Bradley’s Buzz: So what happens if Georgia loses to Alabama?

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart reacts during the fourth quarter of their game against Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Saturday, November 25, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia won 31-23. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Georgia is three games from history of the sublime sort. Only Minnesota is credited with three consecutive national titles, though just the third — in 1936 — came when the Associated Press conducted a poll, and that one got problematic near the end. Those Gophers lost to Northwestern on Nov. 2 but reclaimed the top spot when the Wildcats lost to Notre Dame three weeks later.

Georgia could also be one game from history of the excruciating sort. In the College Football Playoff’s existence, no top-rated team in the committee’s penultimate rankings has failed to make the field of four. But none of those nine seasons saw four Power 5 entities enter conference title games unbeaten, which is where we are now.

We’re assuming Georgia stays No. 1 when the CFP unveils its latest ratings Tuesday. Yet again, Georgia and Alabama will meet for the SEC championship. This year’s committee, unlike previous editions, has shown no great love for Bama, keeping it at No. 8 for four weeks. Given the Tide’s hairbreadth Iron Bowl escape, they might hold at No. 8.

The committee views Alabama as a team that has gone 11-1 against what ESPN’s football power index deems the nation’s 31st-toughest schedule. That will change if it beats Georgia. Then the Tide will own a neutral-field victory over the committee’s No. 1. Then the Tide will be a 12-1 SEC champ.

Georgia’s last loss came Dec. 4, 2021. It was administered by one-loss Bama in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs are 29-0 since. Should they win Saturday, they’ll have the third-longest streak in major-college annals, trailing coach Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma (47) and the Miami of Butch Davis/Larry Coker (34).

The precedent for a No. 1 team losing on the first Saturday is December and making the playoff is Georgia itself. In 2021, the Bulldogs slid only to No. 3. (Bama jumped from No. 3 to No. 1.) There was, however, only one unbeaten as of Dec. 5, 2021 — Cincinnati, then of the non-Power 5 American Conference.

This year could see a playoff featuring four unbeaten Power 5 champs. Only in 2019 have three undefeated conference titlists made it. (Notre Dame was among three unbeaten invitees in 2018, but it wasn’t a league champ.) The Bulldogs are favored to beat Alabama, but what if they don’t? What if Michigan beats Iowa, which it should, and Washington beats Oregon again, and Florida State tops Louisville?

That could make for a playoff foursome of three unblemished Power 5 champs, plus Alabama as a 12-1 SEC champ – and even Bama wouldn’t be a lock. Texas could finish as a 12-1 Big 12 champion, and Texas beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 9.

Even if Oregon beats Washington to deprive the going-out-of-business Pac-12 of an unbeaten champ, the No. 6 Ducks were, as of last week, the highest-rated one-loss team. Apart from Ohio State, beaten by Michigan, a case can be made for seven of last week’s top eight as a worthy semifinalist. Those seven will play for conference titles. This we know: The CFP honors conference champs.

This we also know: Only twice has a CFP committee elevated a team ranked as low as No. 6 entering the conference championships into its final four. The first time came when Georgia beat Auburn to rise to No. 4 in 2017. The second came in 2019, when No. 4 Georgia lost to LSU and No. 5 Utah was upset by Oregon, allowing Oklahoma to take the fourth spot.

Should Georgia lose Saturday, the committee could be asking itself: Should the 12-1 Bulldogs get the nod over a 13-0 Florida State, which is without quarterback Jordan Travis, lost to a leg injury suffered against North Alabama? There’s precedent for that, too.

The first playoff saw Ohio State invited despite losing QB J.T. Barrett in its regular-season finale against Michigan. Behind backup Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0 for the Big Ten title. This enabled them to bump No. 3 TCU, which beat Iowa State 55-3 that same day.

To its credit, FSU beat Florida in Gainesville on Saturday behind QB Tate Rodemaker. Even without Travis, a 13-0 ACC champ would be difficult to leave out. Should Georgia lose to Alabama, the Bulldogs might need Louisville to give the ACC a non-unbeaten champ.

And now you ask: Do I see Georgia losing to Alabama? I do not.

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