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Chamberlain Smith / UGA Sports
Georgia football could be in the top four of the CFP Rankings on Tuesday night, but the Bulldogs likely cannot afford to lose to Auburn next Saturday, even if they go on to win the SEC Championship Game.

Georgia enters College Football Playoff bubble with no margin for error

ATHENS — Georgia’s path back to the College Football Playoffs likely doesn’t have room for any detours.

The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) turned heads with their third shutout of the season in a 27-0 win over Missouri Saturday night between the hedges.

RELATED: Georgia football recap, stirring goal-line stand finishes off Tigers

But the LSU-Alabama outcome — a 46-41 Tigers’ win —could rule out a two-loss Georgia team even if the Bulldogs were to win the SEC Championship Game.

RELATED: Missouri coach says Georgia even better than advertised

Already, national analysts are saying a one-loss Crimson Tide team should get consideration for a playoff spot even if they don’t play in their league championship game. It happened in 2017, and Alabama validated their selection as one of the “four best” by winning the national championship.

If the Bulldogs were to slip up and lose to Auburn at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday — and then go on to beat LSU in the SEC Championship — the doomsday scenario exists where they could be left out as a two-loss team to Alabama’s one loss.

LSU appears a lock to play in the SEC title game, finishing the season playing at Ole Miss and with home games against Arkansas and Texas A&M.

The Tide plays at Mississippi State next before playing host to Western Carolina and finishing at Auburn.

Ohio State and Clemson are strong favorites to win out and secure CFP berths, and Oregon or Utah could easily emerge a one-loss Pac-12 conference champ.

A one-loss Oklahoma and undefeated Baylor are also lurking, set to meet next Saturday with Big 12 supremacy on the line leading up to their respective league title game.

Georgia, it seems, has zero margin for error — room for another loss — after losing to South Carolina 20-17 in overtime on Oct. 12.

That’s particularly true with the Gamecocks struggling, now 4-6 after a 20-15 home loss to Appalachian State on Saturday.

The Bulldogs’ quality wins and defensive resume have been carrying the team in the rankings to this point.

Shutouts have become a rarity in college football with more rules favoring the offense, but Georgia accomplished the three shutout feat for the first time in Athens since 1981. There have only been two shutouts in the entire FBS ranks in the past two weeks.

The College Football Playoff Committee uses several metrics in their mission to determine the “Four Best,” but the priority they place on different statistical categories varies from week to week.

The rationale is fluid, and their rankings process is veiled, so  it’s hard to project from one week to the next just how the 13-member committee will vote.

RELATED: CFP selection process triggers questions, BCS founder Roy Kramer weighs in 

College Football Final co-hosts Jesse Palmer and Joey Galloway provide some idea of how the committee may view Georgia early Sunday morning with their mock rankings process.

Both Palmer and Galloway had Georgia No. 4 in their CFP rankings.

“Number four I’ve got Georgia, we know they play defense, we know they run the ball, the passing game though, really has been inconsistent the last four games,” Palmer said. “But wins against Florida and Notre Dame have been impressive to me.”

Galloway was in agreement.

“Their defense now has three shutouts,” Galloway said. “Jake Fromm hasn’t been great, but he’s been good enough to keep them No. 4.”

DawgNation asked CFP Committee Chairman Rob Mullens on the national teleconference last Tuesday why it had Georgia ranked as the highest one-loss team in the nation in the initial rankings.

“Georgia has beaten two top 15 teams, No. 10 Florida, No. 15 Notre Dame,” Mullens said. “They are the only FBS team to not give up a rushing touchdown, which is a pretty strong statement. They have an experienced quarterback, and elite running back.

“But the separator for them at this point was the two Top 15 wins.”

National college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who advocated for Georgia to make the CFP last season, has the Bulldogs back in his top 4.

While Herbstreit isn’t on the CFP panel, he’s the lead college football analyst for ABC/ESPN, and his opinion carries enough weight to assume the committee is aware of his mock rankings.

SEC Network analyst Paul Finebaum, another college football gatekeeper, still has Alabama ranked ahead of Georgia. It’s just one indicator of just how significant the risk is for the Bulldogs to miss the playoffs if they don’t win out.

The next CFP rankings come out at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

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