ATHENS – Kirby Smart wanted no part of the subject on Monday. Neither did his Georgia players.
“I don’t really know too much about the playoff,” senior nose tackle John Atkins said. “I just know about the next game.”
“I’m going to leave that to you guys,” Smart said before a room of media members, and more media members than usual, and more will come if the Bulldogs stay in the national title picture.
This may all end up moot if Smart’s team doesn’t take care of business, starting with Saturday’s game against Florida. But for now the playoff scenarios are all the rage among fans and media, perhaps even in the back of the minds of the team itself. The what-if and what-then scenarios are being debated, and deservedly so, as the picture isn’t that clear.
There are only two safe assumptions in Georgia’s case, at least in the mind of this humble observer:
- If it wins the SEC championship, resulting in a 13-0 or 12-1 record, then Georgia will be one of the four teams of the playoff. The zero-loss scenario is a given, and the feeling here is a one-loss Georgia would be rewarded by the playoff committee for beating Alabama and being the SEC champion.
- If Georgia loses two more games before the SEC championship, which it also loses, it will be out of the running. (This falls in the “duh” category.)
Otherwise much gray area exists, and depends chiefly on what happens elsewhere.
What happens if Georgia goes unbeaten until the SEC championship, where it loses to Alabama? Then it’s time to look at how other conferences, and Notre Dame, play out.
The feeling here is that if there are four power-conference champion teams with one loss or less, those four teams are going to get in. The committee wants to value conference champions. Georgia, it says here, would not get in at 12-1 (the loss being to Alabama) over a one-loss champion from the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 or Big 12.
Or even, quite possibly, a one-loss Notre Dame.
It seems illogical. Georgia beat Notre Dame, and on the road. But while head-to-head is a major factor for the committee, it’s not the only one, and if the Fighting Irish run the table their overall resume’ will be quite impressive: They still have to face Stanford, Miami and N.C. State, all currently ranked. We’ll see if those teams finish ranked, but for what it’s worth Michigan State and Southern California, two other teams the Irish have defeated, are also currently ranked.
Georgia’s only win right now over a ranked team is Notre Dame. But perhaps Mississippi State sneaks back in, and perhaps Auburn stays in the rankings. Maybe Georgia Tech does too. But this is where the SEC seemingly being down, and Georgia’s own division struggling, would hurt the Bulldogs.
The best thing going for Georgia right now is the eye test, and the win over Notre Dame. Both are very impressive. Frankly, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Georgia ranked No. 1 when the first playoff rankings come out next week. Alabama’s best win is over Florida State, and how’s that working out?
But the SEC isn’t as deep as it’s been, so for Georgia and Alabama to both make the playoff, there will need to be more two-loss teams in other conferences: Root for Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington, Washington State, Michigan State to all fall at least once more. Root for Miami, Penn State and Wisconsin to not only lose once more, but twice.
Clear the field of potential one-loss conference champions, and that helps Georgia – or Alabama – get in.
This also assumes Georgia doesn’t slip and fall badly along the way. Which is why Smart was answering a playoff question this way on Monday:
“Yeah, I have no idea. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t get to watch enough games. I’m not a good judge of how talented the SEC is. I’ve spent the last seven days watching Florida, getting ready for future opponents in the SEC. I’m going to leave that to you guys. I’m focused on getting ready for Florida.”