Georgia chases historic trio with new QB, controversy

All-American tight end Brock Bowers has been making college football history in Georgia for the past two years, so it’s time for him to learn something, especially now.

The Bulldogs are two-time defending champions and could take first place early in the season. Coach Kirby Smart’s team is poised to become the first since the Minnesota in the 1934-1936 season to win three trophies, the last championship captured in the first season of the Associated Press Poll.

No wonder Bowers needed a crash course Tuesday at SEC Media Days to learn about the Golden Gophers’ remarkable run, admitting he heard about it “about 10 minutes ago.”

During the offseason, coach Kirby Smart discussed with his players a three-time loss to the Chicago Bulls against Michael Jordan.

“No offense to the Minnesota 1935 crew,” Smart said with a smile, “but I don’t know if this will resonate with my audience.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart discusses the Bulldogs’ quest for a three-peat win on July 18, 2023 during SEC Media Days in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Smart also introduced the Dougs to the New Zealand All Blacks national rugby team, which has been the sport’s gold standard and a dynasty for decades. The Bulldogs went all-in on the All Blacks and got a blueprint for continued success.

“We took a deep dive,” Smart said. “We took the title and the mantra from them and studied these things for six weeks because we don’t want complacency. They did it better than anyone else.

“One of their big mantras is better than never resting.”

Bulldogs are not going to give up. Yet Georgia is looking to make history with a new quarterback and a cloud of controversy hanging over the program.

Jacksonville native Carson Beck is in line to replace Stetson Bennett, a former player who ended his career with 6 touchdowns, an MVP performance during the 2022 national title game and a 29-1 record over the past two seasons.

Veteran center Cedric Van Pran expects a smooth transition to quarterback based on Smart’s approach to player development.

“Coach Smart did a great job of getting people (in training)… gave the guys some reps with a few people,” Van Pran said. “I know how they are in the crowd. This gives me confidence that they will be up to the task. This could have been an adjustment if we hadn’t taken these representatives over the years.

“Because Coach Smart has prepared us for the eventual change, I think it will be much smoother.”

Georgia center Cedric Van Pran, starting lineup for two national champions, answers questions July 18, 2023 during SEC Media Days in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

However, the off-season for the Bulldogs was far from smooth.

The list of speed driving incidents includes the January incident resulting in the deaths of recruiter Chandler LeCroy and offensive lineman Devin Willock, as well as reckless driving and racing allegations against star defense lineman Jalen Carter of Apopka, which affected his draft status in NFL and led on probation.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported that 11 players in Smart’s seven seasons remained in the program despite allegations of sexual assault. Last week, the coach of the Georgian national team disputed this report.

Off-field questions were another hurdle in the Bulldogs’ path to victory.

“There is an understanding that we have to be better,” Van Pran said. “A lot of guys stood up and said, ‘We have to deal with this.’

Elsewhere, Smart’s juggernaut is heading in the right direction.

Consistency in the squad and in the coaching ranks is a rarity in the era of the transfer portal and ever-increasing compensation.

Georgia still has 17 of the 20 players, including Bowers, from the class of 2021 whom Smart called “COVID kids.” Their recruitment occurred during the pandemic, preventing official visits.

“Do you know how we judged this class? Love for the game and dedication,” said Smart. “It is not difficult. It’s hard to find, but easy to appreciate.”

Georgia All-American tight end Brock Bowers has been the cornerstone of the Bulldogs’ two national championship teams. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Aside from the departure of offensive coordinator Todd Monken to the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, the Bulldogs’ personnel remained intact. Mike Bobo, Bulldogs assistant from 2001 to 2014, will move from being an analyst to taking Monken’s place.

“Every staff coach on this year’s staff was on last year’s staff,” Smart said. “Tell me the last time a national championship team could say that.”

However, the Bulldogs are also quick to point out that the last two seasons have nothing to do with it.

“Nolan Smith will not be lining up when we get to September. Jordan Davis doesn’t line up. Stetson Bennett will not take the first shot,” Van Pran said. “We are a completely different team. Each team is unique.

“We have to hit the road just like those teams did.”

Five programs since 1970 have stumbled in their pursuit of the three peatlands – twice Nebraska (1973, 1996), Oklahoma (1976), USC (2005) and Alabama (2013).

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks with Alabama head coach Nick Saban ahead of the first half of the 2022 SEC Championship on December 4, 2021 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, file)

Smart, 47, was Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator on Crimson Tide’s championship teams in 2011 and 2012, as well as on the ’13 team, which finished 11-2 with straight losses. Their coach said that for the 2023 Bulldogs to succeed where others have failed, another title cannot be the primary goal.

“The threat to us is complacency,” Smart said. “When you see complacency taking over, the team’s enthusiasm and egos start to worry about the results. This is not what we do in Georgia.

“We need dedicated people who love football and that’s what we’re building.”

Edgar Thompson can be contacted at [email protected].

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