Bradley’s Buzz: Is No. 3 Georgia in trouble, playoff-wise?

One thing to know about the College Football Playoff committee: With one exception, those folks are pretty good at doing what they’re supposed to do, which is rate teams on the strength of this season. The exception is Alabama, about which more in a bit. The team at issue is Georgia.

In his opening remarks Tuesday night, committee chair Boo Corrigan said: “As a reminder, the committee begins with no presumptions. Last year’s record doesn’t matter. The conference that teams play in does not matter. We don’t look at the polls.”

Georgia is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press and coaches’ poll. It’s No. 3 in CFP’s first rankings. The first rankings don’t always hold – there’s a lot of football left – but they offer insight into what the committee thinks. The committee thinks Georgia needs to win another big game.

As luck would have it, the Bulldogs play Tennessee, the committee’s No. 1, on Saturday. If Georgia wins, it’ll be No. 1 next week. Should Georgia lose, it won’t win the SEC East, which would mean it could finish 11-1 and miss the playoff.

For that to happen, the SEC West champ would need to be a one-loss Alabama or Ole Miss. That team would have to beat Tennessee for the conference title. (This assumes the Vols are unbeaten headed into December.) Ole Miss hasn’t beaten a team in the CFP top 25; Alabama has beaten only Texas, No. 24, and then only just. The Tide and Rebels meet Nov. 12. Bama plays LSU, which has lost twice, Saturday.

A one-loss Georgia might get a playoff nod over a two-loss SEC champ. It wouldn’t over a one-loss Alabama, should the Tide beat Ole Miss, LSU and then Tennessee in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It probably wouldn’t over a one-loss Ole Miss, which would have beaten Bama and Tennessee.

Georgia’s doomsday scenario: It finishes as one of three one-loss SEC teams, the others being Tennessee and Alabama/Ole Miss. The Vols would have beaten Georgia head-to-head in Athens. Alabama/Ole Miss would have won the SEC. The Bulldogs’ only significant victory – unless South Carolina upsets Tennessee or Clemson – would remain the Sept. 3 dismissal of Oregon, which the committee suggests isn’t enough.

It isn’t so much how Georgia has played. ESPN’s football power index ranks the Bulldogs first in defensive efficiency, seventh in offensive efficiency. (Tennessee is 37th and third.) It’s who Georgia has played – or hasn’t. FPI rates the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule as the nation’s 75th-toughest. It gets harder from here, with Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky remaining, but the latter two didn’t crack the CFP rankings.

In ordinary seasons, victories over Auburn and Florida carry weight. Those two are an aggregate 2-8 in SEC play, 7-9 overall. Florida has a first-year coach. Auburn’s coach didn’t make it through Year 2. Beating those rivals by a combined score of 84-30 cuts no ice with the committee.

If Georgia wins Saturday – it is favored by 8.5 points – it will make the playoff. Trips to Starkville and Lexington won’t be easy, but neither the maroon Bulldogs nor the Big Blue holds a winning conference record. Should Georgia win the SEC, a one-loss Tennessee would be the second SEC team in the field of four. Should Alabama, say, beat UGA, the debate would be intense: How to sort out three one-loss SEC teams, each having beaten one of the other two?

Is it possible that the SEC could claim three of the four CFP spots? Clemson would have to lose to somebody. (It plays at Notre Dame this weekend.) Ohio State and Michigan will meet. USC plays UCLA, with the winner probably facing Oregon. The committee just ranked unbeaten TCU seventh.

Finally, is there any way Alabama doesn’t make it? It has beaten almost nobody to date, yet it’s the highest-rated one-loss team. (No. 8 Oregon lost to Georgia; No. 12 UCLA lost to Oregon; No. 9 USC lost to No. 14 Utah.) Since the committee rotates its members, the same folks aren’t voting every year, but there has been only one playoff without Bama. With expansion coming, there mightn’t be a second.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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