College football’s “poll era” began in 1936. Since then, only 15 teams have won back-to-back national championships, as recognized by the NCAA. Alabama did it last, in 2011 and 2012. That was during the Bowl Championship Series era. The transfer portal wasn’t yet a thing, there wasn’t so much irrational money for assistant coaches to chase and a title could be won without a top NFL prospect at quarterback.

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Georgia brought that last part back in 2021 by winning it all with Stetson Bennett. He’ll give it another go in 2022 along with all but four of Kirby Smart’s on-field assistants from last season. It’s harder than ever to win back-to-back national championships in college football. The Bulldogs have the program stability to pull it off. That mission is aided by the diminished state of their SEC East challengers and annual West opponent Auburn.

That big-picture view should alleviate any angst about Georgia offensive line coach Matt Luke resigning this week. Luke, who also had the title of associate head coach, told Smart he wants to spend more time with his family. His replacement will be key because Georgia’s offensive line has been central to its ascension to the title.

A dominant defense is the other part of Smart’s championship formula. His coordinator for the past three seasons, Dan Lanning, left to be Oregon’s head coach. Up to six Georgia defenders are projected to be selected high in the next NFL draft. I assume the Bulldogs still will play championship-level defense in 2022. They always do with Smart as head coach.

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Smart’s defensive infrastructure is strong. The Bulldogs got over the top in 2021 because their offense hit new heights. That’s why it’s a boon for Georgia that coordinator Todd Monken is still on staff. Monken directed Smart’s highest-scoring offense in 2021. He did it with incumbent quarterback JT Daniels getting hurt early in the season and No. 1 wide receiver George Pickens not returning until late.

Monken was an NFL coordinator from 2016 to 2019. He called the plays in 2018 for Tampa Bay. The Bucs ranked 12th in points scored with turnover magnet Jameis Winston at quarterback (their lowest-scoring game that season was with ex-Falcons coordinator Dirk Koetter calling plays). Monken’s work for Tampa Bay that season and with Georgia last season should have made Monken a candidate to return to the NFL.

That won’t be happening. All nine NFL head coach openings this cycle have been filled. ESPN reports that Kentucky’s Liam Coen is set to join the Rams, who had the last offensive coordinator opening in the NFL. Georgia will keep Monken unless something weird happens.

AJC Bulldogs beat writer Chip Towers reports that Monken is seeking a raise and contract extension. He’s due $1.25 million in 2022 and $1.4 million in 2023. Monken surely will get a pay bump. His salary is mid-pack among top SEC assistants, and UGA will pay its co-defensive coordinators $800,000 each.

Georgia’s on-field coaching staff will be set once Monken gets his new contract and Smart finds a new offensive line coach. Losing four on-field assistants, including only one coordinator, is good staff continuity for an elite team nowadays. Also consider that Will Muschamp, Georgia’s new co-defensive coordinator, already was on staff.

SEC East rivals hoping to see an exodus of players and coaches from Georgia are left disappointed. Wide receiver Jermaine Burton’s transfer to Alabama leaves the Bulldogs without a proven, elite wide receiver. They otherwise made out OK with the transfer portal. UGA’s most important assistant, Monken, is staying. The other East teams can’t count on the Bulldogs slipping to close the big gap.

Smart’s Bulldogs were 4-4 in the SEC during his first season. They are 36-6 against SEC opponents since then. Four of those losses were against Bama. Just two of those six defeats were against East opponents.

South Carolina won at Sanford Stadium in 2019. I still can’t explain that bizarre loss. Florida routed the Bulldogs in 2020, after losing to them by a touchdown the year before. Those results suggested Dan Mullen’s Gators might be a problem for UGA. That threat quickly subsided.

Florida fired Mullen after his program went off the rails last season. Mullen’s successor, Billy Napier, is getting good reviews for the staff he’s assembled. There still will be a transition period. Also, Florida’s recruiting classes have lagged behind its peers over the past four cycles: seventh, fifth, sixth and fifth in the SEC, per 247Sports.

According to the betting markets, Florida is the second-best team in the East. If that’s the case, then the Bulldogs should have a relatively easy time in the division again. Georgia’s 29-2 record against East teams over the past five seasons includes 28 victories by a margin of at least two scores. Exclude Kentucky’s garbage-time score, and no East opponent in 2021 played UGA to a margin of fewer than three touchdowns.

Kentucky’s ambitions to challenge Georgia took a hit when Coen decided to go back to working for his mentor, Rams coach Sean McVay. I thought Coen had a good plan when Kentucky came to Athens in October. Georgia’s defense was just too good. Wildcats quarterback Will Levis was good for them after transferring from Penn State. He’s back, but it’s doubtful they’ll find a comparable replacement for Coen this late in the cycle.

Tennessee is the other East team that could make a move up in 2022. Coach Josh Heupel revived the offense in his first season. He managed to retain all his on-field assistants for Year 2. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is back for a sixth season of eligibility. Still, the Volunteers lost 41-17 to Georgia in November and must come to Athens next season, so there’s a lot of ground to make up.

The Bulldogs shouldn’t have much trouble in the SEC East again in 2022. Auburn is a mess. Alabama is Georgia’s main obstacle, as always. Nick Saban can tell Smart how hard it is to win back-to-back national championships. The Crimson Tide were preseason No. 1 the year following each of their six titles with Saban and repeated once.

Smart’s Bulldogs finally overtook Alabama in 2021. They are the second betting choice (3-1) to win the 2022 national championship, behind Alabama (3-1). The Bulldogs have the program stability to go back-to-back.