Up until suffering a high-ankle sprain that will require surgery on Saturday at Vanderbilt, the tight end from Napa, California, may truly have been the best player in college football. As rich as Georgia’s football history is, he is arguably below only Herschel Walker in the pantheon of Bulldog greats.
Recovery timelines are uncertain, but it’s possible that he has played his last for Georgia. For him to play again for the Bulldogs could require Georgia to make it back into the College Football Playoff – an accomplishment that will be difficult without him – and then for him to make the decision to play.
With so much at stake for Bowers’ professional prospects, maybe the appropriate course for Georgia is to help return him to health, wish him well and count itself incredibly fortunate that he came east to play for the Bulldogs. He has truly been a special player.
This is hugely damaging for Georgia’s chances to win a third national championship in a row, but immediate energy and thought can be best directed towards the young man who has been a model college athlete – a two-time first-team All-American, an academic All-American and someone who has been happy to let teammates enjoy the spotlight – and put his limbs and joints at risk for his team.
For all the disappointment that Georgia fans may be feeling about the impact that the injury will have for the remainder of the season, consider that Bowers’ own aspirations to complete his college career on his own terms and to contribute to a third national title may have been dashed.
The fist he slammed to the turf after he suffered his injury against Vanderbilt expressed that sentiment as well as any words could.
But, yes, this is a major blow for the Bulldogs, who have been so reliant on Bowers through the first seven games of the season.
His contributions Saturday spelled it out. On a unit loaded with highly talented skill players, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made no pretense about his Bowers-centric game plan. On the Bulldogs’ first 27 plays from scrimmage – the injury happened on the 27th – Bowers caught four passes from quarterback Carson Beck and ran it two more times for a total of 33 yards.
Even without the ball, he was impactful. Running back Daijun Edwards ran right behind a Bowers block for a 20-yard gain. Wide receiver Ladd McConkey benefited from pass coverage drawn to Bowers for a 31-yard reception. He lined up at wide receiver, in the slot, in the backfield, at wingback and in a three-point stance next to the offensive tackles. He was everywhere.
“He’s everything that you want, really, in a player,” an NFL scout told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after witnessing his jaw-dropping performance against Auburn. “Especially nowadays. The kid works his (expletive) off, and he’s very, very dynamic.”
The injury is the latest for the Bulldogs in a season where they’ve suffered them one after another, and this one may very well be the one that puts them out of the national-championship chase. Georgia has done the necessary in winning all seven of its games, but often has not looked championship caliber. The Bulldogs remain a supremely capable program – they are only team in the top 10 in FBS in scoring offense and defense and total offense and defense – but losing their best player by a wide margin will be a tall hurdle to clear, especially with the most challenging portion of the schedule ahead.
Through a possible berth in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs can afford only one loss to be considered for the College Football Playoff, and a one-loss Georgia team would be subject to a beauty contest where its relatively weak schedule and less-than-dominating wins would be subject to scrutiny.
For instance, how would the CFP committee grade Georgia’s 27-20 win over Auburn – a last-minute victory won on Bowers’ back – when the Tigers’ other two SEC losses have been by a combined 47 points?
There are many reasons why no team has won three consecutive national championships since 1936, and one of them was personified in the young man limping off the field at Vanderbilt’s FirstBank Stadium Saturday afternoon. Beyond talented players and an expert coaching staff, it takes more than a little bit of luck. The Bulldogs have enjoyed their share of favor in winning the first two, but their fortune with injuries in 2023 has been minimal.
It sometimes happens that way.
“It’s the game of football, right?” coach Kirby Smart said Saturday, asked about his feelings when seeing Bowers get hurt. “They’re going to play tackle, and you’re going to get injured. You’re going to have bumps and bruises. You’re going to have injuries and things. We’re not going to overact to it. We’re thinking about Brock, but I think he’ll be fine.”
It’s not clear what sense of “fine” Smart meant, but, in the big picture, Bowers will be. He is headed for the NFL as a first-round pick. His ankle should be completely healthy for his pre-draft workouts. He’ll be on to bigger and better things and leave behind a raft of memories in a Bulldog uniform.
Georgia fans can’t ask for more than that.