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College football overreaction index, Week 15: For Georgia to win a national title, it needs to embrace change

LSU linebacker Damone Clark (35) sacks Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta.
LSU linebacker Damone Clark (35) sacks Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 15, otherwise known as championship weekend.

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This is the best playoff field we’ve ever had.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

Take a moment to savor Sunday’s reveal.

No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, is not a surprising semifinal, but, oh, is it enticing.

The 2017-18 season was a treat, too, with Georgia playing in its first-ever Rose Bowl against Oklahoma (a glorious 54-48 double overtime shootout worthy of its venue) and defending champion Clemson facing Alabama in a national title game rematch.

But this year’s field offers one of the best semifinal matchups in playoff history in Ohio State vs. Clemson. Both teams have been historically dominant this season, led by dynamic offenses and overwhelming defenses. Based on ESPN’s SP+ analytics system, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency, these are the most complete teams in the country. Ohio State ranks fourth on offense and first on defense, while Clemson is sixth on offense and third on defense.

Meanwhile, we have a potential shootout in Atlanta, with the initial over/under for LSU vs. Oklahoma set at 79½. That number has since been bet down, but even with the Tigers improving on defense recently and the Sooners miles ahead of where they were last year on that side of the ball, these are the best offenses either team will face all season. LSU scores 47.8 points per game, third best in the country, while Oklahoma scores 43.2, fifth best.

And let’s not forget about the quarterbacks. Heisman Trophy favorite Joe Burrow is the star attraction and likely No. 1 overall draft pick. Trevor Lawrence might be the most talented quarterback in the country, and only a sophomore. Jalen Hurts has a chance to polish off one of the most successful four-year careers in college football history. Justin Fields is the latest transfer to strike it big at another school, and hasn’t even reached his ceiling.

And did we mention the coaches? Ed Oregeron is looking to win a national title at his home-state school after transforming the program. Lincoln Riley seeks a breakthrough win as one of the nation’s most innovative minds. Ryan Day is hoping to begin his coaching career with a national title. And Dabo Swinney might reach Nick Saban’s level with his third national title in four seasons.

Savor this playoff. We might not get another one like it for awhile.

It’s time for Georgia to embrace a modern offense.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

In a 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC championship game, the Tigers showed the Bulldogs everything they’re missing.

Nobody predicted that Joe Burrow would turn into one of the best quarterbacks in college football history, but he didn’t set conference records for passing yardage and touchdown passes by accident. By hiring passing game coordinator Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to pair with incumbent offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, LSU built a modern offensive scheme that relied more on attacking defenses through the air than on the ground. It was a courageous departure from the previous era of LSU football, which relied on a dominant rushing attack and conservative play-calling.

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Now, after losing their second straight SEC title game, the Bulldogs are left with a similar decision: adapt or die.

There’s no question coach Kirby Smart has revitalized the program, turning Georgia into one of the most consistent winners in the country with some of the nation’s most talented recruiting classes. But averaging just 4.2 yards per play against a defense that had trouble stopping Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Arkansas at times this season is inexcusable. Yes, Jake Fromm got hurt, and he was without his top receiver Lawrence Cager for the game and his favorite target George Pickens for a half, but going 3-for-13 on third down points to the lack of creativity and execution on offense.

LSU and Alabama ranked second and third, respectively, in the country in points per game and yards per play this season. Georgia was 40th and tied for 22nd, respectively, in those categories.

The Bulldogs stayed in the playoff hunt until the end because of their dominant defense. In the old SEC, this team might have been good enough to win the conference. It was good enough to win the East, and probably will be for years to come. But with the elite programs becoming offensive juggernauts, Georgia is being left behind. To catch up, the Dawgs need to embrace a new identity.

The Pac-12 should be worried about being left out of the playoff again.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

The Pac-12 couldn’t help but get in its own way yet again, as Oregon knocked Utah out of the playoff race by winning the conference championship game.

For the third straight year and fourth time in the past five seasons, the Pac-12 won’t have a representative on college football’s biggest stage. Since the playoff was created in 2014, the SEC has been represented seven times, the ACC six times, and the Big Ten and Big 12 four times. The Pac-12? Just twice, with Oregon reaching the final in the 2014-15 season and Washington getting blown out by Alabama in 2016-17.

It’s still early in the event’s history, and the field is likely to expand after the ESPN contract expires following the 2026 playoff, granting all Power 5 champions an automatic bid. And with the current four-team field, at least one P5 conference is going to be left out every year. But the Pac-12’s routine absence is starting to create a perception that is hard to shake.

If Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game or Georgia had played LSU down to the wire for the SEC title, there would be a debate over whether those two-loss teams should get in over 12-1 Big 12 champion Oklahoma. But Oregon, which went 11-2 with losses to Auburn and Arizona State, was never considered a legitimate contender, even after routing No. 5 Utah. That’s a problem.

Until Pac-12 teams start beating P5 opponents during the regular season — a chance Oregon had against Auburn this season, and will have in Week 2 next year, when Ohio State comes to Eugene — or a national power emerges on the West Coast, the committee will continue to ignore the conference on Selection Sunday.

Memphis will drop off after coach Mike Norvell’s departure.

Verdict: Overreaction.

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Win a conference championship and lose your coach to an open Power 5 job. Such is the life of a Group of 5 program.

It happened Saturday for Florida Atlantic, with Lane Kiffin heading to Ole Miss after winning his second Conference USA title in three seasons with the previously moribund Owls. And it happened again with Memphis, which watched Mike Norvell leave for Florida State after he led the Tigers to their second American Athletic Conference title.

While FAU will have a hard time sustaining its success without Kiffin, Memphis is in position to be a perennial AAC contender.

When Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech after turning the program around from 7-17 his first two seasons to 19-6 in his final two, the Tigers faced similar questions about their long-term future. But with a smart hire in Norvell, a young assistant at Arizona State, Memphis continued to improve, culminating in this season’s program-record 11 wins and a berth in the Cotton Bowl, the team’s first-ever New Year’s Six game.

The Tigers sit in one of the nation’s recruiting hotbeds, and a Cotton Bowl appearance against a major program like Penn State will only serve to raise their profile. Boise State became legitimate in the eyes of many when it beat Oklahoma in that famous Fiesta Bowl in 2007, and UCF made its case in recent seasons with a win over Auburn and a tough showing against LSU in NY6 bowl games. Memphis has a similar opportunity on Dec. 28 against the Nittany Lions.

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