Here they go again: Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Photo: AJC file 
Photo: AJC file 

UGA may be miffed, but the playoff has bigger problems

By Sunday morning’s Sugar Bowl media session, the Bulldogs had vented themselves out or, more likely, been instructed by their elders not to come across as a bunch of whiny pups. Multiple examples follow. 

Said offensive lineman Andrew Thomas: “I watched the (Clemson-Notre Dame) game yesterday. We were at the bowling alley. That game doesn’t have much to do with us. Our focus is on Texas right now.” 

Did Thomas also note the rampant online posting? “I saw some of the tweets. I guess guys probably weren’t, you know, too happy with our position right now. But we’re playing a great team, so we’ve got to get ready for Texas.” 

Said tailback D’Andre Swift: “We did get to watch (the semis), but the reality is that we’re here. So we’ve just got to focus on who we’re playing.” 

Would Swift characterize his mates as miffed? “I don’t know about really upset. I think we just knew what we could have done. I don’t think anybody’s upset.” 

Asked if the semis made an even better case for Georgia’s playoff inclusion, tailback Elijah Holyfield said: “I wouldn’t say a better case. It’s already over. They’ve already picked the teams. We’re just moreso focused on Texas.”

Said receiver Terry Godwin, smiling: “The committee put those teams in. Those were great games to watch.” 

Great games to watch? Said Godwin, smiling even more broadly: “That’s what the committee wanted, so that’s what we watched.” 

By any criteria, the semis were duds. No. 3 Notre Dame lost 30-3. No. 4 Oklahoma trailed Alabama by 28 points after 17 minutes. Georgia, by way of contrast, didn’t fall behind the Crimson Tide until 64 seconds remained in the SEC championship Dec. 1. (Even weirder: The Bulldogs played Alabama twice in the span of 11 months, and in neither game did Bama take a snap while leading. As we know too well, it won both times.) 

As much as I’d like to muster some local outrage over Georgia’s perceived snub, the belief remains that the Bulldogs weren’t snubbed. They lost twice. (No two-loss team has been invited.) They did not win their conference. (Only two non-champs have made it – Ohio State in 2016 and Alabama in 2017.) They were beaten by 20 points at LSU. (Only three playoff teams have carried double-figure defeats, the heaviest being Georgia’s 23-point loss at Auburn last year. Those Bulldogs beat the Tigers for the SEC title three weeks later.) 

Can we make the case that, going by the ol’ Eyeball Test, Georgia can look like one of the nation’s four, or even three, best teams? Yes. Does the Bulldogs’ body of work fully support that? Not fully, no. And when in doubt – and chair Rob Mullens conceded there was much debate over Georgia vis-à-vis Oklahoma – his committee chose to err on the side of a one-loss conference champ. As for Notre Dame: Southerners love to insist that the Irish play nobody and are forever overrated, but we note that Georgia’s best regular-season victory in 2017 was over … Notre Dame. 

Beyond the predictable disgruntlement of Bulldog Nation, the playoff as an ongoing entity has its problems. Alabama and Clemson are meeting for the fourth year running and playing for the title for a third time in four. The semis are nearly always snoozes. The average margin of victory of the 10 games is 21.8 points. Bama’s dismissal of Oklahoma was, going by the final score, the third-closest semi. (The closest: Georgia’s overtime Rose Bowl win.) 

The annual cry to expand the playoff has lately swelled, what with Georgia’s omission and the absence of 12-1 Big Ten champ Ohio State. Truth to tell, there’s a more compelling case for contraction. We all know Alabama and Clemson will meet at some point. Do we really need anyone else? 

Over five years, 10 schools have claimed the CFP’s 20 berths. Alabama has been there every year, Clemson every year but the first; Oklahoma has made it three of the past four seasons. The first teams out this time were Georgia, which played for the title in January, and Ohio State, which won the first incarnation. An event that was supposed to expose the nation to more good teams has already become a repository of the usual suspects. 

The giddiness that greeted that first set of semifinals – Oregon flattened unbeaten-for-two-years Florida State; Ohio State upset No. 1 Alabama in an epic game – has given way to reality, which is to say more and more of the same. As hard as everybody keeps chasing, two programs have set themselves apart.

Georgia might well be the nation’s third-best team, but it has had two cracks at Alabama in 2018 and couldn’t hold a lead either time. Clemson is Bama’s only near-peer, and those two will have at it yet again. That’s good for the Tide and the Tigers, bad for those for prefer a dash of variety with their football.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.