Bennett is staying. Daniels is leaving. The debate will never cease

University of Georgia football player JT Daniels interacts with fans during the Dawg Walk as part of the team’s celebration parade in Athens, Georgia on January 15th, 2022.(Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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University of Georgia football player JT Daniels interacts with fans during the Dawg Walk as part of the team’s celebration parade in Athens, Georgia on January 15th, 2022.(Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Stetson Bennett has had a college career like no other, and there’s more to come. He declared his intention to return to Georgia for a sixth collegiate season. By a matter of hours, this followed JT Daniels’ announcement that he is, yet again, taking his talents elsewhere. Daniels’ career could be the second-strangest on record.

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Daniels attended Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif. The school lists three Heisman Trophy winners – Bryce Young being the latest – among alums. Daniels might become a fourth. It has been reported that Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has met with Daniels and receiver Jermaine Burton, both of whom have entered the transfer portal. Working under Kiffin, quarterback Matt Corral finished seventh in 2021 Heisman voting.

Daniels started for USC as a freshman. He started seven games for Georgia, none of which the Bulldogs lost. In both Los Angeles and Athens, he lost his starting job because of injury. Last summer, Daniels became one of the first to sign a big-money NIL deal. He’ll get a championship ring for his role in the Bulldogs’ national championship season. Shed no tears for Jonathan Tyler Daniels.

He’ll leave Athens knowing a percentage of UGA fans will forever consider him the best quarterback on a national championship team. Had Bennett opted to move on, Daniels surely would have topped Georgia’s 2022 depth chart, even with Brock Vandagriff, Carson Beck and now Gunner Stockton on the roster.

That depth chart can be a slippery slope. Over Kirby Smart’s six seasons, only in 2018 and 2019 did the same QB start the season’s first and last games – Jake Fromm in his sophomore and junior seasons. (He had no senior year.) Year 1 under Smart saw Greyson Lambert, who’d transferred from Virginia to play for Mark Richt, start the opener. Jacob Eason would soon supplant him.

Eason was Georgia’s starter in Game 1 of 2017. He got hurt on the third possession. Fromm took it from there. He exited having presided over three SEC East titles and almost a national championship. He also left having heard how Smart erred in not promoting Justin Fields – who departed after his freshman season for Ohio State, which he led to the College Football Playoff in 2019 and 2020 – above Fromm.

Post-Fromm, things got weird. Jamie Newman arrived from Wake Forest and figured to start Game 1 of 2020. Newman opted out 3-1/2 weeks before the delayed-by-COVID season commenced. He would go undrafted by the NFL. He signed with the Eagles as a free agent; he was cut before training camp.

Daniels tore his ACL against Fresno State in USC’s 2019 opener. Kedon Slovis became the No. 1 quarterback. In May 2020, Daniels announced his intention to enroll at Georgia, even though the Bulldogs had, counting Newman, four quarterbacks. Minus Newman and with Daniels awaiting medical clearance after knee rehab, D’Wan Mathis started Game 1. By halftime, he’d been replaced by Bennett, the former walk-on.

Only after Bennett hurt his shoulder in the loss to Florida was Daniels named the starter. He threw for 402 yards against Mississippi State, for 392 in the comeback victory over Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Daniels was voted second-team All-SEC at the conference’s 2021 Media Days; Corral was the first-teamer.

For the Bulldogs’ opener against Clemson, Bennett wasn’t even Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback. Beck was. Daniels tweaked an oblique in the 10-3 victory over the Tigers. For the next week’s game against Alabama-Birmingham, it was presumed Beck would start in place of the injured Daniels. Beck did not. Bennett did.

(Apologies if these many names have made eyes glaze over. We haven’t mentioned that Mathis left Georgia for Temple. Because of injury, he was limited to seven games in 2021. Nor have we mentioned that Slovis, whose USC presence drove Daniels to leave, just transferred to Pittsburgh.)

Bennett started and looked great against UAB. Daniels started in big wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Against the latter, Daniels hurt his lat. He wouldn’t start for Georgia again.

Seizing the moment, Bennett finished fourth nationally in passing efficiency. He was MVP of the Orange Bowl against Michigan and the national championship game against Alabama. His deep throw to Adonai Mitchell for the go-ahead touchdown with 8:09 left is among the CFP’s greatest moments. It ranks way up there in Georgia lore, too.

Might Daniels have made that throw? Sure. He has, as we know, a big arm. That arm is why he’ll never lack for opportunities. Even the most gifted college quarterbacks have found the grass greener elsewhere. The three Heisman winners from 2017 through 2019 were transfers. Those three went No. 1 overall in their respective drafts. All three – Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow – are NFL starters.

I’d expect Daniels to do well wherever he alights, which means 2022 could mirror 2019. That was when some Bulldogs backers loudly declared their preference for the gifted quarterback who left over the successful quarterback who stayed. Georgia went 12-2, but it wasn’t a fun year.