Quarterback Stetson Bennett and a second wave of defenders left for the NFL after the Bulldogs won the 2022 national title. They still were the preseason favorites to win it all in 2023. Georgia didn’t make the CFP field this season, but the experts who put money where their mouth is believe the machine isn’t slowing down.
The Bulldogs are 4½-1 to win it all. You can guess who’s right behind them in the pecking order. Alabama is 6-1 and Ohio State is 8-1. New SEC member Texas is 9-1. Michigan is 10-1. New Big Ten member Oregon is 11-1.
It’s easy to understand why the Bulldogs are college football’s chalk for 2024. Start with past performance. The Bulldogs are 42-2 over the past three seasons with two national championships. They narrowly missed getting to the CFP this season. That won’t happen again with one loss because the playoff field is expanding from four to 12 next season.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart doesn’t have to worry about the most important position on the roster. Carson Beck was among the best quarterbacks in college football for 2023. He might top the list in 2024. If Beck should regress or sustain a serious injury, then Jayden Maiava is an experienced second option. He announced Monday that he’s transferring to Athens from UNLV.
The Bulldogs will be title contenders again. I’m sure lots of Georgia’s supporters watched the CFP games and believed their team would have bested Michigan and Washington. Maybe so, but the Bulldogs couldn’t beat Bama. That brings me to the first reason to doubt whether Georgia can win the 2024 national championship.
Alabama is on Georgia’s schedule for 2024. The Bulldogs play at Tuscaloosa in September. They must go to Austin to play Texas in October, and they are at Ole Miss in November. Those are three road games against teams that that figure to be ranked in the preseason top 10, if not the top five. Georgia also faces Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Tennessee at home.
I mentioned that the Bulldogs won’t be left out of the 2024 CFP with one loss. They’d probably be in with two losses, depending on the opponents. Georgia likely will be out with three losses unless it somehow earned the SEC’s automatic bid for the league champion.
One good reason why the Bulldogs are favored to win it all is that it’s hard to imagine them losing three games. It happened in 2018, but the third loss was in the Sugar Bowl. That was a consolation game after Georgia lost the SEC title game to Alabama. The Bulldogs won the next year’s Sugar Bowl under similar circumstances. Throw out the strange 2020 season, and they’ve lost two games since then.
Still, we just saw the Bulldogs scuffle to win some games against a schedule that was much softer than what they’ll face in 2024. It finally caught up to them against Bama, the best opponent they faced all year. And while Beck’s return obviously is a big deal, there are major questions about Georgia’s roster elsewhere.
Georgia’s best playmaker, tight end Brock Bowers, declared for the NFL draft. Also going pro: top wide receiver Ladd McConkey and emerging big-play threat Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. Smart’s one weakness with roster-building has been an inability to sign, develop and retain top-tier wide receivers. Now Bowers won’t be around to make up for it.
Georgia’s defense has potential issues, too. The front seven faltered against the run in 2023 and failed to menace quarterbacks like usual. I figured Smart would shore up the linebacker and defensive line with the transfer portal, but that hasn’t really happened. Smart has done well recruiting prep prospects for those positions. Now he and his staff will have to help develop young players to get Georgia’s defense back to its standard.
The Bulldogs aren’t the only national title contender with significant questions. Others have bigger issues. The exception is, of course, Alabama. Nick Saban’s program is the only one that recruits on Georgia’s level. That’s reason to believe that the Crimson Tide, like Georgia, can get through a tough schedule with no more than two losses.
The other title hopefuls have bigger holes to fill.
Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft. Texas will have to replace Big 12 defensive player of the year T’vondre Sweat and offensive stars Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Ja’Tavion Sanders. Even if Harbaugh stays at Michigan to coach a talent-depleted team, the NCAA might punish the program for alleged recruiting and sign-stealing violations.
I predicted that Georgia would lose one game this season on the way back to the CFP. The Bulldogs did lose only one game. It was just the wrong one. One loss won’t sink Georgia next season. Two losses are possible. Three losses are unthinkable.
The Bulldogs are worthy favorites to win the 2024 national championship.