The correct time for Georgia fans to complain about playoff snub is never

Georgia fans react after Alabama scored their last touchdown during the fourth quarter of Georgia’s loss to Alabama during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December. 2, 2023, in Atlanta. Alabama won 27-24. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia fans react after Alabama scored their last touchdown during the fourth quarter of Georgia’s loss to Alabama during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December. 2, 2023, in Atlanta. Alabama won 27-24. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

What if J.T. Daniels had never strained his oblique muscle in 2021, an injury that opened the door for Stetson Bennett and one of the most unlikely success stories in college football history? What if Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles had struck his last-second field-goal try more cleanly in the Peach Bowl last year?

The answer is that Georgia would still be in search of its first national championship since 1980 and that Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart might well be a clean-shaven version of Ryan Day, the Ohio State coach who has presided over a perennially top-five team but whose fans have turned against him because he can’t beat his archrival or win a national championship.

Yes, Georgia fans, getting left out of the College Football Playoff despite going 12-1 (with convincing wins over three teams in the Top 25) and losing only to a playoff team is a crushing disappointment.

Yes, if the Bulldogs had been granted a spot in the College Football Playoff over any of the four semifinalists, they would probably have been favored to win. On those grounds, you could argue the process is unfair and flawed.

But, come on. Is this really the right time to complain for not being able to meet the standards that were agreed upon by every participating conference – and by extension, every school, including Georgia?

Unless they desperately want to sound like Yankees fans, Bulldogs fans would do well to accept the decision of the CFP committee with grace and appreciate a truly remarkable three-year run.

The argument that the team that merits inclusion should be the one that passes the eye test or that would be favored on a neutral field, as opposed to which team achieved the most on the field, is both a slippery slope and a game that’s played only when your team is the one getting shortchanged.

Do Georgia fans really believe that the more capable team should always be rewarded over the one that has the better resume, or is it just the argument that fits? Because if they actually do, then they probably want to start re-thinking whether the Bulldogs should have been the 1980 national champions.

That year, the Pitt Panthers of Dan Marino and Hugh Green finished 11-1. Pitt played a tougher schedule than Georgia, suffered its only loss to a top-10 team on the road, gave up less than 10 points in nine of its 12 games and defeated the two common opponents it shared with Georgia with far greater ease than did the Bulldogs. Presumably, the Panthers would have won a “who’s the better team?” argument with the Bulldogs.

But Georgia finished 12-0, won the SEC, defeated No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and was rightfully voted the national champion. It was the only undefeated team in FBS, or what was then known as Division I-A.

Georgia supporters ready to die on the “best team” hill can do so knowing they diminish their cherished 1980 national championship in the process.

Were the roles reversed this year, if Georgia had a season like Florida State’s, going undefeated in the regular season, winning ugly in its conference title game with its third-string quarterback, does anyone think Bulldogs fans would be saying, “You know what? I firmly believe that the playoffs should be about putting the best teams in, no matter the resume. I know we won our conference and are undefeated, but we’re just not as good as Texas. I really hope the committee does the right thing and puts in the Longhorns ahead of us.”

What’s also worth remembering is that it’s been an incredible, incredible run, and that maybe that’s worth focusing on over a perceived slight. It has been a streak kept alive by dominant players and excellent coaching but also by an occasional break. There’s a reason the Bulldogs’ 29-game winning streak set the SEC record. It’s because it’s really, really hard to do.

After the narrow win over Missouri in Athens in Georgia’s ninth game of the year, I asked Smart if that had been the toughest test of the season.

“They’re all tough, bro,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re all tough.”

Smart’s answer was noteworthy not only because he joined my daughter Mika as one of the only two people that I can recall to address me as “bro” (we run a tight ship in the Sugiura house). What was striking was the weariness in his response. Even with the Bulldogs’ many advantages, winning in the SEC is tough business.

Winning one game is a challenge. But 29 in a row? Almost unthinkable. Consider this. If Georgia had an 85% probability of winning in each of its 29 games since its SEC title-game loss to Alabama in 2021 – perhaps low for a few games, but high for a lot of the rest – the chances of the Bulldogs winning all 29 would be about 1 in 100.

Yes, Peyton Woodring clanging a 50-yard field goal off the upright was a tough break. Tell that to Ohio State fans, who presumably still get the shakes when they see a replay of Ruggles missing a field goal on the same field and from the same 50-yard distance, no less, that would have put the Buckeyes in the national title game and denied Georgia a chance to repeat. Georgia’s run could have ended New Year’s Eve 2022 just as easily as it did Saturday.

A new champion will be crowned. It’ll be O.K., Georgia fans. Console yourself by going to Youtube and watching highlights from the past two seasons. There’s a lot to pick from.

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