Bulldogs should be No. 1 in first CFP rankings, but won’t be
ATHENS — Have you ever checked out the SEC Country Power Rankings? Hope so, but if you haven’t you can find them HERE.
The reason I ask is because I vote on that poll every week. For the first time this year, I voted Georgia No. 1 in it on Sunday. That’s right, ahead of Alabama.
I wasn’t the only one, either. Three other colleagues (out of 29) also voted the Bulldogs as the SEC’s most powerful team this week. The Crimson Tide, as has been the case since the first week of the season, remains the overwhelming No. 1 choice in that poll.
That brings me to the College Football Playoff rankings. Georgia should be ranked No. 1 when that poll — the only one that matters — is released to great fanfare Tuesday night. The Bulldogs should be, but they won’t be.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter.
If you’re a Georgia fan, that should not worry you in the least. The road to the College Football Playoff is littered with one-time No. 1-ranked teams.
OK, “littered” is a bit of an exaggeration. There is one, in fact. Then again, the “CFP Road” is a short one. We’re only in the fourth year of the playoffs, after all.
But you may recall Mississippi State being ranked No. 1. No? Well, it was in the first-ever CFP poll in October 2014. And the Bulldogs actually hung on for a few weeks. Four to be exact. After logging wins over Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee-Martin as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, Mississippi State lost three of its last four games, including the last one to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The Maroon Dogs finished 10-3 with a No. 12 final ranking.
Which is not to say the same fate awaits Georgia’s Bulldogs. We’ve still got a long way to go to see how that turns out. But a win this Saturday over South Carolina — over whom UGA is favored by as many as 25 points — will go a long way toward dictating some of that. The Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC) can get a step closer to clinching the SEC East championship and thus punch their ticket to Atlanta championship game with a victory.
Which brings us back to these CFP rankings. As with any poll, what happens in October really doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s best to be represented as high as possible when they finally come out the last week of this month each year. But, again, it doesn’t mean much. SEC brethren Auburn (2014), LSU (’15) and Texas A&M (’16) all have been ranked among the top 4 in this poll and ultimately didn’t make the playoff.
The Bulldogs, who were voted No. 2 in both the AP and coaches polls this week, are going to be at least No. 2 in the first CFP rankings. They probably should be No. 1, but I don’t expect them to be No. 1 because the CFP rankings committee is still a subjective body of human beings.
If this were a blind review of each team’s resume only, Georgia would get the nod over Alabama. Thanks to Florida State’s collapse this season — the Crimson Tide beat the Seminoles (2-5) 24-7 in Week 1 — the Bulldogs have the better non-conference slate. Georgia’s 20-19 road win over No. 5 Notre Dame carries more weight than anything the Crimson Tide have done against Florida State, or Fresno State and Colorado State at home. That will only be enhanced when Georgia plays Georgia Tech in the season finale and Alabama plays Mercer. The Bulldogs also have beaten Appalachian State and Samford.
As for SEC games, Alabama has won its five conference contests by an average of 40 points, while Georgia’s margin of victory has been 32. Their common opponents so far are Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Alabama beat them by a combined 104-7 and the Bulldogs by 86-14. The Crimson Tide will play Mississippi State on Nov. 11 in Starkville. Georgia already beat State 31-3 on Sept. 23 in Athens. They’ll both play Auburn, of course.
For the purposes of the power poll this week, which is simply a present-tense snap shot, that’s why I picked Georgia ahead of Alabama. I like the Bulldogs’ schedule and resume better, but just by a smidgen. The CFP folks could come to a similar conclusion, but doubtful.
Since Georgia is in the middle of this thing, now would probably be a good time to get into the makeup of the CFP committee. There are 13 individuals who vote in the poll. Some of them you’ve heard of, many of them you haven’t. Among them are five former coaches and five current athletic directors. There is also one university president, one retired NCAA executive and one former reporter. For what it’s worth, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rolled off.
These individuals have marching orders. Basically they have two charges when it comes to voting. They’re to take into account each team’s “total body of work” — and they’re provided numerous forms of data to do this — and then there’s the good, old-fashioned “eye test.”
I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d say the eye test is the most heavily weighted factor, especially when it comes to former coaches and, to a lesser extent, ADs. I suspect that’s why they chose Ohio State over Penn State a year ago.
But they’re trying to address that. When margins between teams’ inclusion are extremely close ― and they almost always are ― committee members are asked to take into account championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition (if applicable) and comparative outcomes (“without incenting [cq] margin of victory,” it states).
Most notably, though, is this little nugget that has been added this year to the top of the committee’s selection protocol criteria: “(It) will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships.”
And that’s where none of what’s going on now really matters. The bottom line is Georgia just needs to keep winning until it finally meets Alabama in the SEC championship. And then it will need to win again.
Based on all the aforementioned data, a Georgia team that loses to Bama and doesn’t win the SEC championship is not going to be included in the playoff unless it’s the Bulldogs’ only loss and every other Power 5 conference champion has more than one defeat. UGA would have a better shot by losing to one of its remaining regular-season opponents and then beating Alabama in the big game.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is quite familiar with all of this. This was an annual exercise all those years he was at Alabama, whether it was the BCS or the CFP. He’ll tell you he’s not paying attention and the Bulldogs are not worried about it, as he did at his weekly news conference on Monday, and that’s mostly true.
No worries for now. But you can be certain they’re paying attention.