What Might’ve Been: The years Georgia wished there was a playoff

ATHENS – There’s no talk of style points this week. No lobbying for Georgia or Auburn or against other conferences. It’s just taken for granted this week: The winner of the SEC championship will get one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.

It’s a benefit that didn’t exist for past Georgia teams. Fifteen years ago the Bulldogs would have made a four-team playoff … but there wasn’t one until 2014, by which time several other UGA teams at least would have had an argument to be in.

Here’s a look at past Georgia teams that may have made a playoff:

2002

The most clear-cut instance: Georgia finished third in the BCS rankings. Miami and Ohio State were chosen for the championship game, and there was no debate about that, as both were unbeaten and Georgia had one loss – to Ron Zook’s otherwise woeful Florida team.

But if the playoff had existed Georgia would have gotten in and gotten a shot against the Buckeyes, if you go by the BCS standings. The fourth seed, at least according to the BCS standings, was Southern California.

Jon Stinchcomb, now a member of UGA’s athletic board, was a senior offensive tackle on that Georgia team.

“You knew that the time there wasn’t a college playoff system. So when you lose to Florida it’s highly unlikely you weren’t going to get an opportunity. But in retrospect you look back and say, Man if there were a playoff there wasn’t a hotter team in football,” Stinchcomb said. “That’s why the system’s in place. The four best teams, relatively, depending on who’s deciding, ultimately it’s designed where they get a chance to decide it.”

2005

Georgia (10-2) finished seventh in the final BCS standings. But it was the highest-rated SEC team and won the SEC championship. Still, the four-team playoff would have seemed easy to pick: USC and Texas were unbeaten, Penn State and Oregon had one loss.

Ah, but what if the season were played with this year’s rules: Neither the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten had a championship game, but if they had some of those teams would have gotten a second loss, enhancing the argument to let Georgia – or two-loss Notre Dame – in the playoff.

Either way, many people at Georgia felt that by the end of the year they were one of the four best teams in the nation.

There was an asterisk on one of Georgia’s losses: D.J. Shockley, the starting quarterback, was hurt and missed the Florida game. Shockley, in an interview this week, compared it to Clemson this year, losing its starting quarterback during the loss to Syracuse. Georgia’s other loss that year, to Auburn, was by one. And by the end of the year the Bulldogs were rolling, knocking off then-No. 3 LSU in the SEC championship.

“We didn’t just beat them by two or three points, a field goal at the end. It was a dominating win on both sides of the ball,” Shockley said. “So I thought we were definitely one of the better teams in the country. We were good enough to be in the conversation, for sure.”

2007

After all the bowls were finished, Georgia (11-2) was ranked No. 2 in the final rankings. But Georgia finished fifth in the final rankings that counted – the pre-bowl BCS standings. Ohio State was the consensus No. 1 – the only power-conference team besides Kansas with only one loss – but then it was up to the computers and voters to determine which two-loss team got in the BCS championship. LSU came in second and beat Ohio State to win Les Miles’ only national championship.

But what if there had been a playoff? Would Georgia – which didn’t win the SEC East – have been left out? Virginia Tech and Oklahoma came in third and fourth in the BCS formula.

Jerry Palm of CBSsports.com, a longtime watcher of the BCS, said this week that Georgia would “likely not” have made a four-team playoff.

“Virginia Tech is in for sure as a conference champ and had the strongest schedule – in fact they were No. 1 in three of the six BCS computers that year,” Palm said. “Oklahoma is the competition with Georgia for fourth, but OU won their league and UGA didn’t. I think that’s the deciding factor.”

2012

This would have been a year of intense debate about Georgia, which entered the SEC championship ranked No. 3 in the BCS, and – skip this sentence if you’d like – came five yards away from beating No. 2 Alabama.

But the BCS formula dropped the Bulldogs to seventh after that. Notre Dame and Alabama were placed in the championship game. Florida, Oregon, Kansas State and Stanford were ahead of UGA, in that order.

Georgia could argue it should not be penalized for basically playing Alabama even, and should not fall behind Florida – which UGA beat in the regular season – simply because it played an extra game. The easy out for a playoff committee would have been to leave out both Florida and Georgia, and select one-loss teams Oregon and Kansas State.

“Georgia was seventh in the BCS and probably would not have been any higher than that in the CFP due to a bad strength of schedule,” Palm said. “The win over Florida was nice, but they had little else to hang their hats on.”

Pre-BCS era

Georgia did win the consensus national title in 1980 and 1942, and lost in the de facto national title games in 1981 and 1982. The 1968 team might have been voted No. 1, but it lost its bowl game, and the 1976 team won the SEC and went 10-1, but fell to No. 1 Pitt and Tony Dorsett in the Sugar Bowl.

Here are some other years where Georgia would have liked a playoff:

1946: Led by Charley Trippi, Georgia went 11-0 with a Sugar Bowl win, but Notre Dame was still voted No. 1 by a majority of polls.
1966: Georgia was No. 4 in the last AP poll before the bowls, after going 9-1, its lone loss by one point to Miami.
1971: Georgia finished 11-1, its only loss to Auburn in Athens. The Bulldogs were No. 6 in the last pre-bowl AP poll.
1983: Georgia went 9-1-1 in the regular season, then upset No. 2 Texas (which had been unbeaten0 in the Cotton Bowl. But the polls went to Miami, which jumped up from No. 5 after beating Nebraska in its bowl. Georgia finished fourth in the final AP poll.

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