After the national championship, Georgia will still win at least 11 games, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. That’s the third-best FPI forecast in the country, barely a drop from perennial college football playoff contender.
Between LSU, Clemson, and even Ohio State, there has been a consistent decline in teams in the following year’s national championship game for the past several years. This is a new challenge for Kirby Smart, and he’s already gotten a jump into messaging.
If the Dawgs are indeed taking a step back in 2022, it’s for these 6 reasons.
Impossible to duplicate the historical defense
How Special Was Georgia’s Defense In 2021? The #1 pick in the NFL draft was production-wise dead.
Such was the case with the Georgia defense, which entered the college football playoffs with 5 players with at least 6 tackles lost and 5 players with at least 4 sacks. And only 2 of those players were in each category. Travon Walker, the eventual No. 1 overall winner, was only in the team’s top five in sacks (4). Sure, he changed positions, but the production suffered.
This defense only had 5 players drafted in the 1st round and 8 players overall. No wonder, then, that the group ranks 122nd out of 130 FBS teams in percentage of recurring defensive production in 2022. Georgia, like any other team, can’t replicate this unit since so many have tried to install high-flying offenses because 5-star first-rounders aren’t exactly a dime.
That’s not to say that Smart and co. can’t refill the depth map. After all, Smart was the first to offer Walker a scholarship. But putting all that talent together in a unit like the Georgia 2021 defense will be impossible.
As if the Georgia fan base needed more fuel regarding the quarterback situation, Stetson Bennett will be struggling to repeat the near-flawless lead that marked the 2021 season.
While the tight end position is pretty deep and in its own historical class, the wide receivers will have a hard time breaking apart and creating a real group of reliable wideouts. Without that elite defense, getting into an offensive shootout with Tennessee and Kentucky will be difficult. The first warning sign will come against Oregon, which by all indications should be an easy win for Georgia, but don’t be surprised if there are white-knuckle moments and some fans yelling for Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff mid-game. After all, the Alabama loss only fanned the flames from Atlanta, and undefeated teams are as rare as it gets in college football.
game in progress
The vaunted RBU is in a two-year slump for not having a 1,000-yard rusher, and there are some questions as to whether Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton can carry the load.
After Georgia led the SEC in rushing in 2018, the Bulldogs have slipped to 6th and 5th place for the past two seasons. Georgia has had a serviceable back in recent years but was missing a star. In Smart’s 6 years as head coach, Georgia had no consensus that the 1st Team All-SEC would run back. UGA had no running back among the 4 to earn All-SEC honors in 2021 or the 5 in 2020. The talented but somewhat inexperienced offensive line, particularly on the sentries, is laid bare when it’s needed most.
Smart came out early after the national championship and said Georgia would not defend the national title. The 2021 won it. The 2022 team is making a fresh start. This is combined with a greater point of revenge and motivation, both with Bennett no longer an underdog or being counted out, and the full reset so players don’t get complacent while admiring their championship ring.
But also as the fanbase and media no longer have the 4-decade drought as a narrative and the Alabama revenge isn’t really on the table anymore. The excuses for Alabama’s injury have tried to gain traction but likely won’t last long when it counts. The bottom line is how will the majority of Georgia fans react if the Bulldogs lose in the SEC Championship but come back and win the Sugar Bowl, for example? Smart has largely come clean from criticism of its game management in big games.
Channing Tindall and Quay Walker, who replace their top-three linebackers from last season in Nakobe Dean, have many questions about leadership.
This will put the so-called next wave of recruitment to the test, and show how the likes of Jamon Dumas-Johnson and former 5-star companies Smael Mondon Jr. and Xavian Sorey Jr. fare filling that gap. How will they react when the defense gives up a big game or isn’t as strong as it was last year?
Of course, Georgia needs to score more goals as of course the defense will drop a bit. This will put Todd Monken on duty to find a creative way to maximize the tight-end-heavy offense and continue to put Bennett in winning positions. There have been comments downplaying Dan Lanning’s departure, but no matter how smooth the transition to the new co-defensive coordinators goes, the loss of such a top assistant will leave a mark.