Be still, my heart. ESPN just released its first preseason Football Power Index, aka FPI.
Georgia is third, which is no real surprise. Neither are the two teams ahead of Georgia.
While Clemson’s 44-16 drubbing of the Tide might have college football fans recalibrating their expectations for Nick Saban’s team, make no mistake — it’s still Clemson and Alabama and then everyone else. The difference in rating between No. 2-ranked Alabama (plus-27.6) and No. 3-ranked Georgia (plus-22.0) is the same as the Bulldogs’ advantage over 10th-ranked Oregon (plus-16.4). Clemson ranks first in offense and second in defense; Alabama is vice versa.
What is a little surprising is the rapid jump displayed by a few SEC teams. LSU is fourth, Tennessee is 15th and Missouri is 20th. The SEC’s lowest ranked team is Arkansas, with a still respectable 58th. All of which leads to this:
The SEC has three of the top five teams in the country, five of the top 10 and half of the top 20!
The 10th-best SEC team (Missouri) is better than the second-best ACC team (Florida State) and the second-best Big 12 team (Texas).
The best division in football is the SEC West. The second-best division is the SEC East.
For the SEC — or any conference — this sort of depth is unprecedented. No conference in the past 15 years of FPI has had more than eight teams in the top 20 of the preseason rankings.
I only mention this because this is what all the yammering heads on ESPN and the SEC Network (PAWWWLLL!) will be talking about for the next few months leading into the season.
Add in a dash of selection committee tea leaf reading from Heather Dinich.
Toughest game on schedule: Nov. 16 at Auburn
The committee will like: The crossover opponents.
The road trip to Auburn is followed by a Nov. 23 home game against Texas A&M. Back-to-back November victories against SEC West opponents could significantly boost Georgia’s résumé heading into the final week of the regular season — if the Dawgs win. Last season’s 36-16 loss to LSU was a dagger in the final picture. Georgia came close last season, but we still haven’t seen a two-loss team finish in the top four.
The committee won’t like: A September slip-up.
If Georgia is worthy of a playoff spot, it should start the season 3-0 with wins against Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State. Repeat: Murray State and Arkansas State, which is why beating Notre Dame on Sept. 21 has the potential to separate Georgia from other contenders. If Georgia loses to the Irish, though, its best nonconference win would be against rival Georgia Tech, and that would put enormous pressure on Georgia to win out.
One big question: How much will a win over Notre Dame be worth?
It depends, of course, on how the Irish fare. According to ESPN’s FPI, it’s the most difficult game on the Irish schedule, as they are No. 7 and projected to be No. 9 in offensive efficiency and No. 11 in defensive efficiency. Notre Dame helped Michigan almost all last season — and the Wolverines didn’t even win the game. Remember Miami’s claim to fame in 2017? The Hurricanes hammered Notre Dame 41-8, and it carried them in the eyes of the committee — until the Canes ended the season with two face-plants of their own. Win or lose, playing Notre Dame seems to help — as long as the Irish help themselves.
Most of that strikes me as iffy, but I do think that Auburn-TAMU set of games will weigh on the committee members’ minds based on timing, if nothing else. Assuming ‘Bama comes out of the West again, though, I think we all expect the SECCG likely shapes up as another elimination game.