Georgia and Kennesaw State are still winning and have a shot at national championships.
The Falcons lost and have narrowed their possibilities vary from 11-5 to 7-9, and the odds remain about the same on every finish possible. So confused.
It’s Monday. We look back:
What happened: You might have heard. The Bulldogs won their first SEC championship since 2005 with a 28-7 win over Auburn. It was in all the papers. (Kids: Old school expression. Ask your parents.)
What’s next: Georgia was placed third in the final college football playoff rankings and will face No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) in the semifinal at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Sooners won the Big 12 championship game over TCU 41-17.
Overreaction narrative: “The Big 12 is a joke! Baker Mayfield is a punk! We got this!”
Reality check: Slow down there, Mr. Bulldog Boxer Shorts. This will not be an easy game. Oklahoma has the best offense in the nation, led by the best quarterback (and expected Heisman Trophy winner) Baker Mayfield. The Sooners rank first in the nation in total offense (583.3. yards per game), third in passing (367.4), first in passing efficiency and fourth in scoring offense (44.9 points). Mayfield has been sacked 21 times in 13 games (1.62), which isn’t that often considering he has thrown for 4,340 yards and drops back 30 times per game. Georgia coach Kirby Smart Sunday compared Mayfield to Brett Favre: “It's really like when you watch Brett Favre back in the day. Obviously he's a better athlete, and he's got the gunslinger mentality that he can make all the throws.”
Early odds have Oklahoma as a three-point favorite. That’s about right, given Mayfield’s star power and public perception. But this is a winnable game for Georgia and there are two obvious keys: 1) Pass rush. The Bulldogs have to be physical up front, just as they were in the rematch against Auburn. The Sooners have a good offensive line but the Big 12 generally isn’t as physical as the SEC; 2) Just as obvious, the Dogs can control the game and the clock with their running attack. The more success they can have with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, grinding out long drives, the fewer times Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense will be on the field. Smart hopes the game goes differently than the Sugar Bowl four years ago when he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. Oklahoma upset Alabama 45-31. Smart called it a “miserable” experience. “We didn't play really well. It was one of our probably most disappointing bowl performances at the time. Thought they did a tremendous job offensively. That was a different team, different program, different time.”
(Odds update: Online oddsmaker Bovada has the game as a “pick ‘em.” Several Las Vegas casinos have Oklahoma by one point. Pregame.com, the line used by the AJC, had Oklahoma open at minus-3 but the spread has tightened to 1-1/2.)
What happened: They had their worst offensive output in two years, losing to Minnesota 14-9 at home and failing to score a touchdown for the first time since a 38-0 loss to Carolina in 2015. Quarterback Matt Ryan had thrown at least one touchdown pass in 30 straight games since then, until Sunday.
What’s next: A quick turnaround as the Falcons play a nationally televised game Thursday night against New Orleans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Saints (9-3) have a two-game lead on them in the NFC South with four to play.
Overeaction narrative: “We’re dead. We’re not even making the playoffs.”
Reality check: The Falcons certainly don’t have the look of a Super Bowl team. They didn’t even look like a playoff team Sunday. They have’t played with any consistency this season. Minnesota is a smart disciplined team that didn’t beat them with anything fancy. They just straight up beat them and stuffed the Falcons’ offense. Here’s the likely scenario for the final quarter of the season: The Falcons need to go 3-1 to make the playoffs. All of their remaining games (two vs. New Orleans, one each vs. Tampa Bay and Carolina) are against division team, so finishing 10-6 probably gets them in, given tiebreaker scenarios. Splitting the four games and going 9-7 probably leaves them on the outside, especially after Seattle’s upset of Philadelphia Sunday night. If the playoffs opened today, the top six seeds in the NFC would be Minnesota (10-2), Philadelphia (10-2), Los Angeles (9-3), New Orleans (9-3), Seattle (8-4) and Carolina (8-4). The Falcons are seventh and have three teams -- Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas -- just a game behind them. The offense had some success when they attacked the edges against the Vikings but in general did not do well on the inside. The pocked collapsed too often. Ryan missed some throws. He wasn’t sacked but he frequently was under pressure. As always, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will catch some flak but I put less on play-calling Sunday than I do performance. Players just lost too many one-on-one matchups. They’ve also lost three times at home (Buffalo, Miami, Minnesota). So the roof isn’t the only thing working at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
KENNESAW STATE (12-1)
What happened: The Owls won their 12th straight -- not a typo -- and advanced to the third round of the FCS playoffs with a 17-7 upset win at Jacksonville State.
What’s next: KSU now plays in the quarter-finals and travels to Sam Houston State Saturday night.
Overreaction narrative: “We should’ve gotten the No. 4 seed over Alabama.” (OK, not really)
Reality check: Owls coach Brian Bohannon is a former Georgia wide receiver and he studied under Paul Johnson but it was defense that carried the team last week. Jax State was held to 187 yards in offense, including 54 (and no points) in the second half. So after beating a No. 3 seed, why should beating a No. 6 seed (Sam Houston State) be a problem? To think, this championship-starved area has two college football teams competing for championships. It’s been said before but Bohannon deserves a ton of praise for the way he has built the program in a short time. He’ll continue to draw interest from smaller FBS programs if he’s interested. (Georgia Southern promoted assistant Chad Lunsford last week to fill that opening.)