It is bound to happen. A year in which the College Football Playoff is thrown into utter chaos by a series of late season losses, especially on conference championship weekend.
Over the past two seasons Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs have positioned themselves to be in the discussion for the playoff if and when things go pear-shaped. They’ve proven themselves in 2018 by bulldozing through a schedule that included five ranked opponents which they beat by an average of 11.6 points per game, even factoring in that more and more outlying loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. I believe I could craft an excellent argument that no matter what happens from here on out the Georgia Bulldogs are one of the top four teams in college football where it matters: on the field.
And none of that will matter in the playoff selection process if Georgia doesn’t beat Alabama on Saturday.
There have been some scenarios floated over the past few days about how Georgia might make it into the playoff despite getting swept aside by the Tide. The most plausible ones are a combination of a) Georgia playing the Red Elephants close and losing at the very end, a la the 2017 title game, proving they’re only a whisper behind the Tuscaloosans, b) Clemson falling in the ACC title game to Pitt and being dragged down by the combination of a late loss and iffy strength of schedule throughout, c) Texas knocking off Oklahoma in the Big XII title game, and d) Northwestern at least hanging with Ohio State in the B1G finale, e) the committee unequivocally decides that an undefeated UCF without star QB McKenzie Milton ain’t going to the playoff no matter what the heck happens.
Let’s pretend for a moment that a 2007-style debacle breaks out again. The odds are against it, but college football has never felt beholden to the odds before, so let’s go with it. The odds of all five of those things occurring are astronomical, even in the craziest scenario you can dream up. Now let’s put the pieces of the puzzle together.
An undefeated Alabama is #1 and there’s just no way around it. An undefeated Notre Dame is certainly #2. Undefeated conference champion Clemson, or one loss conference champions Oklahoma or Ohio State would almost certainly merit the third slot.
So if Georgia loses on Saturday and slides into the playoff it will almost assuredly be in the #4 slot. Playing Alabama for a third time in less than a year, and the second time in less than a month.
That’s the real hitch.
As much as fans like to believe and the committee likes to portray that the College Football Playoff is about the four best teams in America deciding it on the field, there is still television money to be made. And there are only so many times you can hype the Tide vs. the ‘Dawgs as the game of the year. There’s far more interest nationally in big intersectional matchups. And those matchups also elicit more buy-in from the conference constituents than another SEC rematch.
To paraphrase Erk Russell, the plan is to go to Atlanta and beat Alabama. There is no other plan.