Georgia, Oklahoma show us what a CFP semifinal should look like

Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl among the best ever (1:08)

The first Rose Bowl to ever go to overtime ended in epic fashion, but was it the best Rose Bowl ever? (1:08)

PASADENA, California -- Georgia waited 75 years to return to the Rose Bowl.

Georgia and Oklahoma waited more than 100 years to play each other for the first time.

When the college football blue bloods finally met in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, they produced an overtime thriller that was exactly what a College Football Playoff semifinal is supposed to be.

When Georgia and Oklahoma finally finished trading punches after more than four hours, the Bulldogs walked away with a thrilling 54-48 victory in two overtimes in one of the greatest Granddaddies of Them All, long after the sun had set behind the San Gabriel Mountains.

On Jan. 8, Georgia will play Alabama for its first national title in 37 years in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T in Atlanta. Regardless of what happens there, the Bulldogs will never forget what they experienced in their first Rose Bowl victory since 1943.

"If it was a measure of heart attack, I'd be on the Richter scale pretty high," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

We've had too many forgettable games in CFP semifinals the past two seasons. Alabama and Clemson might have produced two memorable national championship games, but the lopsided semifinals left many of us turning away.

We were afraid to blink during the Rose Bowl on Monday. It had everything: the biggest comeback and first overtime in the storied game's history, plenty of star power, divergent styles and two wildly different halves.

"It's a helluva college football game," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "You know, an epic Rose Bowl."

After the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense, the Bulldogs won when linebacker Lorenzo Carter blocked a 27-yard field goal to start the second overtime. Georgia tailback Sony Michel ran into the end zone for the winning score two plays later.

"Our kids were so resilient," Smart said. "They never stopped chopping wood. They kept fighting. They believed."

Georgia's players and coaches might have been the only ones who thought they had a chance to come back from a 17-point deficit in the second half. The Sooners, with Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and their high-flying spread offense, dominated the first half. Georgia's defense didn't touch Mayfield in the first quarter, and the Sooners piled up 360 yards of offense in the first half, averaging nine yards per play.

Mayfield, who battled flu-like symptoms earlier in the week, was spectacular in the first 30 minutes. He threw for 200 yards with a touchdown and even caught a 2-yard score on a pass from receiver CeeDee Lamb to give OU a 31-14 lead.

"I do think the players fought, and they're a good offensive football team, but, man, we stunk it up and played really bad," Smart said.

Whatever Smart and his assistants said to their players at halftime needs to be memorialized someplace in Athens. Smart's message to his team was clear: "They haven't seen our best. We played 30 minutes, and they haven't seen our best."

"I really just think the emotion in the players settled down, and they played with a little more discipline and a little more passion and energy," Smart said. "It wasn't like there was magic sprinkle dust. We called the same defenses we called in the first half. We just played them better."

Georgia's defense opened the second half with five straight stops, while Bulldogs tailbacks Nick Chubb and Michel scored on long touchdown runs to tie the score at 31.

"There wasn't any panic," Georgia cornerback Aaron Davis said. "We knew what we did in the first half wasn't us."

Two mistakes by the game's star performers set the stage for the thrilling finale. First, it was Mayfield, who threw an interception that led to a Georgia touchdown, giving the Bulldogs their first lead.

"We got to [Mayfield] in the second half, and it felt good," Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter said. "We got him on the ground, and that's what we wanted to do. You kind of just go into savage mode, and a lot of guys did just that. It was a lot of hungry dudes out there eating."

Then it was Michel's turn. His fumble late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 38, was returned for a touchdown by Oklahoma's Steven Parker. The mistake left Michel sobbing on the sideline after the Sooners went ahead.

"I made plays. I gave up plays. My team just had faith in me," Michel said. "That's what this team is all about. They showed true character today."

Fortunately for Michel, he had a chance to redeem himself in the second overtime. As Georgia players celebrated wildly after Michel's winning score, Mayfield walked across the field to find Fromm, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns.

"He's a true freshman that led his team to a playoff victory," Mayfield said. "You don't typically see that. ... Just told him to go win the whole thing."

Mayfield's college career ended with a second loss in the CFP semifinals.

"It's been a good ride," Mayfield said. "To know it didn't end up the way we wanted it to is the toughest part."

As confetti was fired onto the field, Georgia players danced with roses in their mouths. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stood close by, enjoying the scene after what was widely regarded as a down year for the conference.

Asked if he were feeling good, Sankey replied: "I don't know. What's the score in the other game? No one has had this problem before."

Sankey surely liked the results of the other CFP semifinal. No. 4 Alabama defeated No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, setting up the first CFP National Championship featuring two teams from the same conference.

Smart, who spent 11 years working for Alabama coach Nick Saban, including eight as the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator, will get a chance to play his mentor in the game that matters most.

If it's anywhere near as thrilling as its precursor in Pasadena, we won't be disappointed.