LOS ANGELES — Try to pick the moment Georgia became the college football standard.
Whatever your answer, it certainly wasn’t Monday when the No. 1 Bulldogs won their second straight College Football Playoff National Championship, taking all hope away not only from their opponent but from the rest of the sport.
What else is there to say in what has been hailed as the greatest ever beatdown in a national title fight?
Georgia scored nine touchdowns, beat the overwhelmed TCU No. 3 by more than eight touchdowns, and sent a shiver of fear through the other 129 FBS teams, which read something like this: Don’t even think about it.
After Georgia lost a record 15 players to the NFL Draft after surviving a trip to Missouri (of all things) and being down by two touchdowns in the CFP semifinals, Georgia left no doubt. That and a trail of casualties that ranks as the nation’s leading winning streak spanning 17 games.
None of this begins to describe what happened in LA on Monday night. The result was so complete quarterback Stetson Bennett IV was almost a sidebar. Nearly. The former sixth-year walk-on ended an unlikely career with an all-time performance: four passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and a well-deserved fourth-quarter curtain.
Talk about a walk. Georgia coach Kirby Smart scheduled time out so his aged quarterback could do just that for eternity in front of the ecstatic crowd at SoFi Stadium.
Even Bennett had to be behind the main headline after the 65-7 win over TCU: Georgia is the first team to win consecutive national championships in a decade and the first to do so at all in the CFP era, and has second by a record margin won an FBS bowl game (58 points). Smart was Nick Saban’s coordinator on the last team that went back-to-back (Alabama, 2011-12).
Where is college football going from here? For now, the answer to that question goes through Athens, Georgia.
“We have a saying, ‘You have to eat off the floor. When you’re ready to eat off the floor, you can be special,'” Smart shared.
Rough but appropriate. These Dawgs belonged to both the junkyard species and the dominant breed. Smart has berated his players after winning the 2021 title, reminding them they would not defend anything. This was a new year. Twenty months ago, Bennett didn’t take a snap during spring 2021 training. On Monday, he became the sixth quarterback to win consecutive national titles since the 1970s.
Bennett’s only setback over the past week was complaining about the early start to practice and not enough free time. Smart’s response: “You only get one chance to be legendary. I won’t leave any regrets out there.”
And so, in the city that invented the three-peat, Georgia created its chance to become the first program to win three consecutive undisputed college football national championships. The last to do so at all was Minnesota, which split its 1934-1936 media-granted titles.
Judging by his post-game comments, Smart was already considering the possibility.
“The disease that creeps into your program is called ‘eligibility,'” Smart said. “I’ve seen it firsthand, and if you can stamp it down with leadership, you can stay hungry.”
That winning streak might as well stretch to the horizon. Not Alabama, not Clemson, not even close to that point. Georgia is the new standard of sport.
“I would say it sends the message that Georgia is the new powerhouse in college football,” said running back Kendall Milton.
New? Barely. Georgia is 33-1 in its last 34 games. His 29 wins over the past two seasons tie the major college record. Smart has been at 73-10 since 2017. Bennett leaves after six seasons — five of them in Georgia — with 15 touchdowns in four playoff games. There was a time when he didn’t get four snaps in one workout.
Georgia’s 65 points was the highest in the championship games era (1998). The 58-point winning margin was the highest in any bowl game ever.
And that despite the fact that the Dawgs went down as the biggest favorite in CFP history (13.5 points according to Caesars Sportsbook). They covered with 44 points remaining. At one point early in the third quarter, UGA had played 45 games and scored 45 points.
But if one needs a turning point, perhaps eight years ago, Smart left one dynasty in Alabama to found another at his alma mater. That’s why Monday was more of a continuation than a milestone.
Win or lose, there would be a dynasty discussion on these dawgs. Now the “D” word might as well be etched into the hedges at Sanford Stadium. Seven years into his Georgia career, Smart has a better record than Saban did at the same time (81-15 vs. 79-15). Smart is 3-2 behind Saban after seven years, but that’s a minor detail as the Georgia boss is 24 years younger than his former boss.
Georgia’s stranglehold on the sport looks as tight as the one Alabama once held. On Monday, Georgia pushed Cinderella into a ditch.
“You know how people talk about us being hunted?” asked RB Kenny McIntosh. “We are the hunters. We are not hunted.”
Every team in the country wants the blueprint and they will try to get it too. But Smart has already strengthened the squad and even his assistants appear to be sticking with it.
At the end of the first half, a tweet went to Aaron Murray. As the Dawgs mopped the lawn of SoFi Stadium with various Horned Frogs, reaching out to the program’s career-leading passer became important.
Please, he was asked, try to put into context Monday’s butt whipping at the CFP National Championship. Is Bennett the greatest Georgia quarterback of all time?
“He’s damn right!!!” wrote Murray, whom Bennett handed over as UGA’s passing guide for a season.
Murray added: “Stetson is now the greatest player in UGA history! Face his resume to everyone after tonight. It cannot be touched.”
Such an absolute is debatable. However, here’s one thing that’s undeniable: Bennett is finally done. The absurdity of the ending for one of college football’s greatest players — he must be called that now — is that Bennett can never make it into the College Football Hall of Fame. It is only served to first-team All-Americans.
“I’ve been here long enough,” he said after the game. “I’m sure there’s a play tape there [for NFL teams]. I do not know — [I’m a] hard worker, pretty good at soccer, smart. But they will see. I do not know. This will take care of itself. Today we are state champions.”
Trivial to say that Bennett has his whole life ahead of him, he figured he is at least the second-oldest quarterback to win a national championship since Chris Weinke led Florida State to a title in 1999 at the age of 27.
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens was born the same year as Bennett, 1997. Jackson just finished his fifth NFL season. Former UCLA star Josh Rosen, also 25, plays with the Detroit Lions for his seventh NFL team.
Smart found his 10-year-old son Andrew crying in the bowels of SoFi Stadium after the game.
“Why are you crying?” Smart asked, “You’re going to ruin my moment. [He told me,] “Stetson is leaving. Stetson is gone.’ I said, ‘He’s 25 years old, he has to go.’”
Next is a group of up to 15 returning starters. Georgia will compete in 2023 as the No. 1 preseason. New stories will be written.
“Once you get into college, it doesn’t matter,” said QB Carson Beck, a redshirt sophomore who will be fighting for the starting job next season. “Once you get on campus, everyone’s a mate — especially at the University of Georgia.”
Where everyone’s a… buddy.
That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a fourth-quarter, two-touchdown rally in the Peach Bowl semifinals against No. 4 State. If Bennett hadn’t completed his final six passes of the game to win it in the dying seconds, this certainly wouldn’t have happened.
will it ever end Not soon. Not with 2023 non-conference games against UT-Martin, Ball State and UAB to open next season. Not with Georgia’s first road game taking place in Auburn on September 30th.
Face it: it might be worth getting some action on this three-peat with your favorite sports bet.
Bear Bryant’s Alabama came close in 1966. Saban’s Alabama was thwarted by the Kick Six in 2013.
As is trending, Georgia alone could kill the idea of a 12-team playoff. Why bother? The championship was the SEC’s 13th in the past 17 years. After 41 years without one, Georgia has now cornered the national title market.
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