Why Georgia football will three-peat

Georgia coach Kirby Smart speaks during NCAA college football SEC Media Days, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart speaks during NCAA college football SEC Media Days, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The Bulldogs were the best team in college football last season. They weren’t invincible. Remember when mediocre Missouri had them on the ropes? Ohio State had Georgia rattled in the Peach Bowl before Marvin Harrison Jr. was knocked out of the game on a hit that was penalized for targeting before being overturned.

I don’t say that to diminish UGA’s national championship. I’m just pointing out that it takes some luck for even great teams like the 2022 Bulldogs to win at all. Georgia beat long odds to win back-to-back titles. They have an even lower probability of doing it three times in a row. Minnesota is the last team to pull it off, from 1934-36.

I say Georgia will beat the probabilities and become the first team to win three national championships in college football’s modern era. It won’t be easy, of course. The Bulldogs won’t go undefeated again. But they’ll surely make it back to the College Football Playoff Championship game and, once there, handle business again.

Whatever doubts I have about Georgia are alleviated by Kirby Smart’s defense and the schedule. Great defense is what separated the Bulldogs from other contenders during their championship runs. There’s no surer bet than Georgia fielding an elite defense again. And no other national title hopeful will play an easier slate than the Bulldogs. They’ll have plenty of time to work out any issues against overmatched opponents.

We won’t really know how good the Bulldogs are until Week 5 at the earliest. That’s when they play at Auburn. The Tigers should be pretty good. That’s not nearly good enough to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs won’t play the only two preseason ranked opponents on the schedule, Ole Miss and Tennessee, until November. The Rebels and Volunteers will have a chance if everything goes right for them and enough goes wrong for Georgia.

Quarterback Carson Beck is facing high expectations while replacing UGA’s all-time best quarterback, Stetson Bennett. Beck won’t face many pressure situations while growing into the starting role against the easy early schedule. UGA’s running backs will have time to heal. The defense will have space to figure out who will be the next starts to replace the many who’ve gone on to the NFL over the past two seasons.

The other CFP contenders won’t have that luxury.

Alabama is scheduled to play five ranked teams ranked in one of the two major preseason polls. The Crimson Tide will face three of those opponents within the first six weeks. LSU opens with No. 8 Florida State, one of four ranked foes on the schedule. Ohio State also will play a total of four preseason ranked foes, with three of those games before UGA sees one. Michigan is scheduled to play only two ranked teams, like Georgia, but won’t face an FCS squad. Georgia has Tennessee-Martin coming to Athens on Saturday.

Bad luck is the only thing that can stop the Bulldogs. That’s what sank the last team to attempt a three-peat, Alabama in 2013. The Crimson Tide didn’t make the title game because they lost at Auburn on the famous “Kick Six” play in the regular-season finale. That was unfortunate for them, but then again, the Tide needed luck with results in other games to qualify for the title games in 2011 and 2012.

It’s easier to stay on track for a national championship with one loss in the CFP era. That gives Georgia an advantage over all the other teams that have tried to three-peat. The Bulldogs will have an unexpected loss this season, but not two. They are the clear choice to win a national championship, and it’s difficult to find any disagreement about that outside of the pundits on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”

According to statistician Kennth Massey, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in 44 of 49 preseason polls that he tracks. The Bulldogs received 60 of 63 first-place votes in the Associated Press preseason poll. All but five of 66 college football coaches voted UGA No. 1 in their poll.

Georgia is the betting favorite to win the national championship, with about 2-1 odds. Alabama has the next shortest odds at 6-1. Converting those numbers into implied odds, Georgia has a 31% chance to three-peat and Alabama has a 14% chance of retaking the crown. The Bulldogs are on another level as far as the betting markets are concerned.

ESPN’s Football Power Index is one of the few dissenters. FPI favors Ohio State (30%) to win the national championship. Alabama (21%) and Georgia (16%) are next. It appears FPI downgraded the chances of both Alabama and Georgia winning it all because it figures it will be one or the other. That’s a reasonable view.

Nick Saban’s program is the only one that recruits on Georgia’s level. The Crimson Tide lost two games by a combined four points last season. Like Georgia, Alabama is replacing a high-level starter (Bryce Young) at quarterback. Unlike Georgia, Alabama’s likely QB replacement, Jalen Milroe, has played meaningful snaps.

It’s possible that Georgia and Alabama meet in the postseason, just like old times, and the Tide prevail. But I’m not buying Bama as an obstacle to the Bulldogs until Saban gets his defense back up to his standard. Smart is the only other coach to sustain defense at that level. That’s one reason Georgia is favored to win it all again. The soft schedule is another.

Those factors are why the Bulldogs will become the first modern college football team to win three national championships in a row.


Tennessee-Martin at Georgia, 6 p.m., SEC Network +, 750, 95.5, 1380

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