Georgia football-Clemson-College Football Playoff
The Georgia and Alabama helmets sit on a table during the head coaches press conference ahead of College Football Playoff at the Sheraton hotel in Atlanta, Sunday, January 7, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

College Football Playoff expansion should help grow Georgia-Clemson rivalry

Kirby Smart could sense expansion of the College Football Playoff was coming. It was a big motivating factor behind Georgia’s aggressive non-conference scheduling.

The Bulldogs had previously added home-and-homes against the likes of Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State and Texas. That was done in part because there is a far greater upside in winning one of those games, while having a minimal downside.

“For a long time now we have been trying to build up our future strength of schedule, because it’s not the losses that are going to kill you; it’s not playing the best teams,” Smart recently told ESPN’s Marty & McGee. “We’ve tried to go out and schedule major Power 5s across our scheduling system all the way out with the hopes that this would give us the opportunity to go play some really good teams.

“And losses won’t kill you when you start talking about top 12. You’ve got to have a powerful schedule and go play good teams.”

Related: What a 12-team College Football Playoff would mean for Georgia football

There are also the many games against Clemson in the coming years. Dabo Swinney has made it no secret he wants to see the two sides play more often. Smart seems to agree there.

With College Football Playoff expansion looming, Georgia and Clemson are scheduled to play each other six times from 2021 through 2033. Only one of those will come before 2023, which is the absolute earliest an expanded College Football Playoff could take place.

That first contest comes this season, with the two meeting in Charlotte on Sept. 4. The second meeting is set to take place at the start of the 2024 season, when the two teams meet in Atlanta. From there, the next four scheduled meetings will take place on campus.

The six scheduled games are more than some of the SEC foes the Bulldogs will see in that span. For example, the Bulldogs will play Clemson at least twice before they make their first trip to College Station, Texas and play the Aggies as members of the SEC.

While an expanded College Football Playoff will help get more teams into the field, it shouldn’t do anything to disrupt the teams that have continued to make the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have done just that, making the past six installments.

Georgia and Clemson are two of the four teams who have finished ranked inside the top-12 in the final College Football Playoff rankings in each of the past four seasons. The only other programs to do that are Ohio State and Oklahoma.

Had a 12-team playoff existed from the start, only Penn State would have gained more appearances than Georgia. As the Bulldogs continue to line up elite recruiting classes and strong NFL draft classes, Georgia should consistently be a factor in the College Football Playoff race and national title hunt.

Part of what makes the coming Georgia-Clemson so anticipated is that it’s a game with playoff stakes happening in the opening week of the season. The winner of the week 1 matchup should possess one of the best victories in the sport, and thus a major chip come the end of season College Football Playoff rankings.

If say Georgia wins and makes the playoff and Clemson ends up missing it because of a loss to Georgia, the rivalry between the two sides should only become more contentious. For a rivalry to exist, both sides need to have something worth losing. A spot in a four-team certainly qualifies as that.

Related: Winners and losers from proposed College Football Playoff expansion

With an expanded College Football Playoff, a future loss to Clemson won’t sting quite as much. Certainly not as much as one in 2021 would. But an expanded College Football Playoff also opens the possibility of these two teams seeing each other at some point in a playoff game.

Imagine a playoff game in the first round where Clemson has to make a December trip to Sanford Stadium. Or a quarterfinal game between the two foes, even it is played at a neutral site.

One or two of those contests, in addition to the future home-and-homes, would really spice up the rivalry for the two programs.

There’s been some clamoring in the Georgia fan base to see Clemson on an annual basis. The two schools are just 72 miles apart, often go head-to-head on the recruiting front and have factored into the playoff discussion in recent years. The Tigers and Swinney are certainly much closer to the current Georgia program in terms of stature than Georgia Tech.

While Smart and Swinney aren’t yet seeing each other on the field every year, a 12-team College Football Playoff should help bring that scenario closer to a reality. It already has with the future home-and-homes.

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