Georgia coach Kirby Smart blinked.
When the pressure was the greatest on Saturday, he tried to outsmart Nick Saban and Alabama, and like everybody else that has tried, he failed.
Why, in the fourth quarter of a tied SEC championship game, do you call a fake punt on fourth-and-11 near midfield with 3½ minutes play?
Smart tried to defend his call after the game saying the play was there, but Georgia waited too long to snap the ball. Instead of having the open receiver it expected, Alabama saw the uncovered man and foiled the plot.
But instead of either taking the delay of game, or calling timeout, and potentially pinning the Crimson Tide inside their 20 yard line with a punt, the Bulldogs ran the play anyway.
Backup quarterback Justin Fields was in the game as the punt protector. He took the direct snap and when he couldn't find a receiver, he tried to run up the middle and got stuffed for a 2-yard gain.
When Georgia fans look back on this season there are going to be two plays that stand out more than any others – that one, and a fake field goal attempt against LSU where Smart tried to turn kicker Rodrigo Blankenship into a running back.
Both were ill-advised. Both came in losses. Both cost the Bulldogs a chance to make the College Football Playoff.
Fans need to remember the image of Blankenship being swallowed up by Tigers’ defensive backs Grant Delpit, Greedy Williams and a host of other defenders before trying to argue for a spot in the final four.
Georgia lost to the two best teams it played this season. It didn’t win its conference championship. Those two things alone should be proof enough for elimination, but if fans want to continue the argument, the Bulldogs’ best win came against who? Florida? Which got beat by Missouri and Kentucky? Or, maybe it’s Kentucky, which got destroyed by Tennessee.
Oklahoma and Ohio State may not have as good a defense as Georgia, but they have a conference title, only one loss and arguably better wins than the Bulldogs do – the Sooners with Texas and West Virginia, and the Buckeyes with Michigan and Penn State.
By the way, that thrilling non-conference schedule of Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass and Georgia Tech didn’t do Georgia any favors either.
These are all things the CFP committee takes into consideration when making its selections for the playoffs.
Those are also things I take into consideration when I fill out my AP top 25 ballot, and with that, my disclaimer.
This is my first year as a top 25 voter. I don’t care if Georgia or Georgia Tech win. The same can be said for Alabama and Auburn. I grew up in Ohio, so I want to see Ohio State win one week out of the year – when it plays Michigan – and I thoroughly enjoyed the Buckeyes dropping 62 points on the Wolverines.
My money went to UAB, which beat Middle Tennessee 27-25 on the road to win the Conference USA championship on Saturday. The Blazers finish the regular season 10-3 and with a conference title in only its second season back from having the program disbanded. When I rank UAB No. 1, you can call me a homer.
A few thoughts on my top 25:
1. Alabama – It’s hard not to be happy for quarterback Jalen Hurts. After going 26-2 as a starter, he was relegated to a backup role this season. Yet, when his team needed him, he was ready.
Hurts came in for an injured Tua Tagovailoa and turned the Georgia defense on its ear. It showed Hurts' maturity, and also reminded everyone he’s a pretty good football player, too.
2. Clemson – The Tigers rolled over Pitt in the ACC title game to continue their dominance in the second half of the season. No team has stayed within 20 points of the Clemson since September.
3. Notre Dame – The Irish likely enjoyed watching all the conference championship games, knowing they did what they needed in 12 games instead of 13.
4. Ohio State – The Buckeyes needed to beat Northwestern 59-0, like they did Wisconsin a few years ago to make the playoffs. It didn’t happen, but I still think Ohio State is a better team than Oklahoma, even if it doesn’t get a chance to prove it.
5. Oklahoma – The Sooners have been the most consistent team not named Alabama all season. Everyone knows Oklahoma is going to score a lot of points. It also is going to give up a lot of points. The Sooners beat every team on its schedule, they just needed two tries against Texas to do it.
6. Georgia – A question and a request. First, is there an insurance salesman out there that would sell a policy protecting the Bulldogs against an Alabama backup quarterback? I doubt it. Second, could Georgia stop running trick plays in critical situations?
7. UCF – Give the Knights credit. They’ve done everything they could possibly do. Unfortunately it still wasn’t enough. However, I hope they win their bowl game and one of the computer programs the CFP committee uses ranks them No. 1 again. That way they can be a “two-time defending national champion” heading into 2019.
10. Michigan – It’s been 2,563 days since the Wolverines beat Ohio State… and counting.
22. Army – The Black Knights are 9-2, could get a 10th win next week against Navy, and despite being ranked, could be left out of a bowl game. Army isn’t part of a conference with an automatic tie in to a bowl.
On another note, if Georgia Tech decides to keep the triple-option offense when it hires a new coach to replace the retiring Paul Johnson, the Black Knights’ Jeff Monken, a Johnson disciple, should be at the top of the wish list.
John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.
3. Notre Dame
4. Ohio State
8. Penn State
14. Washington State
17. Mississippi State
18. West Virginia
19. Texas A&M
21. Utah State
23. Fresno State
24. Boise State