Instead, Georgia’s consolation prize is a game against Texas in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.
The 13-member selection committee’s decision on the final berth in the playoff boiled down to Oklahoma, Georgia or Big Ten champion Ohio State.
“The debate (about those three teams) was deep, detailed and occasionally contentious. There was division,” committee chairman Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, said Sunday. “Boy, did we debate it.”
The debate lasted deep into Saturday night at a Grapevine, Texas resort and resumed early Sunday morning. At least one member of the committee argued for each of the three teams to receive the final playoff berth, Mullens said.
Collectively, “the committee did not believe that any one team (among Oklahoma, Georgia and Ohio State) was unequivocally better than the next,” Mullens said. So the committee then weighed several factors its “protocol” sets as tiebreakers for such close-call situations, including strength of schedule and conference championships.
In the end, it voted to rank Oklahoma No. 4, Georgia No. 5 and Ohio State No. 6.
The difference between Oklahoma and Georgia appeared to boil down to this: The Sooners have just one loss and a conference championship, while the Bulldogs have two losses and did not win their league.
It also helped Oklahoma’s case that the Sooners avenged their only loss -- 48-45 to Texas on a neutral field Oct. 6 -- with a 39-27 victory over the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game Saturday.
“There were some people (on the committee) who felt Georgia was the fourth best team, even some who felt they were unequivocally the fourth best team,” Mullens said. “But after all the dialogue, the debate, the intensity, you put it to a vote. And the vote didn’t have them as unequivocally the fourth best team. In fact, it had them ranked No. 5.”
Georgia and Oklahoma exchanged positions from the committee’s next-to-last rankings, which a week ago had the Bulldogs No. 4 and the Sooners No. 5.
“The one-loss conference champion carried the day,” Mullens said Sunday, referring to Oklahoma over Georgia.
But, seemingly incongruously, Georgia was ranked ahead of another one-loss conference champion, Ohio State, although the difference between No. 5 and No. 6 is inconsequential given that only the top four make the playoff.
Oklahoma and Georgia held an advantage over Ohio State in strength of schedule. Mullens also noted that Ohio State’s only loss was to an unranked team, 49-20 to Purdue.
Georgia’s exclusion from the playoff continued a five-year streak of no two-loss team making the field.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had lobbied hard for the Bulldogs after the SEC title game Saturday, saying: “We most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country. ... It boils down to one thing. Do you want the four best teams in or not?”
Said Mullens on Sunday: “We are very clear on the charge to get the four best teams. Obviously, reasonable minds can disagree on what that looks like.”
Smart said later that he respects the committee’s decision, even though “that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to agree with it.”
“I feel comfortable and understand the decision they made,” Smart said. “The committee is charged with a really, really, really tough decision-making process. ... I do think eventually there is going to be a two-loss team get in.
“I’m not crying over spilled milk. We had our opportunities in the Alabama game and did not finish, did not take advantage of them. I certainly think we’re one of the four best teams in the country, but I also know that we’re not in the playoffs, and we’ll have an opportunity to do that next year.”
With the exception of Notre Dame, which reached the playoff for the first time in the event’s five years, this season’s field is familiar: Alabama is in the playoff for the fifth consecutive season, Clemson for the fourth consecutive season and Oklahoma for the third time.
The Alabama-Oklahoma and Clemson-Notre Dame winners will meet for the national championship Jan. 7 at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.