Georgia still on track to win at least 11 games from national championship game ESPN’s Football Power Index. It’s the third-best FPI forecast in the country, not far off the perennial college football playoff contender.
Between LSU, Clemson and even Ohio State, teams in the national championship game in recent years have been in decline the following year. It’s a new challenge for Kirby Smart, who has improved his messaging.
If the Dougs do take a step back in 2022, it will be for these 6 reasons.
Unable to copy historical defense
How special is Georgia’s defense in 2021? The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft is at a production disadvantage.
That’s what Georgia’s defense is like, entering the college football playoffs with five players with at least six tackles and five with at least four sacks. There are only 2 players in each category. Travon Walker, the eventual No. 1 overall pick, finished in the team’s top 5 in sacks (4). Of course, he moved to a different location, but production suffered.
This defense only had five players selected in the first round, for a total of eight players. So it’s no wonder that the 2022 team ranks 122nd among 130 FBS teams in defensive player return percentage. Georgia State, like any other team, can’t replicate that unit like many teams trying to build a high-altitude offense because a five-star first-rounder isn’t a dime.
That’s not to say Smart and company can’t restock the depth chart. After all, Smart was the first to offer Walker a scholarship. But it’s impossible for a unit like the 2021 Georgia Defense to bring all of that talent together.
Just as Georgia’s fan base needs more momentum at quarterback, Stetson Bennett will struggle to replicate the near-perfect leadership that has marked the 2021 season.
While the tight end is deep and in its own all-time class, wide receivers will have a hard time breaking apart and developing really solid wide receivers. Without this elite defense, offensive shootouts with teams like Tennessee and Kentucky will be hard to keep up with. The first warning signs will be in Oregon, which by all indications should be an easy win for Georgia, but if there are white knuckle moments and some fans in the middle clamoring for Carson Baker Or Brock Vanda Griff, please don’t be surprised by the game. After all, Alabama’s loss only stokes those flames associated with Atlanta, where undefeated teams are almost a rarity in college football.
The proud RBU has not had a 1,000-yard rusher in a slump in two years, and there are some questions about whether Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton can carry the load.
After Georgia led the SEC sprint in 2018, the Bulldogs have slipped to No. 6 and No. 5, respectively, the past two seasons. Georgia State’s defense has been fine in recent years, but it’s lacking star players. Georgia hasn’t come to a consensus in Smart’s six years as head coach, and they’re the all-SEC first-team running back. UGA doesn’t have a single running back among the 4 with All-SEC honors in 2021 or the 4 with 5 in 2020. The talented but somewhat inexperienced offensive line, especially at the guard position, will be exposed when it’s needed most.
Smart came out early after the national championship game and said Georgia would not be defending the national championship. 2021 won it. The 2022 team is starting over. This will be paired with greater revenge and momentum, people like Bennett are no longer underdogs or left out, and a full reset won’t make players complacent in admiring their championship rings.
But there’s also a fan base and media that no longer has a 4-year drought as a narrative, and Alabama’s revenge is no longer really on the table. Alabama’s injury excuse is trying to grab traction, but it may not last long when it matters. Bottom line, how would most Georgia fans react if, for example, the Bulldogs lost the SEC championship game but came back and won the Sugar Bowl? Smart has largely created a clean roster from criticism of his game management in the big games.
Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker replaced last season’s top three linebackers, raising a lot of questions about leadership.
This will test the so-called next wave of hiring, and how the likes of Jamon Dumas-Johnson and top 5 stars Smael Mondon Jr. and Xavian Sorey Jr. enter that void. How will defenses react when they drop an important game or aren’t as suffocating as last year?
change play style
Obviously, Georgia needs to score more because the defense will naturally loosen up a bit. That would put the onus on Todd Monken to find a creative way to maximize the tight end heavy offense and continue to put Bennett in a successful position. There have been comments downplaying Dan Lanning’s exit, but no matter how smooth the transition to a new co-defensive coordinator, the loss of such a top assistant will leave its mark.