There’s a stat related to the College Football Playoff that doesn’t really get talked about. It’s not so much a stat as it is a common denominator. Or in the case of many, it’s a barrier to entry to win a national title.

Each of the past 6 national title winners had a receiver who was eventually selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The last one who didn’t? That was 2014 Ohio State … which had a future second-rounder named “Mike Thomas.” If you want to include Thomas in that first-round category — he should’ve been a Round 1 guy then and now — then you’d have to go back 10 years to find a title-winning team that didn’t have a future first-round receiver. That was 2011 Alabama, which played offense at a time when a 9-6 overtime game was deemed “the game of the century.”

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about the quarterbacks now. You also need that bona fide stud on the outside.

Does Georgia have that? It certainly didn’t in the SEC Championship.

It had 1 offensive skill player player who looked like he belonged. That was true freshman tight end Brock Bowers. As great as Bowers was and is, Georgia won’t win a national title by repeating that formula for 2 more games. Bowers isn’t getting vertical and stretching a secondary on a 50-yard bomb (but he can certainly do that running after the catch).

It’s pretty simple. Either George Pickens needs to play like the first-rounder many pegged him as entering 2021 and not the guy roughly 9 months removed from a torn ACL or else someone else has to be that bonafide stud on the outside. Otherwise, no, you can’t pencil in Georgia to win consecutive games and end the 1980 jokes. And if you think that’s just a Michigan and Alabama thing, perhaps you should read up more on Cincinnati’s “Sauce Gardner” and Jim Thorpe Award winner Coby Bryant.

What we saw offensively against Alabama was what Georgia fans had been worried about all year times 2. It wasn’t just that Bennett was ineffective in obvious passing situations. Besides Bowers, who consistently got separation?

Pickens played 20 snaps and had that 1 nice downfield grab. Can we assume that Pickens is going to have the post-ACL return training wheels taken off? I wouldn’t. What he can do is maximize his opportunities. In an ideal world, he’d play more than the 12 passing snaps he got against Alabama. In an ideal world, Pickens would play 30-plus passing snaps and flip that switch into overdrive like he did in his first 2 bowl games at Georgia.

But if it’s not Pickens, it can’t just be Bowers. Remember that back-breaking interception that Bennett threw in the SEC Championship? It was a red-zone pick, so Bennett took a ton of heat for that, and understandably so. But why was that decision made to force a throw to Bowers? He was the only one getting open. We also saw Bowers stop on the route, which is exactly why putting all your faith in a true freshman tight end, as great as he is, is a dangerous formula:

Sure, it helps a defense when there’s a game-changer like Will Anderson rushing the throw. Aidan Hutchinson is capable of doing all of those same things.

(Relax, SEC fans. I’m not saying Hutchinson had the better year and was more deserving of being in New York than Anderson. They both are incredible. Let’s leave it at that.)

Hutchinson’s presence means that those quick decisions have to made. There’ll be instances when Bennett (or JT Daniels if he clears COVID protocols and somehow plays?) will have to trust his wideout to go up and make a play in traffic. That’s different than getting a clean pocket off play-action and targeting Ladd McConkey with a 3-yard cushion over the top.

This would be a nice opportunity for the “Jermaine Burton is one of the nation’s best receivers returning in 2022” storyline to get rolling. It’s Burton who was widely considered UGA’s top route-runner coming into 2021. That was true pre- and post-Pickens injury. Burton has been banged up at times in 2021, but it’s gotta be frustrating that he has just 1 catch of 30 yards since mid-September.

That catch? It was absurd, future first-round stuff.

Georgia needs that guy against Michigan. Until Pickens shows he’s an every-down player again, Burton is lining up on the outside and drawing Michigan’s top corner. That’s DJ Turner, who graded out with PFF’s No. 8 coverage grade among Power 5 corners.

But as elite as that Michigan defense has been, it wasn’t like that group slowed down that dynamic group of Ohio State pass-catchers. The loaded Buckeye trio combined for 334 receiving yards. That’s not to say Georgia’s wideouts are on that level, but Michigan did at least allow some busts against the only team it faced who had multiple early-round NFL receivers.

Does Georgia even have 1 of those? We don’t know.

What we do believe is that Georgia doesn’t currently have a quarterback who should be expected to make everyone else look better. That’s true for Bennett and Daniels, who has 11 passes against FBS competition since September. Bennett is what he is at this point. He’s likely trying to become the first quarterback to win a championship as an eventual non-top 15 pick since Jake Coker in 2015.

Georgia’s receivers, on the other hand, still might not have had their best day. It’s been a work in progress all year. That wasn’t just because Pickens got hurt or Arik Gilbert wasn’t on the active roster during the season. That was Burton and Jackson got hurt in fall camp and dealt with nagging injuries into the regular season. It was also going 12-0 in the regular season without facing a deficit later than the 9:42 mark of the second quarter. Hence, why Bowers and McConkey were the team’s leading receivers.

That excuse is gone now. So is any excuse about being banged up with 4 weeks to get healthy.

Well, let me rephrase that. COVID seems to have other plans for the Playoff and predicting positive tests seems about as likely as guessing the Power Ball numbers.

What we can predict is that Georgia won’t win a title with the passing attack that we saw against Alabama. Could that win against Michigan? It’s possible, though not likely. The days of 9-6 heavyweight fights are in the past.

Kirby Smart can preach running the ball and correcting defensive issues until he’s blue in the face, but it’s 2021. He knows that if his non-Bowers pass-catchers don’t step up in a major way, it’ll be curtains on the 2021 Dawgs.

And if he doesn’t know that, well, he might have to find out the hard way on Friday night in Miami.