Bradley’s Buzz: Mighty Georgia is rumbling still

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

When the reigning champ begins its title defense by beating the best opponent it’s apt to face by 46 points, the rest of its regular season isn’t apt to dazzle. How many more huzzahs can one team prompt?

This correspondent watched the reigning champ lay waste to Oregon on Sept. 3, prompting a missive that bore the headline: “What if – gulp – Georgia is better than it was last year?” Others among our chattering class offered similar sentiments. Almost two months later, the Bulldogs haven’t disappointed.

They’re 7-0. They’ve outscored the opposition by an average of 32.6 points, outgained it by 279.5 yards. Those gaudy figures mark improvements over last season, which ended with the Bulldogs 14-1 and winners of the College Football Playoff. They’ve been ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll seven of the eight weeks since their emphatic opener, the exception coming after a close call at Missouri.

Georgia has since outscored Auburn and Vanderbilt 97-10. After Alabama lost at Tennessee, the Bulldogs returned to No. 1. They’ll face Florida in Jacksonville on Saturday. They’re favored by 22.5 points. No Georgia team has been favored by so much against the Gators. This was the part of the schedule that figured to get testing, though nothing yet suggests there are any exams Georgia can’t ace.

By its standards, Florida is pedestrian. It’s hard to imagine a team that suffered 10-point home losses to Kentucky and LSU coming close to Georgia on a neutral field. When the season commenced, the guess was that the Bulldogs’ November trip to Lexington on Nov. 19 would be the most difficult assignment. That thinking has changed. At least for the moment, Tennessee has risen to No. 3 in the land.

Credit the Vols. They’re No. 1 nationally in total offense. They’re also No. 103 in total defense. Georgia is No. 2 in the latter category, No. 4 in the former. Which team would you say is the more balanced?

If Bulldog Nation wasn’t by nature a collection of doubters, decades of listening to Larry Munson would have made it so. Georgia fans still have concerns, Stetson Bennett again heading the list. But the plaints haven’t resonated this season. It’s hard to work up a good fret when you’re No. 1 a year after finishing No. 1. What was true in 2021 remains true in 2022: It will take a powerful team playing well to beat the Bulldogs.

Oh, and there aren’t many powerful teams. And Georgia doesn’t often allow its opponents to play well.

This isn’t to stay Georgia can’t lose. The 2021 Bulldogs were routed by Alabama in the SEC championship game, not that it mattered. When it counted, Georgia outscored Bama 20-0 over the final eight minutes of the CFP final. That victory changed everything for this program and its architect. Having won it all once, Kirby Smart knows the drill.

His reaction after the Missouri scare was telling. He mentioned that his offensive line had gotten its “ass whipped,” but he didn’t offer up a rant. His team trailed by 10 with 14 minutes remaining, whereupon it outscored the Tigers 14-0 and outgained them 185 yards to 14. Even champs have lesser days. Georgia seized its lesser day and made it go right.

Caveat: Winning it all two seasons running has happened only once in the BCS/CFP era, Alabama having done the double in 2011 and 2012. After going unbeaten in 2013, Florida State and Jameis Winston wobbled the next year before being routed by Oregon. After winning the first playoff, Ohio State stumbled against Michigan State and didn’t qualify the next year. Bama won a title with Tua Tagavailoa as a freshman reserve but not in his two years as a starter.

The Bulldogs have enough credibility that they might again make the playoff with one loss. That loss won’t come in Jacksonville. It probably won’t come against Tennessee. It might not come at all.

The above is part of an ongoing exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras including a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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