INGLEWOOD, Calif. — For so long, Georgia has been the flagship program of pretty good but not quite great. This produced a few decades of very good seasons ending in very good bowl games played by very good players dressed in red, white and black. But the Dawgs have always been a step away from the sport’s elite.
They were still one game away from beating Alabama. Still a few five-star rookies behind Florida. Still inches away from the true ruling class of college football, even though the leader of that class has spanned different eras and teams, from Miami and Nebraska to Southern California and seemingly every team from the SEC to except that of Athens. , Georgia.
But on a wet Monday night outside Los Angeles, the Georgia Bulldogs didn’t just carve their names on the measuring stick by which all other college football programs are measured, they pulled that stick from the office and beat the TCU Horned Frogs with it. Now the conversation about Georgian football isn’t about what he couldn’t do. It’s about what he might be able to do that few have ever done before: move past championship building seasons and into building a championship era.
“I don’t know that word, era; I don’t even know what an era is,” Kirby Smart confessed as he walked from the confetti-covered SoFi Stadium field to the cigar-smoke-filled locker room after winning the National College Football Playoff Championship. “But I know what a great program looks like, a program that’s built to last. I’ve been to four national championships as an assistant coach in Alabama. I know how hard it is to get to the top of the sport, and I know it’s even harder to stay there. I know what the foundation of that looks like. I think we’re building that foundation. I hope we are.”
Consider it built. Cast concrete, hardened and seemingly built to last.
UGA won its second consecutive national title, only the fourth team to do so since 1990 and the first in the nine-year college football playoff era. He did it via a beatdown that has never been seen in a college football title game of any format in 152 years of college football. Not the 1971 Orange Bowl (Nebraska 38, Alabama 6). Not the 1972 Rose Bowl (USC 42, Ohio State 17). Oklahoma 1985 (25-10 over Penn State). Nebraska 1995 (62-24 against Florida). USC in 2004 (55-19 over Oklahoma). Florida in 2006 (41-14 against Ohio State). Not even the former standard bearer of title game dominance: Alabama over Notre Dame 42-14 in the 2013 BCS Championship. Miami in 2001, LSU in 2019, whatever happens flipping through the book of records… not a single one of those behemoth teams or lopsided nights on the grill comes close to the Bulldogs 65-7 bulldozer that took place Monday night at Sofi Stadium.
This demoralized the upstart Horned Frogs and sent shivers down the souls of any team hoping to stand in TCU’s cleats soon. It was the most lopsided playoff victory since bowl games debuted in Pasadena, Calif., in 1902, capping a 17-game winning streak, the longest for Georgia since 1947. The Bulldogs’ 29 wins tie the mark for any major college team over a span of two seasons and is the most ever for an SEC school. Monday’s victory rewrote page after page of the college football history book.
“Georgia, obviously you’ve seen them the last two seasons now, really, they’ve taken over college football.” The statement was made by former Georgia All-American linebacker turned TV analyst David Pollack during ESPN’s halftime coverage of the game when the score was 38-7.
He said it while seated next to the network’s guest analyst for the evening, Alabama coach Nick Saban.
If it’s possible to say, the game was even worse than the score. It was such a choke that Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, shortly after tying LSU signal caller Joe Burrow’s CFP title game for the points responsible for (36), was pulled from the game … with 13:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.
This is a team that lost 15 — yes, 15! – players in the 2022 NFL Draft, five more than any other team, and simply reloaded. A defense that was supposed to step back after a 2021 unit that was statistically speaking among the greatest of all time instead limited the TCU – who entered the game averaging 474 yards and 41 points per game – at 188 yards and a solitary TD. A team that looked emotionally and physically drained after a New Year’s thriller win over Ohio State in the CFP semifinals responded by embarking on a week of practice that Bennett described in the days leading up to the title match as “a fucking rebuilding project”. “
“You attack every aspect of it as a challenge,” Bennett, 25, recalled of the week, not hesitating to praise the UGA scout team who played quarterback for TCU Max. Duggan. “Now I’m done, but I think those who are still here, and maybe those of us who are gone, have a responsibility to make sure this continues. Make sure you feel the pressure of maintain what has been built.”
The commentary showed the nuances of those all-time teams that Georgia once chased. The legendary Miami Hurricanes calling from the NFL locker room to these youngsters now in their beloved orange and green to ask what happened after a loss to a rival or a streak that ended a streak. Saban’s Alabama veterans show up at spring training to talk to their heirs about maintaining the principles of the process.
“That’s what we all have to guard against, complacency, and I’m talking about the coaches, the players, even the fans, who never take a night like this for granted,” said Smart, who played defense on a lot of those good but never great Bulldogs teams of the 1990s. “You have to expect to get in those games and expect to win those games, but you can’t assume that’s going to happen. And I think that that’s why trying to win a third championship in a row will be an even tougher challenge than this. . We lost so many guys last year and we have so many more guys coming back next year. That’s more chance for complacency.
It’s also more likely to benefit from the experience, to rely on having been there, having done that. More than half of this season’s starters were sophomores or younger. They will be paired with what will be Georgia’s seventh consecutive top-three recruiting class.
Smart is only 47 years old. His former mentor, the guy sitting awkwardly next to Pollack, is 71. The GOAT was fully focused on what was in front of him. Saban still is. “I find it hard to watch football because it’s always work,” Saban confessed on the morning of the match. “How would we plot against that? How do they accomplish that? And in the case of what Kirby did to Georgia, that’s especially true. That’s the greatest compliment I can give any program , that everyone in our company has to watch everything you do.”
Yes, there are plenty of cautionary tales when it comes to the collapse of college football dominance. The transfer portal; name, image and likeness (NIL); an expanded playoff – the list of what derailed the mighty and could do the same for Dawgs in the future is constantly growing. All of those teams listed earlier, from Miami to Nebraska to USC, fell from “they can’t be beat!” to “what happened to those guys?” Just four winters ago, Clemson was playing its fourth CFP title game in five years, and since then it has slowly begun to fade from the national conversation.
But even the players and coaches of these ruling-class programs, hailing from all places in the timeline of college football history, probably spent their Monday nights like the rest of us, watching the Georgia Bulldogs and wondering if what we saw against TCU could be much closer to the start of something big than any imaginable end.
“I want to enjoy tonight, and I will,” said Brock Bowers of Georgia, the All-American tight end who had seven catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. He is also one of those sophomores. “But we go back to work as soon as we get home. There’s always work to do.”
That’s how you build an empire.