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

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

Whatever your answer, it sure wasn’t Monday when the No. 1 Bulldogs won their second straight College Football Playoff national championship and took away hope from not only their opponent but the rest of the sport.

What else should you say in what qualifies as the greatest beatdown ever in a national title game?

Georgia scored nine touchdowns, won by more than eight touchdowns against overmatched TCU No. 3 and sent a shiver of fear through the other 129 FBS teams that went 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 losing by two touchdowns in the CFP semifinals, Georgia left no doubt. That and the 17-game trail of sacrifices that have long been the nation’s leading winning streak.

None of that begins to describe what happened Monday night in LA. The score was so complete that quarterback Stetson Bennett IV was almost sidelined. Almost. The former sixth-year walk-on capped an incredible career with an all-time performance: four passes, two runs and an earned touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Talk about a walk. Georgia coach Kirby Smart called a timeout so his aging quarterback could do just that for years in front of an adoring crowd at SoFi Stadium.

Even Bennett had to get behind the headline after TCU’s 65-7 rout: Georgia is the first team to win back-to-back national championships in a decade and the first to do so in the CFP era, winning 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 is college football going? For now, the answer to that question goes through Athens, Georgia.

“We have a saying, ‘You have to eat off the floor. If you want to eat off the floor, you can be special,'” Smart shared.

Disgusting, but appropriate. These Dawgs were both junkyard types and a dominant breed. Smart lashed out at his players after winning the 2021 title, reminding them that they were not defending anything. This was a new year. Twenty months ago, Bennett didn’t take a single snap in spring practice in 2021. On Monday, he became the sixth quarterback since the 1970s to win back-to-back national titles.

Bennett’s only rejection last week was regretting the early start to practice and the lack of time off. Smart’s response: “You only get one chance to be legendary. I won’t leave anything I regret.”

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

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

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

That winning streak could stretch to the horizon. Not Alabama, not Clemson, not even close at this point. Georgia is the new standard of sports.

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

New? Barely. Georgia is 33-1 in their last 34 games. His 29 wins over the past two seasons are tied for the most in college. Smart is 73-10 since 2017. Bennett leaves after six seasons — five of them at Georgia — totaling 15 touchdowns in four playoff games. There was a time when he didn’t get four shots in practice.

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

And that’s despite the Dawgs entering as the biggest favorites in CFP history (13.5 points, according to Caesars Sportsbook). They covered with 44 points in excess. At one point early in the third quarter, UGA ran 45 times and scored 45 points.

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

Win or lose, it should have been a dynasty debate on these Dawgs. Now the “D” word could be carved into the hedge at Sanford Stadium. Seven years into his Georgia career, Smart has a better record than Saban at the same time (81-15 vs. 79-15). Smart trails Saban with a 3-2 championship record in seven years, but that’s a minor detail considering the Georgia coach is 24 years younger than his former boss.

Georgia’s grip on the sport appears to be as tight as Alabama’s once held. On Monday, Georgia knocked Cinderella down the ditch.

“You know how people talk about hunting us?” asked RB Kenny McIntosh. “We are hunters. We are not hunted.”

Every team in the country wants a draft, and they’re going to try to get one, too. But Smart has already bolstered the roster, and even his assistants appear to be staying.

Aaron Murray got a tweet late in the first half. As the Dawgs cleaned up the SoFi Stadium turf with various Horned Frogs, it became important to get to the program’s leading career passer.

Please, he was asked, try to put some context into Monday’s CFP National Championship. For starters, is Bennett the best Georgia quarterback of all time?

“He’s damn right!!!” he 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. That can’t be touched.”

Such an absolute can be argued. But here’s one that can’t be argued: Bennett is finally done. The absurdity of the end for one of college football’s greatest players — it must be called that now — is that Bennett can never make the College Football Hall of Fame. Served only to first team All-Americans.

“I’ve been here long enough,” he said after the game. “I’m sure there is some footage of the match [for NFL teams]. I do not know… [I’m a] hard worker, quite good at football, smart. But they will see it. I don’t know. It will take care of itself. Today we are national champions.”

It’s a cliché to say that Bennett has his whole life ahead of him, considering he’s at least the second-oldest running back to win a national championship since Chris Weinke led Florida State to the title in 1999 at age 27.

Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens was born the same year as Bennett, 1997. Jackson had just finished 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-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, he’s got to go.'”

Next 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 compete for the starting job next season. “Once you get on campus, everybody’s a man — especially at the University of Georgia.”

Where’s everybody… Dawg.

If not for a two-touchdown fourth-quarter touchdown in the Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 4 Ohio State, this wouldn’t have happened. If it wasn’t for Bennett completing his last six passes of that game and winning in the final seconds, this certainly wouldn’t have happened.

Will it ever end? Not anytime soon. Not with 2023 non-conference games against UT-Martin, Ball State and UAB starting next season. Not with Georgia’s first road game on Sept. 30 at Auburn.

Face it: it might pay to get in on the action with your favorite sportsbook on that three-peat.

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

The way this is trending, Georgia could single-handedly kill 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 national title market.

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