Mike Check

Michael Cunningham’s ramblings from the world of sports

Georgia’s path to CFP almost certainly goes through Bama, and that’s where it will end


The first College Football Playoff ranking was released Tuesday night, but there was no need for Georgia to pay much attention. Maybe that’s why coach Kirby Smart said he didn’t even bring it up with his team beforehand. 

What’s the use? The rankings confirmed what we’ve known since the Bulldogs got beat down in Baton Rouge. Their hopes of a bid in the four-team playoff comes down to beating Alabama in the SEC Championship game. 

Well, that’s not exactly right. Georgia, No. 6 in the CFP ranking, must beat Kentucky this weekend and win three more after that. That’s unless you believe a two-loss team can make the CFP, which is unlikely with so many one-loss teams still in the hunt. Alabama (8-0) also must win the SEC West (don’t laugh).

In the end, though, Georgia (7-1) almost certainly will have to beat Alabama in the Benz Dome to make the playoff. It says here the Bulldogs will earn that rematch with Bama but lose it, thus forcing them to settle for a New Year’s bowl.

First thing’s first for Georgia: at Kentucky on Saturday. The Bulldogs are favored by nine points , and SB Nation stats maven Bill Connelly gives them a 70 percent chance of winning. Kentucky’s defense is so good that the Wildcats are 7-1 despite a bad offense, so they will have a good shot to win if they can drag Georgia down into their muck. 

That won’t happen. Georgia beats Kentucky, leaving the Bulldogs with home games against Auburn, Massachusetts and Georgia Tech. Anything can happen, I suppose, but in my view those games will be, in order, fairly easy, very easy and easy for the Bulldogs. 

Make it through the unscathed, and the SEC East-champion Bulldogs would play Alabama for the conference title and a playoff bid. That pending matchup looms over Georgia’s final month, and it’s why it’s hard to give Georgia much of a chance to make the CFP. 

Listen, Alabama’s invulnerability often is overstated. Everyone knows Nick Saban has posted just one undefeated season. That suggests that the Crimson Tide are due for one stumble on their way to an inevitable playoff bid, and maybe it comes against the Bulldogs. After all, Georgia did have the Crimson Tide on the ropes in the last national title game. 

But, let’s be real. This Crimson Tide team has shown few weaknesses while the Bulldogs have plenty. Alabama’s schedule hasn’t been difficult, but it’s steamrolled every opponent. LSU is a very good football team, yet the Tigers are 14 1/2-point underdogs at home to Bama this weekend, and it’s hard to argue with that. 

In a rematch with the Crimson Tide, the Bulldogs would get a full dose of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (barring injury) after a partial dose was enough to knock them out last time. He’s much better now. Tagovailoa has completed 70.4 percent of his passes (!) for 13.6 yards per attempt (!!) with 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions (!!!). 

Alabama’s defense has one weakness — giving up big plays, via both run and pass — but in this case “weakness” means a bit below average. It’s all relative. First you have to get the Tide into good down-and-distance situations to pass, and that ain’t easy. Then you must protect your quarterback, and that’s harder still. 

The Crimson Tide have won their past five appearances in the SEC title game. If they are undefeated for this one, and thus wouldn’t necessarily need to win it for a CFP bid, then perhaps they don’t give their best effort. Or maybe they step on the gas because Saban is tired of hearing about having “only” one undefeated season. 

More likely is that Alabama’s motivation just won’t matter because the Tide are just too good for the Bulldogs and everyone else. 

That’s not so say Georgia isn’t good. I figured Jake Fromm’s bad day in Baton Rouge was a one-off and that looked to be the case in Jacksonville. The defense dominated a pretty good Florida offense by not allowing the Gators to play their grind-it-out style, and by producing three takeaways. 

Those are good developments for the Bulldogs. They still can get better. But I just don’t see them ever being Bama good. This year, no one is that good. 

Clemson (8-0) also is a great football team, but I’d take Bama against them and give 10 points. Notre Dame is undefeated with a victory over Michigan (7-1) but I’m not sold because the Irish aren’t much for passing. I don’t see any contender that has what it takes to topple the Tide.

The top four in the initial CFP rankings are Alabama, Clemson, LSU (7-1) and Notre Dame. I think that’s reasonable based on what the teams have accomplished so far, which historically has seemed to be the committee’s criteria instead of projecting how good they are. 

Georgia is No. 6 in the CFP ranking, behind Michigan and ahead of Oklahoma (7-1). Among the teams not in the initial top four, FiveThirtyEight.com’s statistical model gives Oklahoma the best chance (35 percent) to make the four-team playoff and Georgia (32 percent) the second-best chance. 

That’s largely because Oklahoma can make it to the playoffs without facing Bama, while Georgia almost surely cannot. And that’s why Georgia won’t be returning to the College Football Playoff.


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About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.