Kirby Smart: Georgia passes 'the eye test' despite SEC loss

ATLANTA -- After No. 8 Alabama ended two-time defending national champion Georgia's 29-game winning streak 27-24 in Saturday's SEC championship game, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart had a strong message for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Smart has no doubt his No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are one of the four best teams in college football.

"Look, Bill Hancock said, 'It's not the most deserving,'" Smart said. "He said, simply, 'It's the best four teams.' So you're going to tell me somebody's sitting in the committee room and doesn't think that that Georgia team is not one of the best four teams? I'm not sure they're in the right profession, because it's a really good football team, it's a really talented football team, it's a really balanced football team. They have to make that decision. But it's the best four teams, and that's critical."

Smart was referring to the CFP executive director's comments to reporters Tuesday, when Hancock dismissed the idea that the selection committee's job is to pick the four most deserving teams rather than the four best.

"Most deserving is not anything in the committee's lexicon," Hancock said. "They are to rank the best teams in order, and that's what they do. Just keep that word in mind: best teams."

For Smart, there's no question the Bulldogs are among the four best squads. Georgia finished unbeaten in each of the past two regular seasons. It has won 45 of its past 47 games. This season, it defeated No. 9 Missouri 30-21 and No. 11 Ole Miss 52-17 at home and No. 21 Tennessee 38-10 on the road.

"I think it's the eye test," Smart said. "When you look at what we've done this season, to go on the road and the teams we beat and the teams that were in the top 20 that we were able to beat. I don't know if this is right or not, but in the CFP era, the team that goes in as [No. 1] I don't think has fallen out of that."

Smart is correct in that no No. 1 team in the penultimate CFP rankings fell out of the top four after losing in Championship Week.

"Not that history says anything, but when you talk about the four best teams, watch the game," Smart said. "Go ask NFL talent evaluators. Go ask NFL scouts. It's about the best teams, and I have no question that it's not one of the four best teams, like 100%."

Undoubtedly, Georgia will need help if it's going to be picked by the CFP selection committee on Sunday.

No. 3 Washington likely punched its playoff ticket by wrapping up a 13-0 season with a 34-31 victory against No. 5 Oregon in Friday night's Pac-12 championship game. No. 2 Michigan finished unbeaten by defeating No. 16 Iowa in Saturday night's Big Ten championship contest, as did No. 4 Florida State, which topped No. 14 Louisville in the ACC title match.

An undefeated champion from a Power 5 league has never been left out of the CFP.

Georgia has an argument as one of the best one-loss squads, as do Alabama and Texas, which upset the Crimson Tide 34-24 on the road Sept. 9 and took down No. 18 Oklahoma State 49-21 in the Big 12 championship game. The Crimson Tide and Longhorns captured conference championships, which is something the Bulldogs didn't accomplish.

"I don't know the history of the other years," Smart said. "It seems like this is the year that it should be the four best teams, because you can make a case for 'deserving' for everybody. It's unfortunate that these kids who give so much and play so hard -- and not just at Georgia, all these schools -- they don't get to decide it really on the field. It's sitting back with a committee who is going to determine who the four best teams are. If it's truly the four best teams, then let's put the four best teams in."

The SEC has never been left out of the CFP. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have both made the playoff in two previous seasons, in 2017 and 2021. Alabama beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime in the CFP National Championship game after the 2017 season. The Bulldogs defeated the Tide 33-18 following the 2021 season to end a 41-year drought without a national title.

"Look at our teams in the playoffs and look at what they've done," Smart said. "Y'all tell me the record of the SEC teams in the playoffs. It's pretty spectacular. I know twice that two of them ended up playing each other. Who are the best teams?"

Of course, Georgia could have ended the debate Saturday by beating Alabama on the field. The Bulldogs made too many mistakes, blowing a defensive assignment on Alabama's first touchdown, missing a 49-yard field goal after a false-start penalty and losing a fumble at their 11-yard line, which led to a Crimson Tide field goal.

"You go through an SEC schedule, 12 games, and to win each and every one, this is not something easy to do," Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck said. "It's not easy, but I'm proud of these guys. Obviously, to come into this game and not finish the way that we wanted to and kind of leave the destiny of our team in someone else's hands rather than us handling it ourselves, that's hard. I thought throughout the season we showed we were a really dominant team."

But Georgia's first loss in 728 days -- it hadn't fallen since losing to Alabama 41-24 in the 2021 SEC championship game -- might end up pushing the Bulldogs out of the playoff.

"We didn't win, so I mean that's the bottom line," Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran said. "We had our opportunity to make our case, and we didn't. We didn't win the game. Whether or not they put us in is up to them. We'll respect their decision either way."