LOS ANGELES — Georgia is now the gold standard in college football.
The Bulldogs won their second consecutive national championship Monday in Southern California, humiliating underdog TCU 65-7. Georgia flexed its muscles on nearly every play. Never had a top-five team dismantled another by such a sizable margin. Last year, Georgia defeated Alabama, long considered the pinnacle of the sport, on the way to another title.
As we stand now, it’s Georgia – then everyone else. The question is: For how long?
The Bulldogs are the first back-to-back champions in the College Football Playoff era. They won 13 of 15 games by double digits after having 15 players selected in the NFL draft in April. The expected drop-off, even a modest one, never happened. These Bulldogs were even more fierce than a season ago. These Bulldogs never lost a game.
“There are some parts of me that think, if the team last year played this year’s team, last year’s team probably had more talent on it, but this year’s team was different,” coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday, a day after the historic win. “They just had this eye of the tiger. They weren’t going to lose.”
Quarterback Stetson Bennett’s poetic season recap: “It seems like for the past three or four months, we’ve been looking to see if somebody could beat us. And we just ran out of games.”
Just like that, talk of a dynasty is perfectly acceptable. Georgia supporters went from starvation to gluttony. They root for football’s new kingpin.
“I don’t want to talk about three (consecutive championships),” Smart said. No worries. Everybody else will.
Can they win three titles in a row? That has been done once, the 1934-36 Minnesota Golden Gophers. What about three in four years? Alabama (2009, 2011-12) and Nebraska (1994-95, 1997) achieved that in the past 30 years.
Whatever constitutes a dynasty, it’s in play for Smart. The program that used to wilt under the bright lights now appears flattering beneath them.
Under Smart, the Bulldogs have appeared in three CFP Championship games (winning two) and four SEC Championship games (winning two) in seven seasons. Talent-wise, teams in the same stratosphere can be counted on one hand. Results-wise, they have one equal, which is coached by Nick Saban.
It wasn’t too long ago when the Bulldogs constantly felt close. They became something of a punchline for their “good but not good enough” records. Despite having success for which many programs would beg, Georgia became frustrated. It felt it belonged among the premier teams. It needed to be competing for championships; 10-2 or 9-3 no longer was acceptable.
Fans are being rewarded for their patience. Nobody is laughing at Georgia unless they find humor in top recruiting classes, weekly blowouts and championship rings. The Bulldogs are the program every other fan base fantasizes their team to be.
If this year proved one thing, it’s that Georgia can lose talent and remain championship-caliber. Its recruiting and development are terrific. Like Alabama at its peak, Georgia feels unstoppable.
They lose Christopher Smith and Jalen Carter, but Malaki Starks and Mykel Williams enter next season more experienced. Need a big catch? An Arian Smith is waiting to outrun the secondary. Brock Bowers, amazingly only a sophomore, returns for one more season. The Bulldogs are loaded at every position, even with players they haven’t yet unveiled.
Imagine having such luxury. Not spending enough time at your Malibu beach house because you’re living lavishly in Manhattan, Paris and Singapore. Smart is living that type of life as a coach.
In 2021-22, he assembled so much talent that Carter – the best player on this team and likely the first non-quarterback drafted this year – was a part-timer. In 2022-23, following a mass exodus of blue-chip players, his team’s results actually improved.
Georgia will have a new quarterback in 2023. Bennett’s eligibility finally is up. And Georgia will lose players such as Carter, Smith and Kelee Ringo. But it isn’t losing near the number of players that it did following last season’s title. Glance around the sport and the Bulldogs achieving a three-peat feels entirely realistic.
Alabama is losing its two best players. Ohio State is losing its quarterback, who came oh-so-close to ending Georgia’s season. USC still lacks a defense. LSU is a work in progress. Michigan still hasn’t won a playoff game. As TCU showed us, it likely will take a program stacked with high-level recruits to halt Georgia’s run; a feel-good team faces too big an on-field disadvantage.
The 2023 schedule is favorable, too. Georgia will face only two teams ranked in this season’s final Associated Press Top 25 poll, No. 6 Tennessee and No. 23 South Carolina.
“I personally think next year is going to be a much more difficult challenge over this year because we had so many guys leaving last year,” Smart said. “We got a lot of guys coming back. And, unfortunately, this one right here (Bennett) is not. … We’ll have a lot of guys coming back. We’ll lose some really talented guys, probably lose some juniors.
“But the disease that creeps into your program is called ‘entitlement.’ I’ve seen it firsthand. If you can stomp it out with leadership, then you can stay hungry. And we have a saying around our place: We eat off the floor. And if you’re willing to eat off the floor, you can be special.”
Georgia once again has established itself a favorite. It almost certainly will open the season at No. 1.
This is what Smart has built at his alma mater.
“It means everything,” Smart said. “The University of Georgia meant so much to me. … I wouldn’t be who I am today without the University of Georgia. I was lucky ... to get a chance to go to the University of Georgia. And I want to give back to a place that has meant so much to my life and to my family’s life and has given so much to us.”
The pressure of just winning a title is gone. Georgia’s expectations are the highest in the nation. It’s title or bust. And while that sounds exhausting, it’s a stroll on the Beltline compared with bearing the weight of four decades of shattered hearts.
Welcome to Georgia’s golden age, when one triumph only makes the Bulldogs more eager for the next. This is the greatest run in Bulldogs history. It may only just be getting started.
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