ATLANTA – The Georgia football team will find out for sure at the same time as everyone else, when the College Football Playoff pairings are announced Sunday sometime after noon ET.
But, like everyone else, the Bulldogs probably already have a good idea of where they’re headed.
Georgia against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day quickly emerged as the most-likely scenario, the winner advancing to the National Championship Game back here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8.
The Rose Bowl is at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. Georgia has played in the Rose Bowl just once, back in 1942 when it won a national championship by knocking off UCLA.
Georgia has never played Oklahoma. The matchup would set up an intriguing clash of strengths between Oklahoma’s high-powered offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy favorite, against Georgia’s vaunted defense and linebacker Roquan Smith.
But Georgia coach Kirby Smart — seeking to win a national championship in his second year, just as Bob Stoops did at Oklahoma in 2000 — didn’t have much preference when asked after Saturday’s SEC Championship Game win over Auburn.
“We don’t concern ourselves with rankings. We never have. Why does it really matter?” Smart said. “If you’re 1 through 4, you’re in the tournament. That was our goal, and that’s what we’ve achieved.”
The requisite caveat: The playoff selection committee could throw a curveball. So don’t book any non-refundable travel reservations until anything is official.
But most analysts are expecting a No. 2 vs. No. 3 Georgia-Oklahoma matchup in the Rose Bowl, with the real drama coming on who No. 1 Clemson will face in the Sugar Bowl. Here’s the reasoning:
Clemson entered the day as the No. 1 seed and rolled over Miami 38-3 in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. If the Tigers remain No. 1, and the committee gives geographic preference to the top seed, Clemson would go to New Orleans and play in the Sugar Bowl.
Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia are considered playoff locks, all 12-1 teams that won their conference titles Saturday. So with the committee saying it will assign the bowls based on seed, not geography, logic dictates that Oklahoma and Georgia would be matched up in this year’s other playoff bowl.
The debate is mainly about whether Ohio State (11-2 and Big Ten champion) or Alabama (11-1 but not even its division champion) will be selected to round out the field. Where the committee could change Georgia’s destination is if somehow it keeps Alabama seeded ahead of Georgia. The Crimson Tide were fifth this week, and the Bulldogs were sixth. Then it would be Oklahoma-Alabama in the Rose Bowl and Clemson-Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
There’s also nothing to stop the committee from switching the bowl assignments and putting a Georgia-Oklahoma game in the Sugar and sending Clemson out to the Rose. That’s still considered unlikely.
Back in 1942, the Bulldogs began the season 9-0 before finally losing their first game — to Auburn.
The same scenario has played out this year. While the rules are different – no playoff, no SEC championship – Georgia once again finds itself recovering from the late loss to Auburn and is in a position to win the whole thing.
“Might want to do it again,” Georgia junior Trenton Thompson said, talking about the championship shirt and hat he received Saturday night. “There’s still more. You just can’t stop right here.”