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College Football Playoff expert: Georgia not among top tier playoff contenders

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Georgia football is looking for its first SEC title -- and trip to the College Football Playoff -- since the 2017 season. Here, former Bulldog and 2017 SEC title game MVP Roquan Smith (L), Jonathan Ledbetter (13), Mecole Hardman and Nick Chubb (R) celebrate Georgia’s championship under a storm of confetti after their 28-7 victory over Auburn. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It not hard to make the case that Georgia has been one of the top four programs in the country two -- if not three -- of the past four years.

But ESPN College Football Playoff expert Heather Dinich doesn’t put the Bulldogs in her highest “playoff tier.”

The so-called “Usual Suspects” on the list are:

• Alabama

• Clemson

• Ohio State

• Oklahoma

Georgia is in the second category listed, the “Can they beat Bama?” category along with Texas A&M.

“The Aggies have lost eight straight to the Tide,” Dinich penned in her ESPN-plus pay site article. “Georgia coach Kirby Smart has won three SEC East titles and has four straight top-10 finishes — but he has yet to beat Nick Saban.”

Saban, of course, is 23-0 against his former assistant coaches.

The difference between Georgia and Ohio State and Oklahoma where the likelihood of a CFP berth is concerned is the Bulldogs have to navigate a national championship contender in the SEC Championship Game to make it into the four-team playoff.

The Buckeyes and Sooners have had little competition in their respective conference title games, relative to what the SEC West produces.

Ditto for Clemson, for that matter, but the Tigers have proved their worth by beating Alabama two of the four times they have faced the Tide in the College Football Playoffs.

Dinich’s third playoff category is the “First-time hopefuls,” which includes Iowa State, North Carolina and Cincinnati.

The Bearcats gave Georgia all they wanted in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last season, falling 24-21 in their only loss of the season.

Notre Dame, which was coming off a 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, was deemed a more worthy CFP choice than either the undefeated Cincinnati team, or the one-loss Texas A&M team’s that’s only loss had been to Alabama two months before.

That Notre Dame team chosen by the CFP committee, it’s worth noting, lost to Alabama by a 31-14 count in a semifinal matchup that was never that close.

Dinich put the 2021 Irish football team in the “Need the 12-team playoff now” category along with Oregon, referring to the 12-team CFP that was proposed last summer.

The Pac-12, she notes, has gone 16 seasons since USC won its most recent championship.

The next category is “Bluebloods that need a lot to go right,” and that is where USC can be found along with LSU, Michigan, Penn State and Miami.

Other schools, such as Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss, found their way into Dinich’s informative and entertaining piece.

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