Georgia-Florida game will influence season’s first playoff rankings

Members of the College Football Playoff selection committee will be among those paying close attention to Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game (3:30 p.m., CBS; News 95.5 and AM-750 WSB).

The 13-person committee will incorporate the outcome of the SEC East showdown into its first rankings of the season three days later.

The Georgia-Florida winner is expected to be well within the committee’s top 10 on Tuesday, perhaps close to the top five, not a bad position from which to start the stretch run  for the four-team playoff. On the other hand, the Georgia-Florida loser will face steep odds against reaching the playoff, given that it would be either team’s second loss of the season.

In the playoff’s four-year history, no two-loss team has qualified.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” Georgia tailback Elijah Holyfield said. “Everybody knows what we’re playing for. Everybody knows where we want to go.”

The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) didn’t do irreparable damage to their goals of reaching the SEC Championship game in Atlanta and the playoff when they lost at LSU on Oct. 13, but they did exhaust all reasonable margin for error. Florida (6-1, 4-1) is in a similar position because of its early-season loss to Kentucky (also 6-1, 4-1).

“If we … bounce back and handle the rest of the season the way we are supposed to, then our destiny is in our hands,” Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. “We can be where we want to be. Everything is still ahead of us.”

The Georgia-Florida game arrives just as the playoff picture starts to come into view. The selection committee, which includes Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and 11 others, will convene Monday for two days of meetings in Grapevine, Texas, and will release its first Top 25 of the season Tuesday night on ESPN. The rankings will be updated each week through Dec. 2, when the top four teams will be placed in the playoff semifinals.

Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville is the marquee matchup of this week’s national schedule in terms of apparent playoff ramifications -- the only game between teams ranked among the top 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll, which has Georgia No. 7 and Florida No. 9. Four of the AP’s top 10 teams are idle this week, including No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 LSU.

Three currently unbeaten teams – Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame – appear likely to be ranked in the playoff committee’s  top four Tuesday, provided Clemson and Notre Dame beat Florida State and Navy, respectively, Saturday. The committee then will have to sort out LSU, the Georgia-Florida winner and a number of other one-loss teams from Power 5 conferences.

Georgia lacks the type of marquee non-conference win that served it well with the committee last year, when the Bulldogs scored an early-season victory at Notre Dame. So far this season, the Bulldogs haven’t played a Power 5 team outside the SEC and have played one SEC team that currently has a winning league record (LSU). But Saturday’s game against Florida and next week’s at Kentucky (No. 12 in this week’s AP poll) will boost the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule.

Georgia players have embraced the knowledge that their goals of reaching the SEC title game and the playoff remained in play after the 36-16 loss at LSU.

“It didn’t make us feel better about the loss,” Holyfield said, “but at least it gives us a lot of hope moving forward still and a lot to look forward to and a lot to play for.”

“It’s a blessing that we still have the opportunity,” linebacker Juwan Taylor said.

Several Georgia players likened where the team stands now to where it stood after its only regular-season loss last year. That 40-17 loss at Auburn dropped Georgia to No. 7 in the playoff rankings, but the Bulldogs won a rematch against Auburn in the SEC Championship game and reached the national title game.

“Last year, we ... had a wake-up call when we lost to Auburn,” offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. “I feel like it’s the same thing this year.”

“You kind of need things like that sometime to humble you and put things in perspective, just to show you how much more you have to work,” Ledbetter said.

But for the Bulldogs to sustain their goals now, they need a win in Jacksonville.

“Whoever wins this game is in the captain seat (to reach) the big one,” said Ledbetter, referring to the SEC Championship game, a gateway to the College Football Playoff for the winner each of the past four years.