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story.lead_photo.caption Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly poses with the trophy after being named Coach of the Year, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- Sitting beside Nick Saban, Lincoln Riley and Dabo Swinney at a gathering of the College Football Playoff coaches, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly referred to his team as "the new kids on the block."

The description fit. Saban has guided No. 1 Alabama, the defending champion, to its fifth consecutive playoff. Swinney and Clemson are making their fourth consecutive appearance. Riley's Oklahoma team is in the playoff for the third time in four years.

The Fighting Irish are newcomers, but the playoff is an old dream for one of college football's most familiar names.

"It's something we certainly look toward each and every year," Kelly said Thursday at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Finally, Kelly has his chance when No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) plays No. 2 Clemson (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama (13-0) will play No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Orange Bowl.

Are these college football's best four teams?

Georgia, which made it all the way to last year's national championship game, took a 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Following the game, Saban said he believed Georgia was one of the nation's best four teams.

In his final vote in the coaches poll, however, Saban voted for the four teams that actually made the playoff. Georgia was No. 5 in his poll.

Saban stuck by his vote -- and his Georgia claim -- on Thursday night.

"I do think they were one of the top four teams in the country, but I didn't think they were going to get in the playoff with two losses," Saban said, adding that he voted for the best four teams he thought had a chance to be included in the playoff.

"What this really indicates is the SEC championship game was a playoff game," he said.

Asked a follow-up question, Saban wouldn't say Georgia should be one of the playoff teams.

"I think they're one of the best four teams, no disrespect to the other coaches here," Saban said. "I'm saying what I said and I'm not changing what I said. I voted for the four teams that are here."

The loss to Alabama dropped Georgia (11-2) to No. 5 in College Football Playoff poll. The Bulldogs will play No. 15 Texas (9-4) in the Sugar Bowl.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray edged Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in AP Player of the Year voting released Thursday. Murray has a chance to give the Sooners two consecutive Heisman Trophy winners, following Baker Mayfield.

"To have a chance to have guys back to back, you really never dream it," Riley said.

College Football Playoff

Cotton Bowl


WHEN 3 p.m. Central, Dec. 29

WHERE AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

RECORDS Clemson 13-0, Notre Dame 12-0


Orange Bowl


WHEN 7 p.m. Central, Dec. 29

WHERE Hard Rock Stadium, Miami

RECORDS Alabama 13-0, Oklahoma 12-1


Sports on 12/07/2018

Print Headline: Kelly, Notre Dame ‘new kids on block’

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