It’s not at all too early to talk about Georgia getting a crack at playing for the football national championship this year.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs (9-1) have rolled through the rest of the SEC East, earning a repeat spot in the league title game, this one against top-ranked Alabama (10-0) on Dec. 1 in Atlanta.
The only hiccup for Georgia was the 20-point loss to LSU, which appears to have rejuvenated Georgia for its late-season surge as it seeks to repeat as SEC champs for the first time since 1982. Since the loss, the Bulldogs have reeled off three straight top-25 wins (Florida, Kentucky and Auburn) and will be heavy favorites for the final two regular-season games against Massachusetts on Saturday and Georgia Tech on Nov. 24.
Now, the path to the national championship for Georgia in 2018 is certainly more challenging than last season. However, there’s still a chance.
Bulldogs fans may cringe at the idea of potentially needing to beat top-ranked Alabama and further down the road No. 2 Clemson (10-0) for the national championship. The nearly-perfect Crimson Tide are a mystery with Heisman-worthy sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s knee injury in the third quarter, which he didn’t return from in Saturday’s win against Mississippi State.
Georgia seems to have insane depth at all the offensive spots, which could turn the SEC title game into a track meet.
The Bulldogs are getting peak performance from starting quarterback Jake Fromm, while Justin Fields plays only minimal snaps but is ready in the wings, if needed.
Georgia’s running back stable is four deep with Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift getting the majority of the work. Expect the Bulldogs to be even better running the ball in 2019 as Zeus White is expected to play after a season-ending knee injury prior to the season. Holyfield still has one more year of eligibility remaining, should he pass on entering the NFL draft.
And while the offensive line has been a bit of a patchwork effort during the regular season because of injuries, things seem to be steadying for the late-season run. Having Isaiah Wilson, Ben Cleveland and Andrew Thomas all on the field for every snap makes running a lot easier.
Should Georgia entertain any ideas of winning the national championship, it will come at the hands of a prolific offense.
However, the talent is there. Beating Alabama will be more tailored toward a 35-30 outcome, rather than a defensive struggle like when the Crimson Tide won the matchup in last year’s championship game.
The rest of the playoff picture looks pretty clear. In 2018, it looks like the SEC will only have one spot in the two semifinal playoff games.
The SEC Championship game is, by proxy, a quarterfinal game.
The modern-era playoff format is what has separated Alabama and Clemson as the two top programs in college football. The Crimson Tide have been all four times to the playoffs, while the Tigers have three straight trips.
Should Georgia win the SEC title, it would become the fifth school to make multiple playoff appearances, joining Ohio State (2014 and 2016) and Oklahoma (2015 and 2017).
It’s the big win the Bulldogs need to once again become a truly elite team for the first time since the early 1980s.
It’s a longshot for Georgia to win it all. But there’s certainly a chance.
That’s all Bulldog fans need to have a reason to really get excited about Athens once again becoming home to the national champions.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.