ATLANTA — And now, a heartbroken Georgia football team waits and hopes.
The No. 4-ranked Georgia football team fell short in its quest to repeat as conference champions Saturday afternoon, losing to No. 1-ranked Alabama 35-28 in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) mounted a final drive that fell short at the Tide 39-yard line, a Jake Fromm heave into the end zone getting broken up on the final play.
Georgia, however, made a statement by leading the Tide most of the game, building a 28-14 lead and keeping Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagovailoa under wraps most of the day.
It was a historically dominant Alabama team that had set an SEC record with an average margin of 35.2 points in league games, and a streak of 12 straight wins of 20 or more points this season.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was stumping for his team to still make the playoff after the game.
“It boils down to one thing: Do you want the four best teams in or not? It’s that simple,” Smart said. “(Alabama) sat at home last year and got to go in the playoffs while everybody else is beating each other up, and they had a good football team.”
To Smart’s point, an 11-1 Alabama team didn’t even play in the SEC Championship Game in 2017 and was granted a College Football Playoff spot.
Smart said the Tide wouldn’t want to face Georgia again this season, either.
“Give that coach across the sideline a vote who he doesn’t want to play, he’ll start with us. I promise you, you don’t want to play us,” Smart said. “It’s not our decision. It’s their decision. But you’re going to put the four best football teams in.
“We’ve got a talented football team, and we most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country.”
The College Football Playoff field of four will be announced at 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN on Sunday, with the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens serving as the CFP semifinal games on Dec. 29.
The New Year’s Six Bowl games will be announced at 3 p.m ET. on Sunday.
Georgia is not expected to fall below the Sugar Bowl, where it would face a Big 12 representative, likely Texas, on Jan. 1.
There’s room for speculation that UGA could get a playoff spot, even after Oklahoma (12-1) won the Big 12 Championship game with a 39-27 win over the Longhorns. Big Ten hopeful Ohio State plays a four-loss Northwestern team in its respective league title game.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Friday he felt Georgia could be worthy of considering for one of the four College Football Playoff spots even with a loss.
“I actually still think there’s an argument that Georgia is still one of the four best teams, even with two losses, when I go back to that unique rigor of our schedule,” Sankey said. “And I know that the committee has indicated deep respect for the competition in this conference. They still merit consideration.”
“We have seen on multiple occasions, actually, teams that are not conference champions selected. Last year it was Alabama. This year it could be a runner-up perhaps on either side of tomorrow’s game.”
ESPN College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit joined in on that argument even before the SEC Championship Game kicked off.
“If Alabama wins, and it’s a game like last year, I would make a very strong case for Georgia remaining in the top four despite the two losses,” Herbstreit said on ESPN College GameDay.
“I think you have to look at Georgia from the entire season,” he said. “They tripped up at Baton Rouge. Their bonus for having an 11-1 year is they get to play Alabama.”