Hayes: Alabama is in. The real conversation is Texas vs. Georgia for the final Playoff spot
We’re going about this the wrong way, everyone.
This isn’t about Texas vs. Alabama for a final spot in the 4-team Playoff field.
This is about Georgia vs. Texas. Or Georgia vs. Florida State or Ohio State.
Alabama doesn’t have a Texas problem, Georgia does.
Because after Alabama’s 27-24 victory over No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the Tide are in the Playoff.
Two-time defending national champion Georgia, meanwhile, isn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Georgia, like Texas and Florida State and Ohio State, must wait until early Sunday afternoon to see what the Playoff selection committee does with the final spot in the Playoff.
Unbeaten Washington, which won the Pac-12 Friday night, is in. Michigan, no matter what happens later Saturday night against Iowa, is also likely in. Now, too, is Alabama — after snapping Georgia’s 29-game winning streak and coming all the way back from a September home loss to Texas.
And that’s where the Playoff argument begins, even though it’s no longer about Texas and Alabama as many were predicting prior to Championship Week.
Now it’s Georgia’s resume vs. the contenders.
The 2-time defending national champions put themselves in this precarious spot late Saturday afternoon, coughing up their worst game since the last time they lost. Not surprisingly, both losses were to Alabama — Saturday’s loss in the SEC Championship Game, and the loss in this same championship moment 29 games ago.
Each time, Alabama did to Georgia what no one else has figured out over the past 2 seasons: The Tide blocked the Dawgs. It’s as simple as that.
Georgia’s game plan was to rush 3 or 4 down linemen, then using 2 spies on Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe to prevent big scramble run plays — and force Milroe to beat them with the pass.
And Milroe did — time after time in critical situations. Alabama blocked Georgia’s 3- and 4-man pass rush, and Milroe used the extra time (sometimes up to 7-8 seconds) to find open receivers.
The odd Georgia game plan was only part of the problem. The play-calling on offense was uneven and focused more on running the ball instead of putting the ball in the hands of the team’s best player: QB Carson Beck.
By the time Georgia realized the passing game was the answer, it was too late. The Dawgs couldn’t come all the way back from 2 double-digit deficits in the 4th quarter.
When Georgia coach Kirby Smart looks back at yet another loss to Alabama and coach Nick Saban — his 5th in 6 career games — it will be more about coaching decisions than player execution. That, and the often criticized Alabama offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage and making a statement.
Over and over against Georgia’s suffocating defense of the past 3 seasons.
Now Georgia’s chances to reach the Playoff and defend their national championships — and win 3 in a row for the first time since Minnesota in the 1930s — rests on strength of resume. The 2023 resume.
In theory, anything Georgia did prior to 2023 isn’t part of the equation. But you better believe it is — you better believe those 2 championships, and possibility to win another, will be a factor among many voters.
Georgia still has wins over No. 9 Missouri and No. 11 Ole Miss, and No. 21 Tennessee.
Texas, meanwhile, has the 10-point win at Alabama, and over No. 19 Oklahoma State and No. 25 Kansas State — and a loss to No. 12 Oklahoma. The clincher may be the Longhorns’ 49-21 rout of Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship earlier Saturday afternoon.
Before the arguments begin, understand this: They won’t run through the current top 8 rankings. Everyone, with the exception of Ohio State, had an opportunity this weekend to win their way into the Playoff.
So the search for 4 Playoff teams really isn’t about poll slotting, or who was ranked where and why. It’s a clean slate on Championship Weekend.
That’s why Alabama — the first team to beat Georgia since 2021 — is a lock for the Playoff. No matter what happened in September, the Tide won the best conference in college football, the conference that had 5 of the top 15 teams in the final poll before Championship Weekend.
The Tide beat a team that hadn’t lost since the 2021 SEC Championship Game, and also beat No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 21 Tennessee.
Meanwhile, there is Georgia — now lost in a sea of questionable play calling (on both sides of the ball), a season-high penalties, and a turnover inside their red zone that led to 3 points.
Georgia played its worst game in the past 30, and the magic finally ended.
Now the Dawgs wait to see if they have a Texas problem.