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What if Georgia loses to Ohio State in the CFP Semifinals??

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Three games. Georgia was just three games away from ending a four-decade championship drought. Leading Alabama in overtime, with the Tide pinned 41 yards from the end zone on second down, the Bulldogs only had to make three more saves against a true freshman quarterback, and the National Championship was theirs. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was shaking its foundations, the tension and anticipation ready to blow the roof off the still-new joint.

Dawg fans remember what happened next all too well. The second and the 26, Tua Tagovailoa recoiled, spotted Devonta Smith wide open on the left side of the field, and hit it for a perfect, game-ending, season-ending, hopeful touchdown. The founding of a new Georgian dynasty would have to wait another four years.

The Bulldogs bounced back, of course. Georgia fought its way back into the playoffs using fierce defense and opportunistic offense, and got revenge on Alabama by beating the Tide in last season’s title game. Still, the second and 26 linger there, a perpetual reminder that in college football, nothing is guaranteed.

Three years and 51 weeks after that pivotal game, Georgia is back in the playoffs, and this time the Dawgs are the heavy favorites. They are favorites to beat Ohio State in the Peach Bowl by almost a touchdown, they would be favored against Michigan and heavily favored against TCU if they reached the national championship. Everything is gearing up for Georgia to become the first repeat champion of the college football playoff era, and the way is clear for Georgia to establish itself as the preeminent college football dynasty of the 2020s.

So maybe it’s rude, maybe it’s shocking, maybe it’s even disrespectful to ask the question, but it’s necessary: ​​what if Georgia loses?

What if Ohio State regains its championship pedigree and topples Georgia on Saturday night, in the same building where Alabama worked the Dawgs in 2018? What if Michigan showed it learned some crucial lessons after being stomped by Georgia last year in the playoffs? What if TCU wrote a Rudy-in-the-NIL-era underdog story? So what happens to Georgia’s image, legacy and future?

The simple, and most likely, answer is, not a damn thing. Kirby Smart has built a juggernaut in Athens, a team so deep Dawgs backups could make a run in the SEC East. From high school recruiting to championship confetti, Smart has created an all-around monster that should be a playoff staple for years to come.

Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs are formidable, but not invulnerable.  (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs are formidable, but not invulnerable. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

And yet, this is where things can get complicated. It wasn’t that long ago — around 355 days, more or less — that Georgia was considered an underperforming program, which couldn’t quite find the final pieces of the championship puzzle. SEC rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida had all managed to win titles after Georgia’s most recent, all the way back in 1980. When Georgia Tech nerds may have given Georgia grief for winning a more recent national championship, things were going very badly in Athens.

Today, even with this natty in hand, Georgia fans need only look across the border to South Carolina to see how even a small slip in pace can derail dynamic aspirations. of a program. Clemson spent much of college football’s playoff era threatening and pummeling Alabama and Ohio State, and now finds himself out of the annual championship conversation. There’s a reason no team has repeated as national champions in this era: the playoffs are a boiling pot of crab, and any team that rises too high tends to be rushed back down.

Elsewhere in the SEC, the head coaches of two recent national champions — Auburn and LSU — were out of work much faster than they might have expected when lifting those championship trophies. There were extenuating circumstances in both cases, of course, but still – relying on the patience and goodwill of SEC boosters is no formula for long-term job security.

(Also, let’s not even raise the specter of Atlanta-area sports, which seem specifically designed to wreak the most havoc on the psyches and souls of their fans. Second and 26 is not 28- 3, but it’s in the same heartbreaking conversation.)

consistency. Complacency. Heritage. Dynasty. A team seeking immortality must master the first two before they can begin to think about the next two. Smart fixed the consistency issue; Georgia hasn’t lost a regular season conference game since 2020 and hasn’t lost in Athens since 2019. He spent the first part of that season resisting the idea that his team would be complacent and to shut many mouths. When Georgia absolutely trailed the skull of a heralded Tennessee team in the Dawgs’ biggest Test of the season.

In all likelihood, this is a debatable question. Georgia just needs to play with their well-established and well-demonstrated abilities, and they’ll carve through the playoff field like they did through the SEC. The legacy will be secure and Smart will be well on the way to building that dynasty.

Still, Georgia fans and players should keep in mind the enduring lesson of the second and 26: even when everything seems to be happening right in front of you, there’s always someone out there out to follow you and destroy your world.

Kirby Smart has built a strong program in Georgia.  Is it sustainable?  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kirby Smart has built a strong program in Georgia. Is it sustainable? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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