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Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs would have hoisted a national title trophy in 2017 under a 12-team CFP format, as they did here in the 2017 SEC Championship Game. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

What-if: Applying 12-team CFP format, Georgia would have won national title, seen a lot of Oklahoma

ATHENS — Georgia football history is full of “What-if” moments, the 2012 and 2017 seasons the most notable of late, the Bulldogs one play from a championship on both occasions.

But this recently released 12-team College Football Playoff proposal, which could be in place as early as the 2023 season, opens the door for more recent Bulldogs’ what-ifs of a more painless variety.

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The Bulldogs would not have made the playoffs until the 2017 season.

But a 12-team playoff would have made Georgia’s postseason path the past four seasons vastly different.

The 2018 season would have included a delightful rematch.

The 2019 team would been among the final four teams standing.

Meanwhile, last season would have looked a lot like this year’s postseason starting out, before a mind-bending rematch.

Related: College Football Playoff working group recommends expanding to 12 teams

Here’s how the 12-team scenario would have looked for Georgia and played out from this perspective:

2017

Georgia was seeded No. 3 entering the CFP and under the new system would have played the winner of the game between No. 11-seed Washington at No. 6 Wisconsin in Madison.

Under the new format, the quarterfinals and semifinals would be played at bowl sites. A bowl meeting with the Badgers would have been likely for UGA. That Wisconsin team finished 13-1, its only loss a 27-21 defeat to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

Still, Georgia would have prevailed over the Badgers, and then found itself beating No. 2-seed Oklahoma (as it did that season in the Rose Bowl) before playing in the national championship game.

Alabama, meanwhile, was the No. 5 seed and would have played host to undefeated No. 12 seed UCF.

The reason the Tide was the No. 5 seed is because under the new CFP 12-team proposal, the top four seeds go to the four top-ranked conference champions. UGA was the SEC champion.

As such, the Crimson Tide would have been forced to play an extra game to reach the title game.

The Crimson Tide would have prevailed over the Knights, and then it would have plowed through No. 4 seed Ohio State in a bowl game before facing Clemson in the semifinals.

The Tide easily handled the overseeded Tigers that year in the Sugar Bowl, 24-6, and it would have done so again in this format.

But with two playoff games, Alabama might have had to turn to Tua Tagovailoa earlier, and that would have meant showing more of how its offense would operate with the gifted Hawaiian.

Conclusion: Georgia was the best team throughout most of the 2017 season, and with Alabama having to play an extra game under this different format, that would have been enough to give the Bulldogs an edge and the title.

2018

Georgia was the No. 6 seed at the end of the regular season, and this is where things get fun, because that means the Bulldogs would have hosted a first-round CFP game at Sanford Stadium.

The Bulldogs would have gotten to play host to No. 11-seed LSU — a team that finished the season 10-3 with a 74-72 seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M, and a 40-32 win over UCF.

Could Georgia have won a rematch with Joe Burrow in his first season under center with the Tigers?

LSU beat UGA 36-16 earlier in the season, but it’s hard to imagine the 2018 version of Georgia football being caught off guard more than once, especially with the game being in Athens.

Offensive weapons and current NFL players like D’Andre Swift, Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley, Isaac Nauta, Charlie Woerner and Jake Fromm would have been primed for a second shot at the Bayou Bengals.

It is also worth noting that six members of Georgia’s 2018 offensive line were drafted by NFL teams.

With a win over LSU, that Bulldogs team would have faced No. 3-seed Oklahoma in a bowl game.

Georgia beat the 2017 Sooners’ offense with Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, and it would have beaten the 2018 Oklahoma offense with Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, too.

Evidence: 2018 Alabama led those Sooners 28-0 with the first 17 minutes of the game and led by double-digits throughout en route to a 45-34 win

Georgia lead 2018 Alabama 21-14 at the half before losing in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter, 35-28.

Clemson, which won the 2018 championship, was the No. 2 seed and would have played the winner of Florida at Michigan in its semifinal game before facing the Oklahoma-Georgia winner.

The 2018 Georgia team was loaded, and if it had met then-freshman Trevor Lawrence in the College Football Playoffs, provided both teams were healthy after their other games, it would have been a coin toss with both teams at their best.

Conclusion: The Tigers get the nod, having played one fewer game and with Lawrence coming into his own. It was Clemson’s year.

2019

The Bulldogs were scrappy enough to be the No. 5 seed, for all the offensive struggles with the rebuilt receiving corps and Swift’s late-season soft shoulder.

The Bulldogs would have played host to No. 12-seed Memphis in the quarterfinals at Sanford Stadium. The Tigers had an impressive 12-2 season including a 15-10 win over Ole Miss, but they simply lacked the line play to compete with Georgia.

The Bulldogs would have rested Swift in the win over Memphis as the next game would have been in a bowl against the 2019 version of Oklahoma.

RELATED: D’Andre Swift slowed by ‘a lot of pain’ in SEC title game

The Sooners were good, but not good enough for Jalen Hurts to beat a Georgia team that would have been hell-bent for revenge after Hurts pulled out the 2018 SEC Championship Game as Alabama’s relief quarterback.

The 2019 Sooners were blown up in the first round of the CFP by LSU, 63-28, a game the Tigers led 49-14 by halftime.

The Bulldogs, by comparison, trailed 17-3 at the half to LSU in the SEC title game, with George Pickens suspended the first 30 minutes on account of his fight at Georgia Tech. LSU beat Georgia 37-10.

Beating Oklahoma in the quarterfinals would have set up Georgia to play Burrow and the Tigers again, and the depleted Bulldogs Swift, and go-to receiver Lawrence Cager were out -- would not have been any sort of match.

Conclusion: Georgia’s title hopes essentially ended when Swift took a kamikaze hit to the shoulder in the Georgia Tech game. The Bulldogs’ defense was good enough to beat Memphis, and Fromm was good enough to beat a watered-down Oklahoma playoff team, but no one was stopping Burrow.

2020

Georgia was the No. 9 seed last year, and that meant facing No. 8 Cincinnati — at Cincinnati.

As close as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl played out, some might have suggested home field could have turned the game in the Bearcats favor.

Ahh, but that’s where one needs to consider UGA would not have had all the opt-outs as it did in the bowl.

Players like Eric Stokes, DJ Daniel, Ben Cleveland, Tre’ McKitty and Monty Rice would have played, and JT Daniels would have been even more effective.

RELATED: How JT Daniels stayed California Cool to be Cincinnati in the clutch

After beating Cincinnati on the road, the Bulldogs would have had a rematch with No. 1 Alabama in a bowl game.

The difference is this Bulldogs team would have had JT Daniels under center, and not Stetson Bennett. Further, that Crimson Tide team would not have had Jaylen Waddle, as it did in its first meeting with Georgia.

Still, that Alabama team showed earlier in the season it had the offensive line to mitigate the Georgia pass rush and block effectively for Najee Harris. Last season belonged to the Tide regardless of the format.

Conclusion: Georgia did not have the run the game or the offensive line play necessary to adequately protect Daniels and win a championship.

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