Besides, he added, the seedings at this point are no more than “two numbers in front of somebody’s name.”

On paper and in the pregame judgments of oddsmakers, at least, the Bulldogs, who are 13-0 and won the Southeastern Conference title with ease, face an especially formidable obstacle to reach the Jan. 9 championship game against No. 2 Michigan or No. 3 Texas Christian, who will joust in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State, the first program to vault from No. 4 seed to national champion in the playoff era, arrived in Atlanta with an 11-1 record, its Michigan-induced scar an awfully big one. (“Every game you play at Ohio State has got huge magnitude,” Coach Ryan Day said, “and if you don’t think so, try losing a game.”)

But the Buckeyes, like the Bulldogs, have very often shined.

Ohio State averaged 492.7 yards per game this season; Georgia had 491.9. Georgia’s defense, the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision at stopping rushers, is far more vulnerable through the air, where Ohio State led the Big Ten Conference. The Bulldogs surrendered about 292 total yards a game, the Buckeyes allowed about 304, and both defenses proved expert on third downs.

“Those guys are great,” Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia’s starting center for this season and last year’s championship run, said with a measure of awe as he freehanded a drawing of his university’s mascot. Overconfidence, he suggested, was not endemic in Georgia’s locker room because the Bulldogs knew it would be detrimental against a team as fast and physical as Ohio State.

The playoff’s top spot is not necessarily a gift. More No. 2 seeds have won championships than No. 1 teams, and teams ranked fourth have captured just as many titles as those seeded at the top. Still, teams ranked No. 1 have been three times as likely to reach title showdowns. Their margins of victory in semifinals have averaged about 20 points.

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