LOS ANGELES — The confetti hadn’t finished falling into SoFi Stadium at the College Football Playoff National Championship when the big question began to arise: Now thisand with a team beating their opponents by a bigger margin than anyone else in the country, can the Bulldogs do it again in 2023?
If at this early hour in the offseason it feels immature to envision the quest for a three-peat, then consider what it would take to accomplish the feat and the obvious likelihood Georgia will have a good shot at something to do that hasn’t been done since Minnesota pulled off three consecutive titles from 1934-36.
“Damn,” noted Georgia second linebacker Smael Mondon, the team’s lead tackler since Monday night’s win, after being briefed on the historic note. “It’s a big opportunity but we’re going to take those two weeks, rest, get our bodies in order and go back and attack them.”
In two weeks, Georgia will begin winter training for 2023, when Mondon says the team will “flip the switch” from one season to the next. But in that moment, with Georgia setting up an entire second half to celebrate his hard work paying off in a comfortable title game, he and his classmates could seize the opportunity to “be legendary.”
“We talked about that on the sidelines,” he said. “We know what we can do, so it’s up to us to do it.”
Mondon is far from the only sophomore who played a key role in Monday night’s 65-7 win over TCU. Javon Bullard had two interceptions and was named defensive MVP of the game, linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler, and cornerback Kamari Lassiter finished third in tackles while adding a tackle for loss. Brock Bowers led the team with seven catches for 152 yards and a touchdown, while Adonai Mitchell added another touchdown on his triumphant return from an injury he battled late in the Georgia season.
All of these players are expected to be back for the 2023 campaign, along with the numerous newcomers who had become starters and key contributors by the end of the year. There’s also the expected emergence of highly rated prospects who were in the process of developing their journey, which was critical to the 2022 team’s success.
Development will be critical at the quarterback position, where three players will compete to replace one of the greatest quarterbacks in Georgia history in Stetson Bennett. Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton will be fighting for QB1 duties, but Kirby Smart has a lot of faith in offensive coordinator Todd Monken and his work developing the space. After all, it was Monken’s work with Bennett that turned a former walk-on into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“Coach Monken is doing an amazing job in this room,” said Smart. “And he did an incredible job with Stetson. And the fact that he’s playing on an NFL offense with an NFL coordinator who’s coached NFL quarterbacks should tell people he won’t get mumbles in his mouth spitting out seven-word calls. And a lot of NFL teams like that.”
There hasn’t been a three-pointer in 86 years because it’s extremely difficult to win in college football and it’s even harder to maintain that consistency from year to year in modern times. The transfer portal offers opportunities for massive roster changes, and the coaching staff sees changes every off-season. In a place like Georgia, the talent in the building is some of the most sought after in all of college football, both from other programs and the NFL.
Georgia has joined the extremely short list of Nebraska, USC and Alabama in terms of teams that have won back-to-back titles since 1980 in that turbulent environment. It’s harder than ever to just go back-to-back, so why can’t Georgia be the first program since World War II to have three peats?
Winning the 2022 title wasn’t entirely unexpected given preseason odds and the near-consensual top-three finish the Bulldogs wore early in the season. Still, the idea that the Bulldogs would exert such dominance over the rest of the sport was not a popular consideration. After all, this was a program that lost 15 players to the 2022 NFL Draft after winning everything, including eight starts on defense. Georgian football currently has high ground given the cumulative effect of highly rated recruitment classes, but it was still possible that we would see some regression given the squad change.
Interestingly, Smart believes the loss of so many starters and key contributors has made repeating easier than winning the championship again next season will be. Smart argues that entitlement is the biggest culture killer, and with so many of this year’s contributors back, he believes avoiding that entitlement will be one of the biggest challenges of the 2023 season.
“The biggest challenge is the same as in the world we live in today, in the society we live in: eligibility,” Smart said. “The moment you think you’re entitled to win games and you don’t have to work hard… think you only inherit success. And I personally think that next year will be a much more difficult challenge than this year because so many people left us last year.”
Senior cornerback Chris Smith, a native of Georgia, says the culture built during his time with the program will be combined with the talent to give the group a great opportunity to win it all next year. Having grown up with the Bulldogs, Smith understands how unique this achievement is in the history of the program and supported the foundation that was laid to make history.
“Absolutely,” Smith said when asked about the possibility of a three-peat. “The amount of talent these guys have, the amount of freak athletes these guys have and with the culture we’ve built, the sky’s the limit.”
If Georgia can avoid the “sickness” title, as Smart called it Monday night, then the Bulldogs have all the ingredients to do something historic. But one of the factors that contributes most to predicting that Georgia will be back at least in the College Football Playoffs is something the players and coaches have — for the most part — no control over: the starting-season schedule.
Georgia was supposed to play Oklahoma in the 2023 non-conference schedule, but the series was changed and the game was taken off the table due to the Sooners joining the SEC in the near future. As such, the Dawgs non-conference schedule now includes UT-Martin, Ball State, UAB and Georgia Tech.
The conference draw is also favorable with Ole Miss rotating to pair with SEC West’s Auburn and the Bulldogs only playing three real road games in conference play (Auburn, Vanderbilt, Tennessee) as this is a year in which the neutral site is The rivalry game against Florida counts as an away game (the two schools switch home street designations for the league’s 4-4 home and away schedule). It doesn’t take too much college football expertise to look at that schedule and hand the Bulldogs projected wins, which is probably why Smart is worried about the entitlement.
Let’s project those victories anyway.
It’s possible that given the schedule and what brings Georgia back, the Bulldogs will travel to Knoxville, Tenn. with a 10-0 record on Nov. 18 to secure another SEC East title in their conference finals. Being in that position would mean Georgia would have won 39 of their last 40 games and the program would have a record 83-10 since early 2017.
Reaching that position requires avoiding entitlement disease, but Smith doesn’t see the next group knocking out the same motivating factors carried over from 2021 to 2022.
“Just not to get complacent,” Smith said when asked about his message to the next group. “That was the same message we had earlier this year – don’t get complacent, don’t think you’re being given anything like this. Because it was definitely not given to us.
“We’ve had a lot of close decisions, a lot of tough games, but you just keep hacking and focus on that single-minded goal. Nothing can stop you.”
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