No. 1 Georgia goes for a historic three-peat after a tragic offseason
Georgia isn’t ready to talk about a historic three-peat.
Not just yet, anyway.
The Bulldogs showed no signs of complacency while capturing their second straight national title, and maintaining that edge will be essential to becoming the first school in the poll era to make it three in a row.
“You can’t set a goal that far ahead,” receiver Arian Smith said at the start of camp. “We can’t win a national championship right now.”
Coming off a perfect season capped by a 65-7 demolition of TCU in the national championship game, Georgia goes into the new season as the country’s most dominant program.
Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs were a near-unanimous choice as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press preseason poll.
“So many people make an assumption off of last year’s team and their accomplishments,” coach Kirby Smart said. “I asked this team … ‘What have you done to deserve anything you have gotten?’ They have done nothing.”
Georgia’s bid for a third straight title could come down to the play of Stetson Bennett’s successor.
Carson Beck, Bennett’s backup last season, came out of spring practice holding an edge for the No. 1 quarterback job over Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton.
But Smart held off on naming a starter, and the competition could extend into the first few weeks of the regular season.
“I want to see them manage the offense, understand the offense, get people lined up and execute,” Smart said. “The guy that does that best in critical situations will be the guy that becomes the quarterback.”
Whoever wins the job will have huge shoes to fill.
Bennett was offensive MVP of both national championship game victories and a Heisman Trophy finalist last year.
BACK TO BOBO
The new starting quarterback will be working under a new offensive coordinator.
He’s a familiar face, though.
Former Georgia QB Mike Bobo, who served as Mark Richt’s longtime play-caller, is returning to that role after Todd Monken left for the NFL.
“Each year, you try and figure out your identity as an offense,” Bobo said. “Whether I was going to be the coordinator or if Coach Monken comes back, you’ve got to figure out what pieces of the puzzle fits to what things that we did well last year and what we’re going to have to change.”
Hours after a parade celebrating their national championship, offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy were killed in a high-speed wreck.
The investigation showed LeCroy was legally drunk while driving a university-rented SUV and racing a vehicle driven by another Georgia player, Jalen Carter, who had already announced he was entering the NFL draft.
The wreck led to revelations of numerous Georgia players operating vehicles at high speeds and questions about Smart’s control of the program.
“What concerns me most is the safety of our players, and when you drive at high speeds it’s unsafe,” Smart said. “We’re going to do all we can to take that out and make sure that’s eradicated.”
Seven Georgia defensive players have been picked in the first round of the NFL draft the last two seasons, including Carter at No. 9 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Not to worry, Bulldogs fans.
Georgia is loaded again on that side of the line.
Six of the 11 selections to the All-Southeastern Conference preseason first team wear the red and black: linemen Mykel William and Nazir Stackhouse, linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson and defensive backs Malaki Starks, Kamari Lassiter and Javon Bullard.
“That doesn’t matter,” Dumas-Johnson said of the accolades. “I’m worried about our team. Team success brings individual success.”
RINSE AND REPEAT
Georgia’s title marked the 12th time a school has gone back to back since The Associated Press poll was launched in 1936.
Three teams finished second in the AP rankings while going for a three-peat: Army in 1946, Notre Dame in 1948 and Southern Cal in 2005.
The Trojans were voted AP champion for the 2003 season, even though they failed to qualify for the Bowl Championship Game, and were a consensus champ in ’04.
USC played for a third straight crown against Texas in the Rose Bowl, only to come up 19 seconds short in one of college football’s greatest games. Vince Young ran for a TD in the final minute that gave the Longhorns a 41-38 victory.
The Bulldogs were supposed to travel to Oklahoma this season for the first in a home-and-home series, but the SEC ordered the Bulldogs to cancel those games after accepting the Sooners as a new conference member.
Ball State was hastily lined up as a replacement, joining FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin (the opener on Sept. 2), UAB and in-state rival Georgia Tech on the nonconference slate.
Not many style points to be gained against those teams.
“All we can do is go out and try to schedule the best we can, and when we scheduled the game with Oklahoma, we were trying to do that,” Smart said. “We lost out on that because of a realignment, adding teams to the conference, and that just is what it is.”