Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I’ll unveil 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Let’s continue with the No. 2 seed … Georgia.

Why the Playoff path exists

Ya know what? I’m just gonna get bold. The team with the 39-game regular-season winning streak that recruits better than anyone in the country and is riding a streak of 7 consecutive top-7 finishes has a favorable path to earn 1 of the 12 Playoff spots.

Shocking, I know.

Sadly, I’ll have to explain this to some people. I won’t even get to the part where Georgia has a higher percentage of returning production (68%) than all but 4 of last year’s top-25 finishers, nor will I get to bring up the fact that the only active coaches in the sport who beat Kirby Smart are now with different teams.

Nope. To the dwindling members of the anti-Georgia crowd, I’ll have to explain that UGA’s only 2 losses in the past 3 years being against a Nick Saban-led Alabama in the SEC Championship is hardly a sign that the sky is falling in Athens.

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Nah. The Playoff path exists because Georgia has been the Team of the 2020s. Returning with arguably the best quarterback in America (Carson Beck) makes that Playoff path as clear as ever.

The potential roadblock

You might think I’ll slip into some breakdown of the pass-catchers in a post-Brock Bowers/Ladd McConkey world, but I’m actually bullish on the Dawgs’ receiving game options.

(See what I did there?)

The potential roadblock is extremely hypothetical. While I believe the Dawgs have the clearest path to the Playoff of anyone, it’s worth remembering that UGA will have true road games against 3 teams that won 11-plus games last year: Sept. 28 at Alabama, Oct. 19 at Texas and Nov. 9 at Ole Miss.

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Don’t get it twisted. I predict Georgia goes at least 2-1 in those 3 games and it’ll clinch an SEC Championship berth on Nov. 16 with a victory against Tennessee. And even going 1-2 in those 2 games to potentially miss the SEC Championship should still be enough to get a 10-2 Georgia into the 12-team Playoff. (DraftKings Sportsbook set Georgia’s regular-season over/under win total at 10.5.)

The only potential roadblock is a Beck injury.

He’s the only guy on the roster who can make or break UGA’s Playoff chances with an injury. Even preseason All-Americans like Malaki Starks and Mykel Williams should have worthy replacements to keep things afloat if needed (that played out last year with the Jamon Dumas-Johnson injury when CJ Allen stepped in and became a star as a true freshman middle linebacker).

There have been plenty of years in which UGA could stomach an injury to the starting quarterback and be just fine. Shoot, the 2017 and 2021 squads endured that and still played for a national title. I’d also argue that those teams had offenses that were more run-heavy and not as quarterback-dependent as what UGA is expected to be in 2024 under Mike Bobo.

I don’t think it’s a given that Gunner Stockton would step in and beat top-10 teams on the road. It’s also not impossible. It’s just an unknown for someone with 19 career pass attempts, 10 of which came against that completely depleted Florida State defense in the Orange Bowl.

UGA has potential roadblocks to winning it all — like how 18 of the past 19 preseason AP No. 1 teams failed to win a national title — but those are virtually nonexistent if Smart’s squad is at full strength.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

Is 85% high enough? Fine. I’ll go 86%. After all, Smart has 86 wins since the start of the 2017 season.

I have the Dawgs getting the No. 2 seed as the 12-1 SEC champs. The lone loss will be at Texas, which will be avenged in the conference title game. A 13-0 Ohio State team will be the lone thing that stands in the way of UGA getting the No. 1 seed.

Getting the 2-seed would mean facing the winner of No. 10 seed Iowa vs. No. 7 seed Notre Dame. In my prediction, that would be Notre Dame. While the Irish deserve a ton of credit for playing the Dawgs down to the wire twice in nonconference games during the Smart era, I don’t believe Marcus Freeman’s squad will have enough offensive firepower to hang with this version of the Dawgs on a neutral site.

Georgia will be able to win games in a variety of ways. It can lean on Beck’s veteran prowess with Dom Lovett and those pass-catchers, or it can turn to Williams and Starks to lead a lights-out defensive effort wherein points are at a premium and it’s the Trevor Etienne-led rushing attack that goes to work.

Sure, you can wonder how a talented but relatively inexperienced secondary will develop and you can debate if the Dawgs will have a true alpha pass-catcher. I get that. But if you had to bet the farm on Georgia getting to the quarterfinals or not, you’re taking the former and not thinking twice about it.

Bold? Not so much.

Predicting the Playoff will conclude on Tuesday with No. 1 … Ohio State.