SEC-College Football Playoff-Georgia football
Georgia Bulldogs offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran, left, and Warren Ericson carry the SEC Championship trophy after their 50-30 win against the LSU Tigers during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December 3, 2022, in Atlanta. Jason Getz /

In new College Football Playoff format, winning SEC becomes even more important for Georgia football

Georgia will tell you that winning the SEC is important every year. It’s one of the team’s stated goals.

But with the four-team playoff, it hasn’t been a requirement to win the national championship. Neither Georgia in 2021 or Alabama in 2017 needed an SEC title to win the national championship. And that’s not just true of the SEC, as Ohio State got into last year’s College Football Playoff despite not winning its conference.

Winning the SEC means a lot, as evidenced by Georgia’s celebration after hammering LSU this past season. But with the new 12-team playoff, and more importantly the schedule setup, winning the league title is going to just mean more.

That is just two days after National Signing Day. So in addition to game-planning and practicing for a season-defining game, teams playing first-round games will also be trying to put their finishing touches on a signing class.

The first round of games will be held on campus, undoubtedly a win for fans of those teams hosting games. But say you’re a team that has to go on the road that first week. You’re likely announcing your signing class on Wednesday and then getting on a plane on Thursday to fly to Seattle, Wash., or State College, Pa., to go play in a College Football Playoff game.

The only way to earn a bye for the first round is to win your conference and be one of the four highest-ranked conference champions. Winning the SEC will almost certainly guarantee that, as the SEC champion has been the No. 1 seed in every College Football Playoff dating back to the 2018 version.

Winning the SEC championship, and thus earning the bye, accomplishes two goals. One, it doesn’t force Georgia to split prep between a first-round opponent and finishing up a recruiting class. More importantly, though, the bye removes one game from the schedule.

While a home game in Athens the week before Christmas would be a welcome spectacle for some Georgia fans, it would not make it easier to win a national championship. More games mean more injuries. It’s naturally harder to win a national championship if you are missing more players. Just ask any Georgia fan that has had to listen to Alabama fans talk about how they didn’t have John Metchie and Jameson Williams to close out the 2021 season.

With an extended College Football Playoff, managing the schedule becomes even more important. The NCAA may ultimately tweak the recruiting calendar, but short of removing the early signing period, recruiting is going to stretch coaches even thinner as they prep for the College Football Playoff.

The new College Football Playoff also coincides with Texas and Oklahoma joining the league. Both programs will make college football’s most talented conference even deeper. Add in that the league is going to do away with divisions and winning the SEC becomes both more paramount and more difficult.

Georgia always wants to win the SEC. The new College Football Playoff schedule doesn’t change that desire.

But it does raise the stakes for Georgia in terms of what can be gained by winning the league. It’s no longer just conference pride but a clear advantage when it comes to winning a national championship.

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