If we rewind to August, everyone expected Alabama or Ohio State to be crowned National Champions at the end of the year. Nick Saban’s team returned arguably the two best players in college football in Bryce Young and Will Anderson, and Ryan Day’s Buckeyes boasted an impressive signal caller and pass catchers in their own right. Fast forward to the end of the year, and it looks like Kirby Smart‘s Georgia Bulldogs are primed to win back-to-back College Football Playoff National Championships.
Despite sending a record-breaking amount of players to the draft last year following their title run, the Dawgs are the favorites to come out of the playoffs holding the trophy. The No. 1 team in the country is set to defend its championship on Saturday against the Buckeyes in a semifinal tilt in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium. The Dawgs have a chance to be one of the few teams to repeat as champions, including doing so with a perfect record. UGA has sat atop the AP rankings for 13 weeks out of a possible 14. The one week they weren’t? Tennessee came to Athens and lost by multiple scores.
There are several reasons why Georgia will win its second national title in as many years, but here are the most important:
Georiga Bulldogs hold the experience advantage
Kirby Smart’s program has become the class of college football and rivals what Nick Saban has created in Tuscaloosa. In the last two seasons, Georgia has won every single game except for the 2021 SEC Championship game against Bama, which was rectified in the National Title game.
In what many believed to be a rebuilding year for the Dawgs, Smart’s team brings back plenty of experience. Sure, they lost stand-out starters, all of whom went to the league — Zamir White, James Cook, Jordan Davis, Jamaree Salyer, Justin Shaffer, Devonte Wyatt, Quay Walker, Nakobe Dean, Lewis Cine, among others. They aren’t rebuilding, though; they just reloaded. That 2021 National Championship team also returned many impact players for the 2022 season.
Kenny McIntosh has taken the reins as the next great Georgia running back. Darnell Washington is a modern-day Mercedes Lewis. Brock Bowers might be the best tight end I’ve ever seen. Kelee Ringo iced the game against the Crimson Tide with an interception on Bryce Young. Chris Smith returned and earned All-American honors. Jalen Carter has a case as the best player in college football. And at the most important position on the field, Stetson Bennett is back under center.
Michigan played in its first CFP semifinal game last season, and we all saw the outcome of that. While Ohio State went to the big game two seasons ago, neither has the amount of experience as Georgia.
Dawgs are much more balanced
Michigan is about the only team in the CFP that can rival how UGA can dominate. Defense, offense, special teams… the Dawgs do it all. They can play an ugly, low-scoring game and win. They can also boat race teams. In the season opener against Oregon, Georgia beat the Ducks down 49-3 while throwing 37 times. Then in a nailbiter against Kentucky, the Dawgs ran the ball 46 times. That’s versatility.
The Georgia Bulldogs have three running backs with more than 500 yards on the ground, each averaging more than five yards per carry. Sure, the Dawgs don’t have a Marvin Harrison Jr., but nobody is more of a matchup nightmare in the passing game than Brock Bowers. Todd Monken finds ways to get the ball in his most dynamic players’ hands. McIntosh is equally impressive as a runner as a receiver, and Kendall Milton is no slouch either. Ladd McConkey isn’t scaring anyone with his straight-line speed, but his versatility in the offense cannot be overlooked.
Kirby Smart’s team plays smart, clean football
Regardless of the metric, Georgia is well-above-average or elite. They’re second in the country in fourth-down conversion rate and fifth in third-down conversion percentage. Even more impressive, the Dawgs are first in the country in red zone scoring, coming away with points on 97.2% of drives and not turning the ball over a single time in the red zone.
On the defensive side of the ball, Smart’s unit ranks third in third-down defense, allowing conversions just 26.7% of the time. And those metrics get even better when opponents get inside the 20-yard line. When teams are in the red zone against Georgia, they punch it into the endzone just 32.1% of the time, ranking first in the nation.
While Ohio State’s offense is explosive, they are built to win in just a few ways, while the Georgia Bulldogs play disciplined, clean football and can win in multiple ways. Similar to Michigan, I expect Georgia to bully the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Photo: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire
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