Kirby Smart said Georgia deserves to make the College Football Playoff. Nick Saban said Georgia deserves to make it. Some of my press-box confreres believe the Bulldogs can and will be invited. I don’t.
Do I consider this one of the nation’s four best teams? I’m going to hedge and say, “Maybe.” It’s either No. 4 or No. 5, but there’s the tangle. For Georgia to make the field of four over Oklahoma, which is 12-1 and the Big 12 champ, the distance between must be – in the committee’s parlance – unequivocal. By failing to hold a 14-point lead Saturday, they left their case full of equivocations.
Yes, they played Alabama better than anybody has and maybe will play Alabama. They also lost. When the committee invited Bama, which didn’t play for the SEC title, last year, its rationale was that the Crimson Tide had been the nation’s best team before losing at Auburn, and that was still deserving of a No. 4 seed. Georgia just moved up to No. 4 this week. It would have been hard to justify a playoff without the 2017 Tide; it will be less hard to justify one without the 2018 Bulldogs.
Do we credit the Bulldogs for pushing, yet again, Bama to the brink? Absolutely. We also note that Georgia, after scoring 28 points in the game’s first 32 minutes and 39 seconds, managed none afterward. We note that Alabama outscored its opponent 14-0 after losing Tua Tagovailoa, who until Saturday had been the nation’s best player, to injury. Granted, Jalen Hurts is an extraordinarily overqualified backup. (He’s 26-2 as a college starter.) But still: Georgia had the game where it wanted it. Yet again, it lost its grip.
Afterward, Smart offered two impassioned defenses. First, of his team’s playoff bona fides: “We most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country. … Do you want the four best teams in or not? … Ask the coach on the other sideline. I promise you he doesn’t want to play us.”
He also defended – this less persuasively – his choice of a fake punt on fourth-and-11 inside the final 3-1/2 minutes. “I felt it was a great call because it was there,” Smart said, glossing over the part about Justin Fields, who was supposed to throw a pass, being stopped nine yards short of a first down, and also about handing a short field to Hurts, who runs better than he throws, with time flying and the game tied. If that’s a great call …
Smart: “We waited too long to snap the ball. … We’ve got a (receiver) wide open, and he’s not going to be covered. But in the last second they saw it.”
Got that? Alabama chose to mess up Smart’s inspired stratagem. Those meanies.
Smart again: “I wanted to be aggressive. We’re coming to win the game.”
That’s pretty much what Dan Quinn said after the Falcons blew the Super Bowl by forgetting to run the ball with a 28-3 lead. It made no sense then. It made none this night, either. If Bama sniffs out the play, call timeout and punt. Take a delay of game. Do anything but what Georgia did.
The lasting memory of the 2012 SEC Championship game – also to Alabama in a game the Bulldogs led by 11 points – was of two equals battling down to a final tipped pass that was caught on the Tide 5 as time expired. The two losses to Bama this calendar year have been of a piece: Georgia looked to be the better team, right up until the moment Alabama flew past it. At some point you figure the law of averages will hold sway and the Bulldogs will beat King Crimson, but it hasn’t happened for a long, long while.
This coulda/shoulda been the day. Yet again, it wasn’t. Rodrigo Blankenship, who almost never misses, missed the kick that would have made the score 31-14. As it happened, Georgia never got to 31. It stayed stuck on 28, while Alabama lost its No. 1 quarterback and scored the tying and winning touchdowns without it.
Said Smart: “We couldn’t close the deal. We’re going to figure it out, though. I promise you that. We’re a few plays away … It’s so many things. It’s inches. We didn’t get many inches tonight. We’ve got a damn good football team.”
Yes. They do. But it would, at least from this perspective, be difficult to put Georgia in the CFP field. They had a chance to play their way in, and they couldn’t quite do it. They played a soft non-conference schedule. Their best wins are over Kentucky, which lost to Tennessee, and Florida, which lost to Missouri. They lost to the two best teams they faced.
I’m sorry if this sounds cruel, coming as it does after another mighty effort. And Saban, as Smart suggested, rallied to his former lieutenant’s cause: “We won a game here 32-28 (in 2012) when we played Notre Dame for the national championship, and Georgia was the better team. I think this team deserves to be in the playoff as well. I sure as hell don’t want to play them again.”
The guess here is that Alabama won’t see Georgia again until next December. I could be wrong. Georgia made the committee take notice of it Saturday. If other options exist (and they do), I don’t see the CFP folks rewarding a two-loss non-champ.