INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Stetson Bennett IV had barely finished smoking his victory cigar after Georgia’s 65-7 victory over TCU in the College Football Playoff National Championship before questions turned to his future.
An uncertain future in football.
Of course, the Georgia quarterback led the Bulldogs to back-to-back championships for the first time since Alabama did it in 2011-12.
He was named Offensive MVP of the Game for the second year in a row.
And he smoked that cigar like a seasoned pro as confetti fell from the roof and Georgia backers shouted their approval. But that won’t be enough to appease skeptics and answer the question.
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In short, is Stetson Bennett good enough to play – let alone thrive – in the NFL?
Georgia coach Kirby Smart lobbied after the title match, saying, “People have overslept on Stetson Bennett. He needs an opportunity to play long at the next level.”
Bennett is about to leave the college ranks and prepare for the NFL Draft. It’s unclear when his name will be called – assuming it will be during the three-day draft April 27-29 – but more predictable is what his doubters will say.
Bennett, 25, will also face questions about his viability in the NFL due to his age. By comparison, playoff quarterbacks Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence and Brock Purdy are all younger.
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And yet, what Bennett delivered on Monday night was undeniable.
“He probably had his best game of his career, in my opinion, with some of the checks he made, some of the decisions he made, just really elite,” Smart said.
It was bewitching.
He threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 18 of 25 passes without an interception. He rushed for two more touchdowns.
What the scouts might not be able to measure is Bennett’s resilience.
Remember, Bennett joined Georgia in 2017 as an extra. Because doubters, including Georgia’s coaching staff, didn’t think he deserved a scholarship.
He was about to transfer to the University of Louisiana but thought better of it and waited for his chance in Athens, Georgia. He waited four long years. Then won the starting job – something skeptics thought he would never do.
And what did he do with it? Guide Georgia to their first national championship since 1980 and light that first cigar of national title victory.
And for an encore? One more title, while obliterating TCU’s defense on Monday.
“His mental makeup is like a quarterback who believes he can hit every pitch and what he did tonight was truly amazing,” Smart said.
Doubters might focus on his slender build and insist he doesn’t have the muscles to succeed in the NFL. But what he lacks in strength, he seems to make up for elsewhere.
For example, there are things most people might not have seen on Monday night.
“He saw the max blitz and he beat the max blitz, and ran for a first down in one of the biggest plays in the game that takes a phenomenal athlete,” Smart said. “He knew what was coming and he framed the guy.
“He switched protection and made an elite throw. He planned a run, ran a middle run that no one runs. He ran for a touchdown because he has a tackle that feels like a tight end down at Broderick.
“And when you have a quarterback who can do the protections and check things out and know what the defense is doing, but still beat you with your feet, you’ve got a top quarterback.”
What would Bennett wish the NFL knew about him?
“I’ve been here long enough. I’m sure there’s a match streak,” he deadpanned. “I don’t know – hard worker, quite good at football, smart. But they will see that. I don’t know. It will take care of itself. Today we are national champions.”
But will there be more victory cigars?
After the game, former Georgia star quarterback Matthew Stafford hugged Bennett and they posed for a photo that captured the situation.
A national championship eluded Stafford in Georgia, but he was the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and now has a great ring. Bennett has two national titles, but can that transfer to an NFL career?
This will be Bennett’s chance to prove them wrong again.