LOS ANGELES – Breaking News: The 2023 Georgia Bulldogs have just qualified for the College Football Playoffs.
Yes, I am facetious, but only a little. Who will stop them?
Georgia’s schedule is a cakewalk.
Georgia Tech is the Bulldogs’ only non-conference Power Five opponent next season, and the Yellow Jackets haven’t played as a Power Five program very often in recent seasons.
Rival Florida is a mess. For the “Cocktail Party”, Gators fans will be ready to launch Billy Napier into the Atlantic Ocean.
Auburn is stockpiling transfers and expected to regain skill, but sheer skill doesn’t beat Georgia.
Spencer Rattler dazzled against Tennessee and Clemson. He was unhappy against Georgia. In 2023, he will face the Bulldogs inside Sanford Stadium. Good luck.
Ole Miss fell short against its strongest competition this season. This competition did not include Georgia. Next season it will be. Lane Kiffin better start tweeting sweet nothings at Kirby Smart today in hopes his former colleague just wins by three touchdowns.
Maybe LSU or Alabama will challenge Georgia in the SEC Championship, but if the Bulldogs are undefeated going into this game, they’ll likely be ranked No. 1 or No. 2. So even with a loss to Atlanta, they’d remain a CFP candidate, and the SEC would likely get two playoff berths in that scenario, with the possibility of a national championship game that’s a rematch of the SEC championship.
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That leaves Tennessee as the team with the best chance of keeping Georgia out of the playoffs.
Tennessee will host Georgia on Nov. 18 and Alabama can attest to the ferocity at Neyland Stadium since the Vols awoke from their years-long slumber.
A Tennessee upset against Georgia could propel the Vols to the SEC East crown and stop the Bulldogs’ takeover of the sport.
What is the probability of this happening?
Not very, if you watched the teams play in November.
The Bulldogs had their way with the Vols, then ranked No. 1 in the CFP, on Nov. 5 in front of a home crowd that created a ruckus. Georgia’s pass rush handcuffed Hendon Hooker, and the score was 24-6 at halftime, before the Bulldogs eased off the throttle and ran out the clock during a rainy second half .
The final tally, 27-13, didn’t tell the true story of the band.
The Vols are nonetheless Georgia’s toughest opponent on the schedule, and they argued for a preseason top-10 finish by handling Clemson in the Orange Bowl to finish an 11-2 season.
Veteran Joe Milton is poised to take the offensive reins after a career-best showing against Clemson, and Josh Heupel’s track record suggests his high-flying offense can survive a quarterback transition.
Tennessee’s defense remains a concern, however. He managed to bend but not break against Clemson, but Georgia doesn’t fade into the red zone like Clemson did at Hard Rock Stadium.
But if the Vols’ pass protects better than it has against Georgia this season and Neyland Stadium becomes an X-factor, Tennessee’s offense at least offers the potential for UT to become difficult for the Georgia. I can’t say the same for Georgia’s other programmed enemies.
By Tuesday morning, hours after Georgia edged past the TCU 65-7 to repeat as the national champion, the conversation had shifted to next season.
Smart’s first championship team made Georgia a nightmare.
Two straight games have proven the Bulldogs are here to stay.
A triple? This would be unprecedented in the modern era.
Put history aside, though, and examine Georgia’s comeback roster, and you’ll see why the sportsbooks have named the Bulldogs the early favorite to win next season’s national championship.
The Bulldogs need to replace Stetson quarterback Bennett IV, but they’re set to fire three backup quarterbacks who were well-regarded rookies. The majority of Georgia’s offensive and defensive national championship starters are set to return, and a wave of talented underclassmen are poised for bigger roles.
So who is going to trip Georgia? Maybe Georgia itself, according to its coach. With so many returns, Smart’s main concern is fending off complacency.
“I think it’s going to be a lot harder,” Smart said Tuesday. “And we have a lot of guys, in my opinion, who are going to come back, and it’s easy to get comfortable. And comfortable doesn’t win.
However, supreme talent usually rules the day, and few if any teams will match Georgia’s 2023 assembly.
Tennessee won’t match this assembly, but the scheme and a rabid crowd can be a bit of an equalizer.
More likely, the Robberies become a bigger hurdle than most, but a hurdle that Georgia nevertheless clears by extending their reign.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.