LOS ANGELES — The confetti had not finished falling inside SoFi Stadium at the College Football Playoff National Championship before the pivotal question began to emerge: Now that Georgia has won back-to-back national championships, and doing so with a team that beat its opponents by a greater margin than anyone else in the country, can the Bulldogs do it again in 2023?
If imagining the quest for a three-peat feels immature at this early hour in the offseason, then consider what accomplishing that feat would mean and the apparent likelihood that Georgia will have a good shot to do something that’s not been done since Minnesota ran off three consecutive titles from 1934-36.
“Dang,” remarked Georgia sophomore linebacker Smael Mondon, the team’s leading tackler from Monday night’s win, after being informed of this historical note. “It’s a big opportunity, but we’re going to take these two weeks, rest, get our bodies right and go back and attack it.”
Two weeks from now is when Georgia will begin winter workouts for 2023, when Mondon says the team will “flip the switch” from one season to the next. But in this moment, with an entire second half setting up for Georgia to celebrate its hard work paying off in a comfortable title game win, he and his fellow underclassmen were able to take in the opportunity to “be legendary.”
“We were already talking about it on the sideline,” he said. “We know what we’ve got a chance to do, so it’s up to us to do it.”
Mondon is far from the only sophomore who played a key role in Monday night’s 65-7 win over TCU. Javon Bullard had two interceptions and was named the Defensive MVP for the game, linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler and cornerback Kamari Lassiter was tied for third in tackles while adding a tackle for loss. Brock Bowers led the team in receiving with seven catches for 152 yards and a touchdown while Adonai Mitchell added another touchdown in his triumphant return from injury he battled in the late stages of Georgia’s season.
All of these players are expected to be back for the 2023 campaign, along with the numerous freshmen who had become starters and key contributors by the end of the year. There’s also the expected emergence of highly rated prospects who have been in the development process of their journey, which has been crucial to the success of the 2022 team.
Development will be key at the quarterback position, where three players will compete to replace one of the greatest quarterbacks in Georgia history in Stetson Bennett. Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton will battle it out for QB1 duties, but Kirby Smart has a ton of confidence in offensive coordinator Todd Monken and his work to develop the room. After all, it was Monken’s work with Bennett that turned a former walk-on into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“Coach Monken does an unbelievable job in that room,” Smart said. “And he did an unbelievable job with Stetson. And the fact that he’s playing in an NFL offense with an NFL coordinator who coached NFL quarterbacks should tell people he’s not going to get marbles in his mouth when he’s spitting out seven-word calls. And a lot of NFL teams like that.”
A three-peat hasn’t been accomplished in 86 years because winning in college football is extremely difficult, and to keep that year-over-year consistency in the modern era is even harder. The transfer portal provides opportunities for massive roster turnover and coaching staffs see shake-ups every single offseason. At a place like Georgia, the talent in the building is among the most coveted in all of college football, both by other programs and the NFL.
Georgia has joined the extremely short list Nebraska, USC and Alabama in terms of teams that have won back-to-back titles since 1980 amid this turbulent environment. It’s harder than ever to just go back-to-back, so why can’t Georgia be the first program since World War II to three-peat?
Winning the 2022 title wasn’t totally unexpected if you consider the preseason odds and the near-consensus top-three ranking the Bulldogs carried coming into the season. Still, the idea that the Bulldogs would flex such dominance over the rest of the sport was not a popular consideration. After all, this was a program that lost 15 players to the 2022 NFL Draft after winning it all, including eight starters on defense. There’s a high floor to Georgia football right now given the cumulative effect of highly rated recruiting classes, but even still it was possible that we’d see some regression given the roster turnover.
Smart, interestingly enough, thinks the loss of so many starters and key contributors made repeating easier than it will be to win the championship again next season. Smart argues that entitlement is the biggest culture killer, and with so many of this year’s contributors back, he thinks avoiding that feeling of entitlement is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the 2023 season.
“The biggest challenge is the same as in the world we live in today, the society we live in: entitlement,” Smart said. “The minute you think you’re entitled to winning games and you don’t have to work hard … you think that you just inherit success. And I personally think next year is going to be a much more difficult challenge over this year because we had so many guys leaving last year.”
Senior cornerback Chris Smith, a Georgia native, says the culture that has been established during his time with the program will combine with the talent to give next year’s group a great chance to win it all. Growing up rooting for the Bulldogs, Smith understands how unique this success is in the program’s history and endorsed the foundation that’s been laid for history to be made.
“Most definitely,” Smith said when asked about the possibility of a three-peat. “The amount of talent that these guys have, the amount of freak athletes that these guys have and with the culture that we’ve built, the sky is the limit.”
If Georgia can avoid the entitlement “disease,” as Smart called it Monday night, then the Bulldogs have all the ingredients to do something historic. But one of the factors that contributes most to the prediction that Georgia will, at a minimum, be back in the College Football Playoff is something the players and the coaches — for the most part — don’t have control over: the regular-season schedule.
Georgia was slated to play Oklahoma in the nonconference schedule in 2023, but the series was amended and the game taken off the slate with the Sooners set to join the SEC in the near future. So, the Dawgs’ nonconference schedule now includes UT-Martin, Ball State, UAB and Georgia Tech.
The conference draw is favorable as well with Ole Miss rotating in to pair with Auburn from the SEC West, and the Bulldogs playing just three true road games in conference play (Auburn, Vanderbilt, Tennessee) because this is a year that the neutral-site rivalry game against Florida counts as a road game (the two schools alternate home-road designations for the league’s 4-4 schedule of home and away). It doesn’t take too much college football expertise to look at that schedule and start handing projected wins to the Bulldogs, which is probably why Smart is worried about entitlement.
Let’s project those wins out anyway.
It’s possible that, given the schedule and what Georgia brings back, the Bulldogs are headed to Knoxville, Tennessee, with a 10-0 record on Nov. 18 looking to lock up yet another SEC East title in their conference finale. Being in that position would mean Georgia will have won 39 of its last 40 games, and the program would have an 83-10 record since the start of 2017.
Getting to that position requires avoiding the entitlement disease, but Smith doesn’t see the next group tuning out the same motivating factors that carried over from 2021 to 2022.
“Just to not get complacent,” Smith said when asked about his message to the next group. “That was the same message that we had at the beginning of this year — not get complacent, not think that something like this is going to be given to you. Because it definitely wasn’t given to us.
“We had a lot of close calls, a lot of tough games, but you just keep chopping and you focus on that single-minded goal. Nothing can stop you.”