Only Ohio State, bad luck can stop Georgia’s march to title

Kirby Smart deftly parries all attempts to get him to talk about the big picture for Georgia football. Smart knows he can’t prevent his players from hearing the hype even if he wanted to, but he refuses to add to the noise. If it’s not about one game at a time for Smart, that’s only because it’s about one play at a time.

“It’s not what you want me to say, not what you want to write, but it’s true,” Smart said.

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Smart will get plenty of reps with clichés over the next three weeks. The only things that can stop the Bulldogs from repeating as national champions are bad injury luck or Ohio State’s Buckeyes. And that presumes that Georgia would face the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff. If Ohio State isn’t in the field, then only injuries to key players would stop the Bulldogs from repeating as national champions.

The Bulldogs are sure to be the new No. 1 when the College Football Playoff rankings are announced Tuesday night. They dominated Tennessee, the previous No. 1, Saturday. As of Tuesday afternoon, Georgia was a 16½-point favorite for Saturday’s game at Mississippi State. The point spread should be similar for Georgia at Kentucky the following week. Georgia Tech won’t be much bother for the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale.

The Bulldogs will roll to the SEC title game, where they could face LSU. The Tigers are the latest flavor of the year in the West. That’s what happens when you beat Alabama. Kudos to the Tigers, but I still have visions of Tennessee scoring 20 unanswered points over the first 15-plus minutes at their place in October. Maybe LSU’s defense is better now, but the Tigers also don’t produce many big plays.

Georgia is much better than LSU on offense and defense, plus special teams. The Bulldogs would have little trouble with the Tigers in the league championship game. Alabama now is a long shot to even make it there. That leaves Ohio State as the only real obstacle during Georgia’s march to the CFP championship.

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The Buckeyes have one tough game left on their schedule, vs. Michigan at home Nov. 26. Ohio State needs to win out to ensure its place in the CFP because chances are there will be a lot of one-loss teams vying for a spot, including Tennessee. Ohio State is a good bet to run the table to the CFP.

The Buckeyes are significantly better than Georgia on offense. Don’t pay much mind to the margin of Ohio State’s 21-7 victory at Northwestern last weekend. Strong winds made it “impossible to pass,” coach Ryan Day told reporters. Even with the numbers skewed by that game, the Buckeyes have produced 32 pass plays of 30-plus yards per cfbstats.com. Only Tennessee (30) has more among Power Five teams.

The Buckeyes have been an explosive offense even with star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (hamstring) available for only a few snaps. Ohio State has kept rolling with C.J. Stroud, the Heisman Trophy favorite, throwing to Marvin Harrison. Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker has the second-shortest odds to win the Heisman. You saw what the Bulldogs did to Hooker, who was pressured on 12 of his 33 drop-backs.

I’m sure the Vols would like their chances in a rematch against UGA without a partisan crowd and rain. I doubt that would make up the two-touchdown gap between the teams. The Bulldogs might have won by a bigger margin if they hadn’t throttled down once the rain started. Smart also mismanaged the clock on the field-goal drive to end the first half, costing Georgia a chance to take another shot at the end zone.

Besides, bad weather and crowd noise weren’t the reason why Tennessee pressured Stetson Bennett on only two of his 25 drop-backs. Georgia’s offensive line kept rushers away from him. The Vols shut down Georgia’s run game, which is hard to do. It didn’t matter because Georgia produced explosive plays with Bennett hitting on 3 of 5 pass attempts that traveled 20 yards or more in the air.

Related: Georgia wide receiver Arian Smith returned from injury. He caught one of Bennett’s long throws. Another Bulldogs wide receiver, Adonai Mitchell, is on the mend. Georgia’s one big weakness is its inability to create explosive passes consistently. That can be fixed with improved health among the wide receivers.

The Bulldogs are in a prime position to repeat as national champions. Alabama and Southern California are the only teams to do that since the champion stopped being determined solely by polls. The Crimson Tide won it all during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Trojans split the title with LSU in 2003. USC’s 2004 BCS title later was vacated, but we all saw Reggie Bush and Co. win it.

That was back before college football’s transfer portal. Player attrition makes it even harder to go back-to-back now. That hasn’t prevented Smart from replicating Nick Saban’s formula of stacking top-rated recruiting classes and getting young players ready to play quickly. It doesn’t work without Bennett making his incredible journey from walk-on to star QB.

The Bulldogs can’t treat the remaining schedule as a formality, of course. It wasn’t long ago that they were scuffling at Missouri, which is 2-4 in the SEC. The Bulldogs of Starkville aren’t pushovers, especially at home. They blew out Texas A&M and Arkansas at Davis Wade Stadium this season. Coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense has shown more life during his third season in the SEC.

But let’s be real: Mississippi State hasn’t faced a defense like Georgia’s. That’s including Alabama, which just surrendered 32 points to LSU’s so-so offense. Mississippi State’s offense scored 16 points at LSU, 10 points at Kentucky and zero at Alabama save for a garbage-time TD. Being at home among the cowbells should help against Georgia, but it’s not going to save Mississippi’s Bulldogs.

It will take a team much better than Mississippi State to stop Georgia. The Buckeyes are the only outfit I’ve seen who can do it. Lousy luck is the only other thing that can prevent Georgia from going back-to-back.