That No. 1 spot in the college football poll looked great for the Georgia Bulldogs when the season’s first poll was released Tuesday night. The second-ranked Bulldogs (8-0) are in the driver’s seat for the four-team playoff field.
Fans can say Georgia is finally getting respect, which is true. The Bulldogs have a couple of quality wins, especially against No. 5 Notre Dame (7-1, No. 3 CFP poll) early on this season in South Bend. Georgia jumped Alabama (8-0, No. 2 in the CFP poll) by a very-slim margin, based on strength of schedule, committee chair and Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said during the ESPN announcement broadcast.
Georgia has those two Top 25 wins — the first coming in a 31-3 thrashing of No. 21 Mississippi State in Athens — and has been completely dominant against the unranked opponents (narrowest margin of victory 31-10 over Appalachian State).
Also joining Georgia, Alabama and Notre Dame in the top four of the season’s first playoff poll is defending national champion Clemson (7-1), which snuck in despite an ACC loss to Syracuse, just ahead of Oklahoma and Ohio State.
Now Georgia has a clear — but still difficult path — to its first playoff spot since the current format was implemented in 2014. The Bulldogs need to run the table in the regular season against South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC), 16th-ranked Auburn (6-2, 4-1), Kentucky (6-2, 3-2) and Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2 ACC).
All are totally doable and probably will happen.
A Georgia loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship would hurt, but not necessarily keep it from making the playoffs and a shot at its first national title since 1980.
Yes, things are all roses for the Bulldogs on Oct. 31. However, will it still be the same when the final playoff poll — the one that actually counts — is released on Dec. 3?
Before anybody starts planning a budget for playoff tickets, you should know history (albeit a small sample size to pull from with three previous seasons) is not on Georgia’s side. In the past three seasons, none of the programs ranked No. 1 in the playoff poll (six each season) went on the win the national title.
In 2015, Clemson was No. 1 in all six playoff polls before Alabama won the national title game. In 2016, Alabama held down the No. 1 spot in the six playoff polls, before it lost the title game to Clemson. And how many folks remember who was No. 1 in the first three playoff polls way back in 2014?
It wasn’t Alabama or Clemson. It wasn’t even Ohio State or Oklahoma.
It was Mississippi State. We all saw how long that momentum lasted.
This season, there’s still 1/3 of the regular season remaining. Lots of football still left to play. There’s guaranteed to be an upset (or two) nobody saw coming to impact the race. The top four in the playoff rankings will shift. New schools will enter, while others will have to fall down.
College football polls are typically rather fluid.
Georgia fans have a lot to be excited about with the unveiling of the No. 1 spot in the first playoff poll.
If I knew how it would all play out, I would already be in Las Vegas placing bets. A loss by Georgia and Alabama could have very little or substantial impact, depending on how the other nine one-loss programs fare. Don’t forget: Wisconsin (8-0, No. 9 CFP) and Miami (7-0, No. 10 CFP) haven’t lost a game either.
It will certainly be interesting to see how it changes from week to week in the playoff standings.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Bill_Murphy313.