Does Georgia’s future schedule hint that playoff expansion is coming?

Dan WetzelColumnist

Georgia and Ohio State have agreed to a home-and-home series in football. The first game will be Sept. 14, 2030 in Athens. The return will take place on Aug. 30, 2031 in Columbus. 

Needless to say, there is still plenty of time to get excited … this means nothing for a decade-plus.

Except, the announcement might mean a lot.

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Namely that Georgia, among others, has assembled an extremely aggressive future schedule that suggests it doesn’t believe the current four-team College Football Playoff will exist much longer. 

In its place? Possibly an eight-team model with automatic bids to conference winners, which will make surviving the non-conference with a perfect record far less important since winning the SEC could get the Bulldogs in. 

While no one is saying that out loud, playoff expansion is an evergreen topic and game contracts speak louder than anything. 

For a long time now, the trend in college football was to schedule one marquee non-conference game per year. The other non-league games were reserved for easy wins. The boldest of teams schedule two tough games. A few, mostly just USC, would play three.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart talks to his players during a timeout in the first half of the team's game against Kentucky on Oct. 19, 2019. (AP)
Georgia coach Kirby Smart talks to his players during a timeout in the first half of the team's game against Kentucky on Oct. 19, 2019. (AP)

The one-good-game philosophy not only maximized the number of revenue-generating home dates. It also protected the win-loss record, which was the most important factor in the old Bowl Championship Series, where poll voters loved undefeated teams. In the playoff era it remains critical, although a little less than under the BCS.

Hence, you want to look like you’re playing aggressive, but you don’t want to risk anything.

No team with more than one loss has ever been selected for the playoff. Yet you can get away with a weak non-conference schedule and still get in, so there was no impetus to change. Alabama’s slate this year, for example, featured Duke at a neutral site and home dates with New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina.

Now we have Georgia’s future mostly mapped out, and it is the polar opposite of how things have been done.

The current College Football Playoff model runs through 2024. 

From 2020-24, the Bulldogs will play just one or two big-name teams a year and two to three cupcakes. One game is the annual rivalry with Georgia Tech, which really isn’t even a choice. 

In 2020, there is also a game with Virginia in Atlanta (technically a neutral site, but not really). In 2021, nothing. In 2022, Oregon in Atlanta again. In 2023, at Oklahoma. In 2024, Clemson in Atlanta.

That’s the old way of doing it, a reflection of the mindset needed to be nationally competitive when those games were signed. The new way is evident with what Georgia, and others to a degree, has set up later in the decade, which is how far out schedules are made. 

Suddenly, the Bulldogs are setting up two or three, and maybe more, home-and-home series with name opponents. 

The 2028 season already has a game at Texas, with Florida State and Georgia Tech at home. In 2029, it’s Texas at home and at Clemson and Georgia Tech. Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia Tech come to Athens in 2030. Then, in 2031, it’s at Ohio State and Georgia Tech with Oklahoma paying a visit. 

There is still room for a fourth game. We’ll see. 

Georgia isn’t the only team loading up, but it might be the most obvious. Fewer easy games. Home-and-homes rather than neutral sites. Challenging slates from start to finish. Basically, scheduling without the fear that a single hiccup can doom the season. 

Better schedules can help attendance, which remains a challenge in the modern era. It can help future television revenue, which is facing some uncertainty as cord-cutting eats into cable television revenue. It can help in recruiting, offering the best players the chance to play against the best possible opponents in big, nationally televised and hyped games, all while extending the Georgia brand past just the Southeast.

And it can certainly help with the playoff. Go 1-2 in the non-conference? It doesn’t matter if it helps you prepare for the conference season, where winning the SEC would assure a playoff bid under the potential new rules. 

No need to hide. It’s OK to play games fans actually want to see.

“We are committed to playing in as many big games as possible,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, 43, who can only hope he’s still employed by the Bulldogs in the 2030s.

No, this doesn’t guarantee that a bigger playoff with a new format and automatic bids is coming to college football.

But it sure does suggest that smart people think it might be coming — and are planning accordingly.

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