Next in the Stetson Bennett saga: What (and where) now?

January 15, 2022 Athens - Georgia's quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) gestures as he takes in the DawgWalk during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, January 15, 2022. Georgia captured the national championship, its first since the 1980 season, with a 33-18 victory over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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January 15, 2022 Athens - Georgia's quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) gestures as he takes in the DawgWalk during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, January 15, 2022. Georgia captured the national championship, its first since the 1980 season, with a 33-18 victory over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Once upon a time, the highest status to which a 20ish male could aspire was being BMOC – “big man on campus.” This tended to be an athlete and, given that most colleges pay more attention to football than any other sport, it tended to be the starting quarterback.

Stetson Fleming Bennett IV just finished a season as Georgia’s starting quarterback. It ended with him being named MVP of the College Football Playoff final. Not incidentally, this season yielded the Bulldogs’ first national championship in 41 years, which was why a chilly January Saturday saw 100,000 or so folks venture outdoors to bear witness to a parade/celebration.

Bennett has a year’s eligibility remaining. (Owing to COVID, the NCAA declared the 2020 season wouldn’t count.) If you’re asking, “What could be better than hanging around Athens as the quarterback of a team aiming for another championship?”, you haven’t been paying attention.

Some Georgia fans will forever insist their team won it all not because of Bennett but in spite of him. He has long insisted he doesn’t hear the “noise,” and he’ll show you his flip phone – it’s hard to track social media on an antique – to prove it. But the tears he shed after Kelee Ringo’s clinching pick-6 in Indianapolis told a different story. They told us Bennett had triumphed over a public skepticism most among us will never know.

On “Good Morning America” – being MVP has its perks – Bennett said: “I’m going to play football this year. We just don’t know where.” This brings us to the heart of our tangled tale. Do Georgia fans want him back?

Fans don’t get a vote. They do, however, have a voice – social media, which can sometimes be antisocial media. Bennett spent the past two seasons being told he wasn’t good enough to be Georgia’s QB. That he proved otherwise will be a nice warm feeling in the weeks and decades ahead. That doesn’t mean he won’t hear that JT Daniels/Brock Vandagriff/Carson Beck/Gunner Stockton is better than he is when next Bennett throws an incompletion, even if it’s on G-Day.

Being a 5-foot-11 quarterback, Bennett mightn’t be drafted by an NFL team. Jake Fromm, who’s 6-2 and who almost led Georgia to a national title, was taken in Round 5 two years ago. That isn’t to say Bennett couldn’t get a look as a free agent – as a walk-on, he made his UGA mark with his Baker Mayfield imitation as a scout teamer before the 2017 Rose Bowl – and we’ve learned not to discount this man’s will and the wiles.

Turning pro, even if the aim is just to make a roster, carries the benefit of being paid to play football. Thanks to NIL money – the rights to a student-athlete’s name, image and likeness – a collegian can make above-the-table cash while remaining an amateur. In the week since Georgia beat Bama, we’ve seen Bennett do a stint at the drive-thru window of Raising Cane, a chicken restaurant, and extol the experience of having his hair cut at GreatClips.

Drew Butler, the former Georgia punter who works in the nascent NIL business, told the AJC’s Tim Tucker: “If Stetson is interested in it, he could become the highest-paid player in all of college sports.” How much might the highest-paid college player – that phrase alone shows how much our world has changed – make? Millions, Butler said.

So there’s that. There’s also the possibility, Tucker reported, of a movie deal. (The Hollywood pitch: “If you reveled in ‘Rudy,’ you’ll swoon for Stetson.”) In the long term, Bennett won’t lack for opportunities. He told GMA he’d like to go to law school. But if he wants to play football next season and the NFL isn’t a viable option, what is?

Some of Georgia’s quarterbacks will transfer. It’s what quarterbacks do. (Bennett himself spent a season at a Mississippi JUCO before returning to Athens.) It’s not unprecedented for the No. 1 QB of a playoff team to be demoted: In 2018, it happened with Jalen Hurts at Alabama and Kelly Bryant at Clemson. If Bennett has reason to believe the Bulldogs might again choose someone else, is it unthinkable that the MVP of Indy would enter the transfer portal?

Bennett on GMA: “We will see if I can trust the decisions made by the staff.”

Bennett will turn 24 in October. There aren’t many 24-year-olds playing college football – nor have there been many sixth-year seniors – but his story is remarkable in so many ways we’ve lost count. What would be absolutely nuts if, come Sept. 3, Georgia takes the field in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and sees Stetson Fleming Bennett IV starting for the Oregon Ducks.

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