Georgia’s dominant national championship win sends clear message to rest of sport: Don’t even think about it

LOS ANGELES — Try to pick the moment when Georgia became the college football standard.

Whatever your answer, it sure as hell wasn’t Monday when the No. 1 Bulldogs won their second straight College Football Playoff National Championship and stripped not only their opponent but the rest of the sport of all hope.

What else are you supposed to say in what qualified as the biggest beatdown ever a national title game?

Georgia scored nine touchdowns, won by more than eight touchdowns against outmanned No. 3 TCU and sent a shiver of fear through the other 129 FBS teams that read something like this: Don’t even think about it.

After losing a record 15 players to the NFL Draft, after surviving a trip to Missouri (of all places) and after being down by two touchdowns in the CFP semifinal, Georgia left no doubt. That and a trail of victims 17 games long standing as the nation’s leading winning streak.

None of it begins to describe what transpired Monday night in L.A. The result was so complete that quarterback Stetson Bennett IV was almost a sidebar. Almost. The sixth-year former walk-on completed an unlikely career with an all-time performance: four passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and a well-deserved curtain call in the fourth quarter.

Talk about a walk off. Georgia coach Kirby Smart called a timeout so his aged quarterback for the ages could do just that before the adoring SoFi Stadium crowd.

Even Bennett had to stand behind the main headline after the 65-7 mauling of TCU: Georgia is the first team to win consecutive national championships in a decade and first ever to do it in the CFP era, taking the second by a record margin in an FBS bowl game (58 points). Smart was Nick Saban’s coordinator on the last team to go back-to-back (Alabama, 2011-12).

Where does college football go from here? For now, the answer to that question goes through Athens, Georgia.

“We have a saying around our place: ‘You have to eat off floor. If you’re willing to eat off the floor, you can be special,'” Smart shared.

Gross, yet fitting. These Dawgs were both of the junkyard variety and dominating breed. Smart harped on his players after winning the 2021 title, reminding that they weren’t defending anything. This was a new year. Twenty months ago, Bennett didn’t take one snap in 2021 spring practice. On Monday, he became the sixth quarterback since the 1970s to win consecutive national titles.

Bennett’s only pushback this past week was complaining about the early start to practice and not having enough free time. Smart’s response: “You only get once chance to be legendary. I’m not going to leave any regret out there.”

And so, in the city that invented the three-peat, Georgia created its chance to become the first program to win three straight undisputed college football national championships. The last to do it at all was Minnesota, which split its titles as awarded by the media from 1934-36.

Judging by his postgame comments, Smart was already thinking about the possibility.

“The disease that creeps into your program is called ‘entitlement,'” Smart said. “I’ve seen it firsthand, and if you can stomp it out with leadership, then you can stay hungry.”

That winning streak might as well stretch to the horizon. Not Alabama, not Clemson, not even close at this point. Georgia is the sport’s new standard.

“I would say it sends the message that Georgia is the new powerhouse in college football,” running back Kendall Milton said.

New? Hardly. Georgia is 33-1 in its last 34 games. Its 29 wins over the last two season ties the major college record. Smart is 73-10 since 2017. Bennett leaves after six seasons — five of them at Georgia — accounting for 15 touchdowns in four playoff games. There was a time he wouldn’t get four snaps in a practice.

Georgia’s 65 points were the most in the championship game era (1998). The 58-point margin of victory was the most in any bowl game, ever.

This despite the Dawgs entering as the biggest favorites in CFP history (13.5 points, according to Caesars Sportsbook). They covered with 44 points left to spare. At one point early in the third quarter, UGA had run 45 plays and scored 45 points.

But if one needs a turning point, perhaps it was eight years ago when Smart left one dynasty at Alabama to form another at his alma mater. That’s why Monday was more of a continuation than a landmark.

Win or lose, there was going to be a dynasty discussion about these Dawgs. Now the “D” word might as well be etched in the hedges at Sanford Stadium. Seven years into his career at Georgia, Smart has a better record than Saban did at the same point (81-15 v. 79-15). Smart trails Saban 3-2 championships after seven years, but that’s a minor detail given the Georgia coach is 24 years younger than his former boss.

Georgia’s stranglehold on the sport looks as tight as the one Alabama once gripped. On Monday, Georgia knocked Cinderella into a ditch.

“You know how people talk about we are being hunted?” asked RB Kenny McIntosh. “We’re the hunters. We don’t get hunted.”

Every team in the country wants the blueprint, and they’ll try to get it, too. But Smart has already fortified the roster, and even his assistants seem to be sticking around. 

A tweet went out to Aaron Murray late in the first half. As the Dawgs was mopping the SoFi Stadium turf with various Horned Frogs, it became important to reach the program’s career leading passer.

Please, he was asked, try to put some context on Monday’s butt-whipping in the CFP National Championship. For starters, is Bennett the greatest Georgia quarterback of all time?

“Damn right he is!!!” texted Murray, who Bennett passed as UGA’s single-season passing leader.

Murray added: “Stetson is now the greatest player in UGA history! Put his resume up against anyone after tonight. It can’t be touched.”

Such an absolute can be argued. Here’s one that’s inarguable, though: Bennett is finally done. The absurdity of the end for one college football’s best players — he has to be called that now — is that Bennett can never make the College Football Hall of Fame. It is served only for first-team All-Americans. 

“I’ve been here long enough,” he said after the game. “I’m sure there’s some game tape [for NFL teams]. I don’t know — [I’m a] hard worker, pretty good at football, smart. But they’ll see that. I don’t know. That will take care of itself. Today, we’re national champs.”

It’s trite to say Bennett has his whole life ahead of him, thought 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 age 27.

Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens was born the same year as Bennett, 1997. Jackson just completed his fifth NFL season. Former UCLA star Josh Rosen, also 25, is playing for his seventh NFL team with the Detroit Lions.

Smart found his 10-year son Andrew crying in the bowels of SoFi Stadium after the game.

“Why are you crying?” Smart asked “You are going to ruin my moment. [He told me,] ‘Stetson’s leaving. Stetson’s gone.’ I said, ‘He’s 25 years old, he’s gotta go.'”

Next up is a group of as many as 15 returning starters. Georgia will enter 2023 as the preseason No. 1. There will be new stories to be written.

“Once you get to college, it doesn’t matter,” said QB Carson Beck, a redshirt sophomore who will battle for the starting job next season. “Once you get on campus, everybody is a dawg — especially at the University of Georgia.”

Where everybody is a … Dawg.

If not for a fourth-quarter rally down by two touchdowns in the Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 4 Ohio State, this wouldn’t have happened. If not for Bennett completing his last six passes of that game to win it in the final seconds, this certainly wouldn’t have happened.

Will it ever end? Not anytime soon. Not with 2023 nonconference games against UT-Martin, Ball State and UAB to kick off next season. Not with Georgia’s first road game coming Sept. 30 at Auburn.

Face it: It might be worth getting some action with your favorite sportsbook on that three-peat.

Bear Bryant’s Alabama came close in 1966. Saban’s Alabama was foiled by the Kick Six in 2013.

The way this is trending, Georgia on its own might squash the idea of a 12-team playoff. Why bother? The championship was the SEC’s 13th in the last 17 years. After 41 years without one, Georgia has now cornered the market on national titles.

Georgia National Championship gear now available

The Bulldogs have won back-to-back national championships with a dominating victory. Celebrate the historic win with Georgia national championship t-shirts, hats, hoodies and more. Shop here and show your true colors.

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Francis McGee

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