Road to the playoff: Georgia-Auburn looms large in several ways

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The Georgia Bulldogs landed in the No. 4 spot in the second college football playoff rankings of the 2019 season.

The Georgia Bulldogs’ concern right now is how they measure up against Auburn, Saturday’s opponent. But the College Football Playoff selection committee this week spent a lot of time comparing Georgia with Auburn’s arch-rival, Alabama.

The committee's resulting decision to rank the Bulldogs'  No. 4, one spot ahead of No. 5 Alabama, shed new light on the road to the playoff and on the implications of the Georgia-Auburn game.

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If Georgia beats Auburn, the Bulldogs would remain in the committee’s top four next week, would clinch their third consecutive SEC East title and would stay on track toward the four-team playoff, pending the outcome of the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 7.

If Auburn beats Georgia, that would have a less direct, but nevertheless substantial, impact on the playoff race. While the Tigers seem all but out of the playoff picture with two losses and a No. 12 ranking, two contenders -- Alabama and No. 6 Oregon – need Auburn to beat Georgia to enhance their own chances.

“Auburn really is a big part of the playoff narrative,” said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan, a close observer of the playoff selection process. The Peach Bowl will host one of the two playoff semifinals Dec. 28, with the other in the Fiesta Bowl.

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Here's a look at the scores and schedule for the 2019 Georgia Bulldogs.

Three reasons Auburn looms large:

  • Georgia needs to win at Auburn to maintain control of its own destiny in the playoff race: Win its final three regular-season games and the SEC Championship game, and the Bulldogs will be in the four-team field. A loss to Auburn might not eliminate the Bulldogs from the playoff discussion, because they could still go on to beat No. 1 LSU in the SEC title game and maybe make a case as a two-loss conference champion. But no team with two losses has reached the playoff in the event's five-year history.
  • Alabama needs Auburn to beat Georgia for the sake of the Crimson Tide's schedule strength and diminished playoff chances. Bama has no wins against CFP-ranked teams this season, so it needs Auburn to be ranked as high as possible when the rivals meet Nov. 30. That is Alabama's last chance to put a win of note on its resume for the selection committee to consider.
  • Oregon could benefit if Auburn beats Georgia – and beats Alabama, too. That is because the Ducks' only loss of the season was to Auburn, 27-21 in a season opener on a neutral field (Arlington, Texas). The better that loss looks, the better for Oregon's playoff chances if it reaches Selection Day on Dec. 8 as Pac-12 champion.

The selection committee showed the importance of schedule strength in this week’s rankings by placing Georgia ahead of Alabama. Even though Georgia’s lone loss to South Carolina was much worse than Alabama’s lone loss to LSU, the committee favored the Bulldogs because they have two wins over CFP-ranked opponents (No. 11 Florida and No. 16 Notre Dame) while Alabama has played no ranked opponent other than LSU.

“We’re looking at full resumes,” selection committee chairman Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, said. “There’s a lot of good teams, right, so our job as the committee – and this is an art, not a science – is to rank (teams) based on what we see on the resumes but also watching the games. And this week the difference for Georgia being at four was the fact that they have two wins against top-20 teams.”

Said Stokan, referring to Georgia’s victory over Notre Dame: “The committee reinforced how important it is to schedule a tough non-conference game and get a win. You need whoever you play to have a good season because that only helps you.”

Now on to the rest of our weekly update of college football’s road to the playoff:

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Other than Georgia-Auburn, Saturday’s biggest games in terms of playoff implications appear to be: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa and No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor.

Minnesota and Baylor seek to stay undefeated. Minnesota got the committee’s attention with last week’s win over Penn State, moving up nine spots in the rankings. Oklahoma can’t afford a second loss.

The top three teams in the rankings are overwhelming favorites Saturday: No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers and No. 3 Clemson at home vs. Wake Forest.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS … 

Despite the current rankings, Alabama has ever-so-slightly better odds than Georgia of reaching the playoff at this point, according to BetOnline.

The sportsbook has LSU as the most likely team to reach the playoff at 1/8 odds, followed by Clemson at 2/13, Ohio State at 1/5, Alabama at 7/4, Georgia at 9/5 and Oregon at 3/1.

Alabama’s most viable path to the playoff would seemingly require beating Auburn to finish the regular season 11-1, LSU winning the SEC Championship game to go 13-0 and the Pac-12 and Big 12 champions having two losses apiece by Selection Day. If all of that happens, the Crimson Tide could make the playoff for a sixth consecutive season.

ASKED AND ANSWERED

Q: Why is undefeated No. 13 Baylor ranked behind a pair of two-loss teams, Florida and Auburn?

A: "Baylor is a good team with good road wins (at Kansas State and Oklahoma State)," Mullens, the selection committee chairman, said. "The difference is that when you look at Auburn and Florida, Florida has the win against No. 12 Auburn, and Auburn's two losses are on the road to No. 1 LSU and No. 11 Florida. It probably comes down to schedule strength at this point."

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