After their repeat triumph, will Georgia be college football's next dynasty?
With consecutive national championships now proudly on display in the trophy room in Athens, the University of Georgia stands on the brink of a historic third straight triumph as one of the favourites to win it all next season. Will the Bulldogs be college football's next dynasty?
Georgia retains national championship, thrashes TCU 65-7
After two spectacular semi-finals, there was a certain inevitability about college football's showpiece finale. TCU, having scrapped their way through the latter stages of the season to reach the promised land of the College Football Playoff, were brutally exposed by a ruthless Georgia team.
On paper, Georgia's national championship-winning class of 2021 were arguably more talented than their counterparts this year, but the sheer determination of the 2022 Bulldogs drove them to a historic repeat, matched only by Alabama (2011 & 2012) and USC (2003 & 2004) in the BCS era. Their winning margin, 58 points, the largest in a national championship game, bettered the existing record by 22 points (USC's 55-19 win over Oklahoma in 2004).
Stetson Bennett IV, who would have seemed like the unlikeliest of heroes when he first walked on to campus in Athens in 2017. Having initially transferred to Jones County Junior College, before returning in 2019, Bennett left the field and his college football career behind early in the fourth quarter as arguably one of the greatest players in Bulldogs history. In 46 minutes and 35 seconds of play, he accounted for six touchdowns, throwing for four and running in another two. Bennett completed 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards before handing the reins to redshirt junior Carson Beck, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2020. Beck is currently the presumed heir to Bennett at quarterback next season, if he can hold off the challenge of Brock Vandagriff. He'll have some big shoes to fill.
Bennett put the exclamation mark on an extraordinary college career, the kind Disney films are made of, with a stellar performance in his final game. Georgia's often-overlooked field general threw two touchdown passes in the first half alone. Ladd McConkey caught two touchdown passes while tight end Brock Bowers, a clear first-round prospect for the 2024 draft, hauled in seven catches for 152 yards. TCU were overrun, literally. Georgia gained 254 yards on the ground.
It was a sorry end to a fairytale season for TCU, who were a win away from their first national title since 1938. No glass slipper for them, sadly, but the Horned Frogs were a great story. Going into the season unranked with a new head coach, Sonny Dykes' team displayed an unrelenting determination to win, ending up victorious in nine games they won by ten points or less, many coming from behind, led by their flame-haired quarterback, the gutsy Max Duggan.
Eyes are already on next season. While TCU regroups, Georgia looks ahead knowing they have an opportunity to make history with a third consecutive win to become college football's new dynasty. Can they do it?
What does it take to dominate in the college football game?
Kirby Smart, who played a key role in establishing Alabama's dominance, as their defensive coordinator for seven years, knows what building a dynasty entails. Having cut his teeth at Valdosta State, Smart spent two years at Florida State as graduate assistant to late, great Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden. Under arguably the greatest coach in college football history to date, Nick Saban, Smart won the Broyles Award for college football's best assistant coach at Alabama in 2009, and helped the Crimson Tide win the 2010 and 2011 national championships, beating Texas and LSU respectively. Smart had previously worked for Saban as a defensive backs coach in his last season at LSU.
Having been a protege of Saban's, Smart learned what it takes to build a championship winning program, resulting in back-to-back national championships. History awaits if he can pull off a third straight. Only the University of Minnesota has achieved this, in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Despite the lauded programs of Ohio State under Woody Hayes, Notre Dame under Frank Leahy, Jimmy Johnson's Miami, Pete Carroll's USC and the vaunted Crimson Tide teams of Bear Bryant and Saban, no-one has since managed to match the Golden Gophers' three-peat.
Scarily, Georgia managed to improve after losing 15 players to last year's NFL Draft. Jalen Carter, arguably a better defensive lineman that his team-mates and first round picks Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, has been imperious in his command of college football's trenches. Two other members of the Bulldogs' defense, Travon Walker, selected at No.1 overall, and Quay Walker were also key losses whose departures have made minimal impact. 13 more players are projected to be taken in this year's draft.
Georgia's recruiting program has been sensational. Since 2017, a year after Smart took the reigns, they have finished with a top-four high school recruiting class every year. The Bulldogs have the No.2 overall recruiting class of 2023, including a reported seven five-star recruits. Bennett, as highlighted earlier, was a walk-on.
Dylan Raiola, the No.1 ranked high school prospect from the Class of 2024, has decommitted from Ohio State and latest whispers suggest he will now choose to play his college ball at Georgia. To remain above your competition, you need to continue to attract the best talent year after year, harder still in the changing landscape of recruitment with the growing influence of NIL.
Competition and rivalry
The great college football teams were pushed to greater heights by their rivals and competitors. The great Ohio State team of Woody Hayes were driven to beat Bo Schembechler's Michigan throughout their fabled "Ten Year War" in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Notre Dame were rivalled by Earl Blaik's Army and Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma teams in the late Forties, while Miami fought off Jimmy Johnson's successor at the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Switzer and his Oklahoma team.
Smart has a clear rival - the Alabama team he helped shape into the most dominant football force in recent years are an annual threat for the SEC championship, in addition to a resurgent LSU and Tennessee, whom Georgia faces in front of a hostile Knoxville crowd on November 18th. The College Football Playoff has seen regular visits from Ohio State and Clemson in recent years. Both will be rebuilding, licking their wounds from difficult seasons and keen to bounce back. Michigan has emerged as a contender and the expectations from the millions of dollars USC have thrown at coach Lincoln Riley means the Playoff will become a realistic target this season, less so when they move to the Big Ten.
Daniel Shirley, senior college football editor at The Athletic, recalls: "A few years ago when Clemson won two of three national titles, some people said Clemson had surpassed Alabama to be the No.1 program. But I didn't feel that way. Alabama was still ALABAMA."
So, what's different about this Georgia team? "The feeling is a little different now. Georgia has climbed to the top of college football, and it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere any time soon, not as long as Kirby Smart is running the UGA program."
Smart has everything in place to keep UGA at the top, and he's as competitive and driven as anyone out there to keep Georgia where it is right now: running the sport."
Georgia seems to have all the ingredients needed to win a third straight title and write themselves into history, who would bet against them?