Georgia’s Stunning Loss Gives the CFP Race New Life

It's said in the sports with playoff series that "the series doesn't start until the road team wins a game."

Mind you, I think this truism is ridiculous because it implies that a series where every home team wins was somehow easier for the home-field/home-ice advantage team than a "regular" series where a road team wins a couple times.

But an alternate interpretation of that phrase could be that it's not an entertaining series until a "surprise" occurs.

In a similar vein, it feels like a college football season doesn't really become especially captivating until the first major upset of a season. And Saturday's win by South Carolina's as a 24-point underdog at No. 3 Georgia certainly qualifies as about as major as you can get.

Now, a Georgia team seen as the third most-talented squad in the country behind Alabama and Clemson during the preseason is in much the same spot it was exactly one year ago at this time: forced to run the table with wins against Florida, Auburn, and the SEC Championship Game to get into the playoff.

Then, when you consider that the Dawgs couldn't put up more than 17 points in four quarters and two overtimes on a South Carolina team that gave up 34 to Missouri three weeks earlier, it might be a tough ask for Georgia to even win the SEC East.

With all due respect to Wisconsin, Penn State, Boise State, and Baylor, all of whom are still undefeated, it appears that the top five teams in the rankings for this coming week are the cream of the crop in college football this year.

Even though the SEC East lost another undefeated team later in the evening when Florida lost at LSU in a shootout, the conference as whole now has an obvious path to getting two teams into the College Football Playoff.

If it wasn't clear before, it is now: Alabama and LSU are two of the top teams in the country. They're likely the absolute best two right now, although that feels disrespectful towards an Ohio State team that hasn't played a tough schedule yet, but shut out the one ranked team it played so far (Cincinnati).

Clemson, meanwhile, is operating on a Gonzaga basketball-esque plane of existence where it could very well run the table before the playoff having not played a single team that's ranked on the first Saturday of December. That makes it extremely tough to judge how good the defending champs are, and the scare at North Carolina two weeks ago is all I need to justify putting the ACC Tigers at a solid No. 4.

Oklahoma is now 6-0 after beating Texas at the State Fair in Dallas, but we finally saw Jalen Hurts look human throwing the ball against the Longhorns, bringing back memories of some of his shakier performances at Alabama. Thankfully for Hurts, CeeDee Lamb is probably the best skill position home run-hitter in the country and scored three times at the Cotton Bowl.

I'm not going to claim that the Big 12 is as bad as the ACC (because it isn't), but the Sooners could be in the same position as Clemson from here. A Texas rematch (which is not a given, hi Baylor) in the Big 12 Championship looms as the toughest remaining contest. That makes it tougher to judge their quality in a national context, but also means that one loss — even against a team they already beat — could doom OU for a playoff berth.

In short, four out of the Power 5 conferences have at least one huge threat to go undefeated after about half the scheduled games have been played and through seven of 14 full Saturdays of action before the conference championships. If all four conferences produce undefeated champions, there's your playoff.

But history says that would be unprecedented and is a near statistical impossibility. At least two of the five undefeated teams mentioned above are almost surely going to drop a game.

Even if the implausible becomes reality, that number will be at least one, since Alabama and LSU play each other on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. This isn't going to please the anti-SEC crowd at all, but there's a certain feeling of a 2011 redux with this season, with each team bulldozing its way to a possible No. 1 vs. No. 2 collision course at Bryant-Denny Stadium before a possible national championship rematch in New Orleans in January.

If you remember back to eight years ago, though, you'll remember that the Crimson Tide and Tigers combined for a grand total of one touchdown in 120 minutes and an overtime that season.

That's not going to happen this season with the way Nick Saban and Ed Orgeron have embraced modern, dynamic offense and with how Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow play the QB position.

For better or worse, the loser of the Nov. 9 game will be in the catbird's seat among one-loss teams. If the ACC, Big Ten and/or Big 12 end the season with one-loss champions, it's hard to imagine one of those champs ahead of a 12-1 Alabama or LSU — even a non-division champion Alabama or LSU.

There's a lot of football left to be played, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that this could turn into yet another season with Alabama and Clemson meeting in the championship game. But approximately midway through the season, it seems as though some other teams have a great shot this time around.

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