Assuming the Big 10 representative to the BCS presidential oversight committee doesn’t manage to derail things, it looks like we’re headed toward a seeded four-team tournament for college football with the teams picked by a selection committee.
The committee will be charged with taking conference championships and strength of schedule into account, so there’s no guarantee that the teams that finish 1-4 in the polls will be selected, but more often than not that’s likely to be the case. In some instances, though, a team ranked #5 (or lower) might squeak in.
The real plus of such a system is that at the end of the regular season four teams have a shot at the national title instead of just two, which set my son Bill and I to wondering if such a playoff process had been in effect in the past, how often would Georgia have had a chance to play their way to a national championship?
Looking back, it turns out the Bulldogs would have made the playoff or been in contention for selection by the committee 11 times: 1942, 1946, 1959, 1966, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2002 and 2007. Note: For this exercise in alternate history, we defined a UGA team as being “in contention” if it was ranked in the Top 5 at the end of the regular season.
In looking at the hypothetical matchups, it’s interesting to note that UGA likely would have gotten to face some more legendary coaches (Woody Hayes, John McKay) and more games against Bear Bryant and Joe Pa, and would have been matched up against some famous players/teams, like the infamous SMU Mustangs of 1982.
There also might have been a rematch with Clemson in 1981. And while we wouldn’t have gotten Notre Dame in 1980, Georgia likely would have played the Fighting Irish in 1966.
Georgia probably would have had a tougher time winning out for the national championship in 1980 with a semifinal and final to play, but UGA might have won titles in other years, since they would have qualified at least a few times.
Let’s look at the years in question, using the final regular season AP or BCS poll.
We mainly concentrated on the era from Vince Dooley on, but let’s first take a brief look at the Wally Butts years:
In 1942 UGA finished the regular season #5 (they later finished #2 in AP and #1 in varying polls after a Rose Bowl victory for a share of the national title). With Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi in the backfield, there’s a decent chance a selection committee might have put the Dogs in a four-team playoff.
In 1946, Georgia finished the regular season ranked #3 (and wound up finishing #3 in the final poll as well), so a playoff berth would have been assured.
The 1959 Dogs finished the regular season ranked #5 but with 2 first place votes and a big-name quarterback in Francis Tarkenton, so again there’s a chance they would have been selected by the committee.
In 1966, Dooley’s Dogs won the SEC and finished the regular season #4, which using the playoff system that’s being considered now would have resulted in #4 UGA vs. #1 Notre Dame in a semifinal, with the winner of that game facing the winner of #2 Michigan State vs. #3 Alabama. The odds would have been against the Dogs, but that was a typical never-say-die Dooley team that might have pulled an upset. In reality, Georgia’s actual finish was #4 with a win over SMU in the Cotton Bowl.
In 1968, SEC champ Georgia finished the regular season #4, which would have resulted in #4 UGA vs. #1 Ohio State (coached by Woody Hayes), with the winner facing the winner of #2 USC (John McKay) and #3 Penn State (Joe Paterno). This was a very talented but temperamental Bulldog team that in reality finished #8 after losing to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, so how the Dogs would have fared might have depended on how much Jake Scott and company partied the night before.
In 1976, SEC champion Georgia finished the regular season #5. Had they somehow managed to get selected by the committee, we know how this one would have turned out because in reality they lost in the Sugar Bowl to #1 Pittsburgh, which is who they would have faced if they could have somehow grabbed the #4 spot in the playoff.
Now we come to the Herschel years, when Georgia won three straight SEC titles.
In 1980, as we all know, Georgia finished the regular season ranked #1, which would have resulted in a semifinal matching #1 UGA vs. #4 Oklahoma, with the winner facing the winner of #2 Florida State vs. #3 Pittsburgh. Definitely a tougher road to the title than what actually happened, which was the Dawgs winning the championship after a Sugar Bowl win over #7 Notre Dame.
Georgia finished the 1981 regular season ranked #2, which would have resulted in #2 UGA vs. #3 Alabama (Bear’s second to last team and final good team), with the winner facing the winner of #1 Clemson vs. #4 Nebraska (which was the actual Orange Bowl matchup that Clemson won). Clemson, of course, had beaten UGA earlier that year. It would have been a great game had Georgia made it to a rematch. In reality, Georgia finished #6 after a loss to Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl.
In 1982, the Dawgs finished the regular season ranked #1, which would have resulted in #1 UGA vs. #4 SMU (Craig James! Eric Dickerson! Herschel Walker! NO PASSING!!!) with the winner facing the winner of #2 Penn State vs. #3 Nebraska. In reality, Georgia sadly finished #4 in the final poll after a Sugar Bowl loss to Penn State that shouldn’t have happened.
In the Mark Richt era, Georgia would have definitely qualified for the playoff once and possibly made it another time.
In 2002, Georgia won the SEC championship and finished the regular season ranked #3 in the BCS poll, which would have resulted in #3 UGA vs. #2 Ohio State in a semifinal, with the winner facing the winner of #1 Miami vs. #4 USC. That would have been quite a challenge, but certainly would have resulted in more interesting games than what we got in reality, where the Dawgs beat #14 FSU in the Sugar Bowl and wound up #3 in the final poll.
And 2007 is one of those cases where a playoff definitely would have resulted in better matchups than we got in the BCS. Georgia finished the regular season ranked #5 in the BCS poll (though #4 in the AP and coaches polls) and went on to crush #10 Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl and finish #2 in the final poll.
Many at the time thought the Dawgs would have been ranked higher had they won their division and/or conference. But by the end of the season Georgia, with Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, was probably the hottest team in college football and there’s at least a strong likelihood the selection committee would have put them in the playoff.
Had that happened, likely fourth-seed UGA would have faced #1 Ohio State, with the winner facing the winner of #2 LSU vs. #3 Oklahoma. I think the Dawgs could have taken Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes, which might have resulted in … an all-SEC national title game with one of the teams not having won its own conference division. And this despite there being a playoff!
Which, no doubt, would have had folks elsewhere in the nation howling for a new system of determining college football’s national champion …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg