The Georgia Bulldogs are on the verge of something historic. The three-peat.
Only once in the history of college football has this feat been accomplished before.
In the 1930’s Minnesota of the Big Ten, won three successive National Championships from 1934-1936.
With a record of 29-1 over the past two seasons on their way to successive championship wins, Kirby Smart’s men are the bookies favourites for another title win this year.
In this piece I’ll examine the chances for and against the Bulldogs joining Minnesota and sharing a place in college football history.
Who will replace Stetson Bennett at QB?
With Bennett now plying his trade in the NFL as a day three pick by the Rams it appears to be a two horse race to replace him under centre in Athens between Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff.
Beck and Vandagriff split first team reps throughout spring camp and have been part of the program for a similar time. The edge seems to be with Carson Beck as he has the most experience, having operated as Bennett’s primary backup last year.
Vandagriff was a five star recruit and a leading QB in the 2021 recruiting class who flipped his commitment from Oklahoma.
The two players offer very different skill sets. Beck has poise and a good arm to spray the ball all over the field from the pocket whilst Vandagriff’s strengths are his mobility and the ability to extend plays with his legs, though he’s still a pass first Quarterback.
Georgia have an array of star power on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs don’t need their quarterback to be the star of the show.
Beck should have an advantage given his greater exposure in the offense. They don’t need an elite ceiling just a solid floor to lead them to the three-peat.
With Gunner Stockton also on the roster, and the nations number one overall prospect from the 2024 recruiting cycle Dylan Raiola joining next year there is every chance the loser of this battle opts to test the transfer portal.
The transfer portal
When you are a recruiting juggernaut like Georgia, managing your roster can be a headache. The portal has given players freedom and flexibility to dictate their own futures like never before. Head Coach Kirby Smart has proven to be a master at managing his squad and keeping one step ahead.
However losses are inevitable as highly touted recruits want to play and sometimes there just isn’t room for them all. Smart understands when it comes to the portal Georgia will be working at a deficit, because players good enough to play for Georgia will be highly coveted assets for other schools.
This past offseason has seen 15 players opt to enter the transfer portal with 12 successfully transferring else to other power 5 programs. The most noticeable of the 12 particularly to Devy fantasy players will be Arik Gilbert the talented pass catching tight end who had become lost in the shuffle behind the mercurial Brock Bowers and others.
Players heading to the NFL.
The transfer portal then is one problem, but the Bulldogs also have to replace a wealth of talent that has gone on to the NFL.
Georgia had ten players selected in the 2023 NFL draft and has to replace several other key pieces in addition to Stetson Bennett.
One of college footballs most dominant defences has to replace talisman such as Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
In total that’s 22 confirmed exits to either the portal or draft with three players still testing the portal that could bring the total to 25.
The shape of the 2023 offense
With the QB battle sure to take centre stage, the Bulldogs can rest assured the rest of their offense is in good shape.
Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards provide a dynamic one two punch and should split snaps, with Edwards likely doing the hard work between the tackles whilst Milton is a more explosive pass catching back. Branson Robinson is very much the elite future prospect whilst Andrew Paul is a quality back that provides excellent depth, he’d project as a starter at a lot of power 5 schools.
Last year the offense ran through the tight ends and it will likely be the same this year in spite of a significant loss of talent. That’s not to say receivers like Ladd McConkey and Arian Smith won’t get plenty of opportunities to contribute. Incoming transfer Dominic Lovett offers versatility in the slot and lining up outside.
The tight end room has lost four players since the end of last season and has to find a way to replace the physical monster that is Darnell Washington.
One thing is for certain, the man that will make the passing game tick will be last years Mackey Award winner Brock Bowers.
The Mackey award is awarded to the best tight end in college football. Bowers might not just be the best tight end but may be the single best offensive weapon in the whole of college football.
Depth will be provided by Oscar Delp and Smart’s coaching staff are high on his development.
On the offensive line the Bulldogs return four of five starting players from last season, with left tackle being the only spot likely available. Earnest Green looks likely to win the job and that consistency will be huge for the winner of the QB job.
The shape of the 2023 defense
Last offseason Georgia heard nothing but how it would have to replace key pieces of an elite defense. Fast forward twelve months and with another national title in the bank the members of the 2022 defense proved more than capable. Can it remain the same heading into 2023?
Many thought Bear Alexander would be the man to replace Jalen Carter but he has transferred to USC.
The depth Georgia has on its defensive line means it will rotate regularly, but one player they will lean on heavily will be sophomore defensive end Mykel Williams.
At the second level Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson both return at inside linebacker. They led the team in tackles last season and they’ll be expected to lead the way again this year. Freshmen linebackers Raylen Allen and CJ Allen are highly recruited prospects and should work their way in to the rotation as the season progresses.
The secondary will see Karami Lassiter, Malaki Starks and Javon Bullard all return as starters for the Bulldogs. Expect them to be key pieces for Georgia, with all three filling big leadership roles as well. Bullard was the defensive MVP of both playoff games for Georgia last season.
They do need to replace Kelee Ringo and Chris Smith at corner and safety respectively. There is competition for the corner position but replacing Smith might not be as easy. Dan Jackson will get a shot and so will transfer portal addition Smoke Bouie.
Mike Bobo is back at offensive coordinator
When you’re back to back national champions your coaches and coordinators will also garner interest and that was certainly the case this season.
Most noticeably OC Todd Monken was chosen to replace Greg Roman in Baltimore and usher in a fresh offensive philosophy spearheaded by dynamic QB Lamar Jackson.
Replacing him though, is a familiar face in Mike Bobo. Bobo is a former Bulldogs QB and held the OC job from 2007-2014. He was the head coach at Colorado from 2015-2019 and has also ran the offenses at South Carolina and Auburn.
Monken’s record was 37-3 in his three seasons and under his watch he turned walk on Stetson Bennett into a two time national championship winning quarterback.
Luckily Bobo was on staff last year as an analyst and will be able to take the best parts of Monken’s offense and blend it with his own wealth of knowledge. It would be wise to assume the offense will likely still be a balance of run game and a passing game based around Bowers.
The 2023 schedule
The schedule looks incredibly favourable and Georgia look like they could go undefeated in regular season play if they avoid any in conference slip ups. Outside of the SEC, the Bulldogs don’t play a single power 5 school. The biggest potential banana skin will be visiting the resurgent Tennessee on November 18th. There is of course always potential for somebody to play out of their minds on the day and cause an upset…. but Tennessee should be the only real test.
A timely reminder that public perception last year was that Alabama had a “cupcake schedule” and eventually they lost twice (including to Tennessee) and missed out on the college football playoffs entirely.
Kirby Smart and his men stand on the verge of modern history. Other teams have come close, going back to back but have failed to three-peat.
Georgia have an excellent chance to be that first school to achieve the feat since 1936. In their favour is a kind schedule and a they boast a roster that is the envy of most in college football. However there are some questions about QB play and how the defense will recover from losing even more stars.
Betting against Kirby Smart and his team to three-peat wouldn’t be….. well, smart.