- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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If a one-loss team is going to play in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game this season, Georgia might be as good a bet as any.
But hear this Dawgs fans: You need some help.
The good news for Georgia is that it moved up to No. 6 in the USA Today Poll, one of three components used in the BCS standings.
If the Bulldogs keep winning, they’ve got a great chance to move up even more, especially with a pair of wins over top 10 opponents.
Remember, too, that only twice during the SEC’s streak of seven straight national championships has the team winning it all finished unbeaten.
The Bulldogs are explosive enough offensively to beat anybody in the country. Obviously, they’re going to need a healthy Todd Gurley the rest of the way. He’s day-to-day for this weekend’s game at Tennessee with a sprained left ankle.
To the Bulldogs’ credit, they played without him for the final three quarters last Saturday and still managed to outlast LSU 44-41. But it’s difficult to see them winning out (and winning the SEC championship) if Gurley’s not close to 100 percent. Keith Marshall is a heck of a talent at running back, but Gurley gives that offense a different dimension when he’s on the field.
Georgia also must continue to grow up on defense if the Bulldogs are going to have a chance to navigate their way to Pasadena. They’ve played 10 true freshmen on defense this season, and three are starters. Of the 22 players listed on their defensive two-deep, 16 are freshmen and sophomores.
So it’s not exactly a surprise that they’ve given up an average of 32.5 points per game, which ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense. To be fair, they’ve also played three top-10 foes.
The key will be how much that defense improves over the next month because the offense, as good as it’s been, can’t be expected to score 35-plus points every game.
But what else needs to happen for the Bulldogs to get to where they came within a tipped pass of potentially getting to last season and playing for the national title?
Here’s a quick checklist:
They need to win out, and they probably need to do so impressively, particularly over the teams they’re expected to beat. Otherwise, some of the unbeaten teams behind them in the polls (Florida State, Louisville and Oklahoma) could easily pass them.
Clemson has to lose somewhere along the way. There’s no way Georgia gets into the BCS National Championship Game over an unbeaten Clemson team, which opened the season with a 38-35 win over Georgia. The best chances for Clemson to go down (and no, Dabo, I didn’t say pull a Clemson) are Oct. 19 against Florida State at home, Oct. 26 at Maryland and Nov. 30 at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won four straight over the Tigers.
If Florida State were to beat Clemson, then Georgia would likely need the Seminoles to lose at some point. Florida State faces Maryland at home this weekend. Miami visits Tallahassee on Nov. 2, and Florida State closes the regular season on Nov. 30 with a trip to Florida.
Oregon and Stanford play each other on Nov. 7, so one of those teams is going to have a loss. Both are currently ranked ahead of Georgia. An unbeaten Pac-12 champion would be a lock to fill one of the spots in the BCS National Championship Game.
Having Ohio State stumble would also be helpful to the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes play at No. 16 Northwestern this weekend. If they get out of Evanston unscathed, it’s hard to see a loss on their schedule, although they do have to play at Michigan this season.
The ideal scenario for Georgia would be for Alabama to win out and be No. 1 in the country heading into the SEC championship game. That way, Georgia would have a chance to score massive points with the voters in the two human polls (and with the computers) by taking down the Crimson Tide on that last weekend before the final BCS standings are released. It’s supposed to be your entire body of work that voters consider when casting their ballots, but last impressions always seem to carry a little extra weight with those final ballots.
In sum, there’s so much football remaining before we get to that first weekend in December that it’s impossible to predict who will still be standing in the national championship race. But if Georgia is indeed going to make a run as a one-loss team, UGA fans probably need to root against Clemson, against Ohio State and for Alabama … at least until the SEC championship game.