Optimists can take solace in the fact that top-ranked Georgia (12-0) has some cushion in hopes of winning its first national championship since the 1980 season.
That comes in handy when you take into consideration that the Bulldogs’ next opponent is one-loss Alabama, a program that’s seen its fair share of struggles in 2021, but is still the program with six national titles under Nick Saban.
The No. 1 spot in the most recent College Football Playoff Poll, released Tuesday, belongs to the Bulldogs. Right now, Georgia is a nearly-touchdown favorite to beat No. 3 Alabama (11-1) in Saturday’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
Nothing changes the fact that Georgia would need to win both postseason games to claim its first national title since the early days of the Reagan administration.
It’s just now, the path to getting one of the coveted four semifinal spots in either the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl, both to be played Dec. 31, has some wiggle room for Georgia.
If the postseason started today, Georgia would face No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Miami.
Not since 1982 has Georgia ended the regular season with an unblemished mark.
That distinction comes with clear advantages as one game separates Georgia from making the College Football Playoffs for the second time since the current postseason format was adapted in the 2014 season.
Nobody in the Georgia camp is anticipating or preparing to lose the SEC Championship.
Georgia defensive back and North Hall High graduate Dan Jackson shared a good quote from coach Kirby Smart, in reference to the magnitude Alabama matchup.
Paraphrasing Smart, “No great book has any bad chapters,” Jackson said earlier this week.
Right now, Bulldogs fans have to feel pretty good, fielding the nation’s top ranked defense (allowing an average of six points per game) and six conference wins by more than 20 points.
However, fans have to be realistic that the Bulldogs are facing their Goliath, the Crimson Tide, which is a game that has gone the way of Alabama the past six meetings, twice in that memorable 2017 season (SEC Championship and National Championship game) and the heartbreaking 2012 SEC Championship, which kept Georgia out of the national championship contest against Notre Dame.
Can Georgia lose to Alabama this weekend and still make the playoffs? It seems likely, given that No. 2 Michigan and No. 5 Oklahoma State each also have one loss. The results of Big 12 and Big Ten championship games, also Saturday, will also factor into playoff standings.
Could the Bulldogs lose in a blowout and earn a postseason berth? Probably not.
That’s where it gets murky, and frankly uncomfortable to think about for Georgia.
What happens in the case of a five-point loss for Georgia? What about a nine-point loss for the Bulldogs?
These are scenarios that are discussed only if the Bulldogs lose.
If Georgia wins, it doesn’t even have to tune in for the selection show Sunday to see where it fits in the playoff picture.
Georgia’s title aspirations this season went all the way to fever pitch with the 10-3 win against Clemson in the season opener.
Since then, it’s been completely smooth sailing on Saturdays for the Bulldogs.
Georgia’s closest thing to a scare in SEC play was a tight first half against Tennessee, before pulling away late for the 41-14 win in Knoxville.
Beating Georgia Tech by 45 was a nice sendoff into the SEC Championship.
Some of the sidebars to this season for Georgia make it kind of an improbable run, but one that now seems more likely than not.
The Bulldogs settled on one-time walk-on Stetson Bennett as their starting quarterback. He’s been solid all 12 games and gives a legit running threat at the position for Georgia’s offense.
Georgia also had to play the first 11 games of the season against prized wide receiver George Pickens, the result of a preseason injury.
Without Pickens, the Bulldogs had once-unknown Ladd McConkey and true freshman tight end Brock Bowers shine in the receiving game.
What could have turned into a huge distraction for the Bulldogs was the arrest of senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson on Nov. 1, who has since been charged with rape and is suspended from the program.
Without Anderson, the defense hasn’t seemed to lack for playmakers.
Jordan Davis. Nolan Smith. Nakobe Dean. Channing Tindall. Quay Walker. Lewis Cine.
Those are just some of the names of Georgia defenders who are looking to wrap up their storied careers with a national championship.
And, by the looks of things, seems within the realm of possibility.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.