And the second half of that game was played in a rainstorm that impacted the Vols’ fast-paced, high-flying offense.

All of which is a long way of saying something few have the guts to say: The SEC wasn’t very good this year. And Georgia benefited from that.

» READ MORE: College football championship odds: Latest NCAAF winner betting

Does that mean the Bulldogs are overrated? Not at all. They’re stacked on both sides of the ball, they blew out every opponent but Missouri and they absolutely should be favored in this game.

We just believe this Georgia squad hasn’t faced an opponent as complete, talented, fast and explosive as Ohio State. As such, we believe oddsmakers are giving the Buckeyes too many points.

This opinion is stated with full knowledge of what happened the last time we saw Ohio State: It got punked by archrival Michigan in its own stadium.

The Buckeyes took a 20-17 halftime lead, then got outscored 28-3 the rest of the way. The 45-23 beatdown not only ended Ohio State’s perfect season, but it was so thorough that many thought it ended the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff hopes.

And it would have, if USC had not lost to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.

That result opened the door for Ohio State, which snatched the fourth and final CFP invitation.

As for why we think the Buckeyes can make the most of their second chance and at least hang with Georgia on Saturday, well, it’s about talent. Head coach Ryan Day is loaded with as much of it as his counterpart, Georgia’s Kirby Smart.

We know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, Day was loaded with talent against Michigan and it didn’t matter.”

True enough. But that Wolverines loss was a wake-up call for Ohio State. And the underlying message was this: If you don’t bring your A-game every time, you can get beat — and even embarrassed.

Last year’s Buckeyes got a similar message after losing 42-27 at Michigan in the regular-season finale. The response: A thrilling, never-give-up 48-45 victory over Utah in the Rose Bowl.

Freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud was phenomenal in that game, throwing for 573 yards and six touchdowns after struggling at Michigan.

Well, Stroud was a Heisman Trophy frontrunner for a chunk of this season and had a chance to win it — until he flatlined against Michigan again.

Can Stroud respond against Georgia like he did in the Rose Bowl? It won’t be easy — not against college football’s best defense two years running.

But Stroud certainly has the skills and (just as importantly) a wealth of weapons around him.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Which brings us back to the quality of Georgia’s competition this year. In consecutive games, the Bulldogs contained the two best quarterbacks they faced this season — Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (in the rain) and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.

With all due respect to both, Stroud is better. And so are the skill players around him.

In other words, we expect Ohio State’s offense — which averages 44.5 points per game — to test Georgia’s defense like no opponent has since the Dawgs faced Alabama twice last year.

That Georgia defense — which had five eventual first-round draft picks — failed the first of those tests against Alabama (41-24 loss in the SEC title game) and passed the second (33-18 win in the national title game).

What about the matchup of the Bulldogs’ offense against the Buckeyes’ defense? It should be just as competitive.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennet, who is 27-3 as a starter, leads a unit that averages 39.2 points and 491.8 yards per game. Those figures rank 11th and third in the nation, respectively.

However, Ohio State was no pushover defensively. It ranked in the top 13 nationally in total yards allowed per game (304), passing yards (184) and points (19.3).

Those numbers got worse, obviously, after the Michigan debacle. But 205 of the Wolverines’ 530 yards and 21 of their 45 points came on three long second-half touchdowns — including busted-play runs of 75 and 85 yards late in the fourth quarter.

Clearly, the Buckeyes cannot afford those defensive lapses — or long offensive lulls — against Georgia, or they will get run out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which will be packed with Dawgs fans).

We’re betting that doesn’t happen.

Can the Buckeyes spring the upset and end Georgia’s hopes for back-to-back titles? Absolutely. Do we think it will happen? We’re not willing to go that far.

However, we do expect the Ohio State team that won its first 12 games by an average of 29.6 points to show up on New Year’s Eve. And we expect that team to be extremely competitive in what should be a back-and forth thriller.

  1. Ohio residents, be sure to sign up for BetMGM on January 1 to be ready to bet on the Buckeyes if they make it to the CFP Championship!

Ohio State vs. Georgia Odds: (via BetMGM)

  1. Point spread: Ohio State (+6.5, -105) vs. Georgia (-6.5, -115)

  2. Moneyline: Ohio State (+220) vs. Georgia (-275)

  3. Total: 62.5 points

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