This has to be the year the Georgia football program puts 1980 to bed once and for all.
After years of building under head coach Kirby Smart, the Georgia football program has the team to win its first national championship in over 40 years.
During Smart’s first five years back at his alma mater, the Dawgs have played in four straight New Year’s Six bowls, won the SEC East three years in a row, won an SEC Championship, reached the College Football Playoff and were second-and-26 away from winning a national title. Of the top programs in the playoff era, you could make a strong argument Georgia is the best to never win it.
Here is why there are no excuses left for the Dawgs this year and they have to win a national title.
Georgia football: This is the Dawgs’ year to finally win a national title
For the last four seasons, Georgia has been in a group of about eight teams that can contend for a national championship every year. The Dawgs are usually playing for a College Football Playoff berth in the SEC Championship. This is a program that has recruited at an elite level, especially since Smart arrived back in 2016. Yet for whatever reason, Georgia has yet to get the thing done.
So why will this year be any different? No Nick Saban disciple has ever beaten his mentor, and that is who Smart will likely have to beat in Atlanta to punch Georgia’s ticket back into the playoff. Eventually, it will happen, or Saban may just abruptly call it quits one day to retire to a life of living on the lake and doing college football analyst work into his 70s. But why is it this year for Georgia?
It is a combination of several things moving in Georgia’s favor. We have talked about recruitment. With multiple top-five recruiting classes stacked upon each other, one would think the levee will eventually break the Dawgs’ way. Ultimately, it is all about having better players than the opposition, and Georgia is absolutely dripping with talent this season. This roster is so loaded.
While the Dawgs lost a school-record nine players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, most of that came on the defensive side of the ball. The position group most affected by the draft was the defensive backfield, which just so happens to be Smart’s area of expertise as a former All-SEC safety himself. Lewis Cine may be the only returning starter in the secondary, but the Dawgs reloaded.
Georgia was able to pry Jahmile Addae away from his alma mater to be the Dawgs’ new secondary coach. West Virginia’s top defensive back Tykee Smith followed Addae to Athens. He will be a day-one impact starter for Georgia. To make things even sweeter, Georgia was able to land former Clemson standout Derion Kendrick in the transfer portal. Guess who Georgia plays in Week 1?
Add in promising playmakers like Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber and this secondary could be every bit as good as the front-seven featuring Adam Anderson, Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith, among others, by mid-season. The best part about this 2021 Georgia team is it just might be led by the offense for once. It has been a long time since Dawg Nation can honestly say that.
The offensive line is a tad inexperienced with Ben Cleveland and Trey Hill turning pro, but Jaymaree Salyer and the guys look to give Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback JT Daniels his best shot to succeed. They will open up lanes for Zamir White, James Cook and Kendall Milton to sprint through, as well as give Daniels all the time he needs to rifle the pigskin in Todd Monken’s offense.
What will be the biggest difference for Georgia is they have the quarterback and the offensive game plan to attack the opposition down the field. George Pickens is hurt, but Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson are proven commodities in this offense. They also have a pair of former elite five-star tight ends in Darnell Washington and LSU transfer Arik Gilbert, who is coming home to play wide receiver at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds.
So simply from a talent perspective, few teams in the Power Five will be able to keep pace with this Georgia team. While talent and potential are great, you still have to win the games. Perhaps the best part of Georgia’s case to win a national title this season is that it has a favorable schedule, and most of the other College Football Playoff contenders are either down or reloading.
The SEC East has three new head coaches, as well as cross-divisional rival Auburn. While Dan Mullen, Mark Stoops and Eliah Drinkwitz are all fine coaches, Florida will almost certainly be down with all the offensive talent that went pro, Kentucky has a definite ceiling and Missouri does not recruit anywhere near the level Georgia does. The Dawgs should be back in Atlanta this year.
As far as who they could meet in Atlanta potentially, Alabama lost even more talent to the NFL off last year’s roster than anyone. Bryce Young may be the real deal under center, but he has a new offensive coaching staff with Bill O’Brien replacing Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator and DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are gone. Alabama has a brutal schedule, and while it is still Alabama, the Tide may go 10-2 for all we know.
If not Alabama, the likeliest team to meet Georgia in the SEC Championship Game has to be Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher has his program humming. While Isaiah Spiller and Jalen Wydermyer could be All-SEC performers at running back and tight end respectively, the Aggies have to replace Kellen Mond at quarterback, and that could be a major issue.
As far as who could meet Georgia the College Football Playoff outside of the SEC footprint, it is the usual suspects of Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. You can’t trust Oregon or the Pac-12 until proven otherwise. While Oklahoma has Heisman front-runner Spencer Rattler at quarterback, its Big 12 defense will hold them back. Clemson and Ohio State also have new starting quarterbacks.
Even if Georgia loses to D.J. Uiagalelei and Clemson in Charlotte on Labor Day Weekend, the Dawgs have what it takes to go 8-0 in SEC play and get to Atlanta with a chance at making the playoff. In fact, the Selection Committee will not punish the loser between Georgia and Clemson. The winner may emerge as the favorite to win it all, depending on how quickly Alabama reloads.
Overall, so many things are breaking Georgia’s favor for once to give the Dawgs their best shot to win a national title since 2017. Returning all three coordinators is huge, especially with Dan Lanning almost certainly going to be a head coach somewhere in 2022. Alabama is reloading, Florida is down and Clemson and Ohio State will be transitioning from generational quarterbacks.
Georgia is too talented to finish any worse than 11-1 this season. Their two hardest games are neutral-site affairs vs. Clemson in Charlotte and rival Florida in Jacksonville. This should be Daniels’ last year in Athens, so instead of settling for playing Iowa State in the Sugar Bowl, go get a national championship while your biggest competitors are down.
Georgia will eventually win a national title under Smart, but let’s make 2021 the end of “next year.”
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