ATLANTA — Georgia’s quest to return to the national championship game was rejected by the College Football Playoff Committee on Sunday, the Bulldogs finishing No. 5 in the CFP Rankings.

The top three ranked teams remained unchanged from a week ago, with Alabama No. 1, Clemson No. 2 and Notre Dame No. 3.

There was a great deal of CFP committee discussion and public debate over which team deserved to be No. 4.

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Oklahoma, 12-1 and the Big 12 Championship Game winner, was selected for the fourth and final playoff spot over the Bulldogs (11-2) and Big Ten Championship Game winner and new No. 6 Ohio Sate (12-1).

Rob Mullens, the CFP Committee chairman, explained how the 13-member committee reached their decision to move the Sooners over Georgia.

“What we decided was amongst the group of three, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, the committee voted that no one was unequivocally better than the other,” Mullens said. “So then we leaned on the protocol. So we went with the one-loss conference champion.”

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The criteria used to rank teams by the committee: Conference championship, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, outcomes of common opponents and “other relevant factors.”

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbsreit drew the conclusion that the CFP Committee has set a precedent by bypassing the Bulldogs, who many experts passed the so-called “eye test” better than Oklahoma and Ohio State by the way they controlled Alabama throughout much of the SEC Championship Game.

“I think the committee has said that two losses is too much for Georgia to overcome, and not being a conference champion is too much to overcome,” Herbstreit said on the CFB Playoff selection show.

“The eyeball test to me, clearly Georgia is a top four team.”

The Bulldogs fell to a historically dominant Crimson Tide team 35-28, squandering a 28-14 lead and losing despite outgaining Alabama 454-403 and forcing two turnovers while committing none themselves.

Georgia had a stronger schedule than Oklahoma or Ohio State, but the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule was weak, with games against FCS Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass and a 7-5 Georgia Tech.

ESPN analyst and former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer made a strong case for Georgia making the College Football Playoff on the selection show.

“Georgia looked like one of the four best teams in the country with that performance (against Alabama), I think they are a more complete team versus Oklahoma and Ohio State,” Palmer said, “and I think they would beat Oklahoma and Ohio State if they played head to head.”

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook agreed, releasing provisional odds to ESPN that indicated the Bulldogs would be a 3 1/2-point favorite over the Sooners if the teams were to meet, and a 6 1/2-point favorite over Ohio State.

Georgia did not hold a watch party on Sunday, but the coaches were in their offices recruiting and working, likely gaining as much advance knowledge on Sugar Bowl opponent Texas as possible

The Sugar Bowl kicks off at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1 in New Orleans.

SEC Network host Paul Finebaum suggested the Bulldogs being relegated to a New Year’s Six Bowl instead of the College Football Playoffs was a much about politics as anything else.

“Georgia is not so much deserving, forget that word, but they are among the four best teams,” Finebaum said. “If the committee does put Georgia in, it will open Pandoras Box, which college football is not ready for, they don’t want to have all these conference champions left out.

“We’re going to penalize (Georgia) because they lost to the best team, well who else would have lost to Alabama last night? I think most everyone else, perhaps not Clemson, but I think Alabama would have beaten them, too. That’s where I land.”

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart made it clear where he stood on the issue late Saturday night.

“We’ve got a talented football team, and we most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country,” Smart said. “We’ve got a damn good football team.”

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