SEC championship notebook: Pick me! Pick me! Saban and Smart state playoff cases after game

AP photo by John Bazemore / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, right, and Alabama counterpart Nick Saban meet on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after Saturday's SEC championship game in Atlanta.
AP photo by John Bazemore / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, right, and Alabama counterpart Nick Saban meet on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after Saturday's SEC championship game in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Remember the "pick me, pick me, pick me" pleas of children when elementary school kickball teams were selected by captains at recess?

Meet Nick Saban and Kirby Smart following No. 8 Alabama's 27-24 upset of No. 1 Georgia at Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Saban's Crimson Tide and Smart's Bulldogs are each 12-1 and are at the mercy of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which will announce its four-team playoff field at noon Sunday on ESPN. Since 2006, when the Bowl Championship Series was pairing two teams to play for the national championship, the SEC has annually placed at least one representative in a postseason format.

"We won the SEC," Saban said when beginning his argument for inclusion. "We beat the No. 1 team in the country, which everybody on the committee thought was the No. 1 team in the country, and they won 29 straight games. If we needed to do something to pass the eye test, I would guess that probably contributed to it significantly.

"We're not the same team that we were when we played Texas. We're not the same team we were when we played South Florida. People should look at the whole body of work and what we were able to accomplish and what we were able to do."

The Tide looked like Liberty Bowl material after following an opening rout of Middle Tennessee State with a 34-24 home loss to Texas and a lethargic 17-3 downing of South Florida in Tampa. A 24-10 win over Ole Miss on Sept. 24, when Jalen Milroe resumed his job as starting quarterback after losing it the week before, marked the first quality triumph, and they would be followed later in the season by two-touchdown toppings of Tennessee (34-20) and LSU (42-28).

Rival Auburn nearly wrecked Alabama's playoff hopes last weekend, but a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from Milroe to Isaiah Bond kept the Tide alive in a 27-24 escape.

Michigan and Washington are certainly in the four-team field after winning the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, respectively, with 13-0 records. The committee could then, based on a couple of head-to-head results, select Texas third and Alabama fourth, which would leave Georgia out in the cold and likely headed to the Orange Bowl.

Smart obviously doesn't want that to be the case.

"(College Football Playoff CEO) Bill Hancock said, 'It's not the most deserving.' He said, 'It's the best four teams,'" the Georgia coach said. "You're going to tell me somebody is sitting in that committee room and doesn't think this Georgia team is not one of the best four teams? I don't know that they would be in the right profession.

"This is a really talented and balanced football team. They have to make the decision, but it's the best four teams."

When pressed on why he thought his Bulldogs were among the four best, Smart said: "I think it's the eye test. Look at what we've done this season, and the team that has gone into this weekend No. 1 has never fallen out of that. Not that history says anything, but when you're talking about the four best teams, watch the game and go ask NFL talent evaluators."

Georgia redshirt junior quarterback Carson Beck also weighed in, saying, "Throughout the course of the season, we showed that we're a really dominant team."

Of course, picking a final four out of six or seven candidates — Florida State entered Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Louisville undefeated but with a third-string quarterback — isn't so simple of an assignment.

"I guess that does make it unique, because I don't know the history of the other years," Smart said. "The fifth-place team probably always feels like they should be in. It's unfortunate that these kids at Georgia and at all these schools don't get to decide it really on the field. A committee is going to determine who the four best teams are."

Said Saban: "I know they have a tough job, and I know there are a lot of good teams."


Sunday schedule

Smart was asked Saturday night what his plans were for Sunday.

"We play Alabama next year early in the season, so we're coming in to grade film and evaluate some things we can do better and different," he said. "The coaches will have to go recruiting, and we'll have a team meeting tomorrow afternoon to go over the plans for the future.

"These guys need some time, so they'll get some time off."


Short-yardage woes

Georgia rushed 31 times for only 78 yards and 2.5 yards a carry, and short-yardage situations were extremely taxing.

"We went backwards on two of them," Smart said. "We had already decided on one that we would go for it if we didn't lose yards, but we lost yardage. The only thing I can say is they whipped us up front.

"Even when we scored, they whipped us on third-and-1, and we had to get it on fourth-and-1. They have big, big humans."


Bulldogs bites

Peyton Woodring's 50-yard miss snapped a streak of 16 consecutive made field goals. ... Sophomore inside linebacker Jalon Walker tallied two sacks. ... Right tackle Amarius Mims suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and was replaced by Xavier Truss. ... Smart on Bond's catch just before halftime: "The first staple of any review is that they review it up top, and they go quick. For me to ask for a review costs me a timeout. They get to watch it, and I was not aware of whether it should be called or not called. That was an extremely critical play in the game, because they went on and scored."


Tide tidbits

Will Reichard's 43-yard field goal at the 3:43 mark of the opening quarter that pulled Alabama within 7-3 resulted in the fifth-year senior becoming the NCAA's all-time scoring leader with 533 points. ... Saban on college football's changing landscape: "When we have 12 teams, you guys will still make the case for 12 more."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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