It’s abnormally weird for the University of Georgia to be odds-on national title favorites. I’m not saying Kirby Smart’s group is unworthy — they won the past two College Football Playoffs, and appear to be every bit the juggernaut Vegas thinks they are. It simply takes a beat for perception to catch up to reality, as fans need repeated proof that Clemson is no longer Clemson, or that there’s a frontrunner in the SEC not named Alabama.
The Bulldogs have been dominant over the past two seasons, but it’s not quite on the level — purely from a narrative standpoint — as say an Alabama, or even Pete Carroll’s USC team after their back-to-back titles this century. There’s no sense of inevitability, and maybe that’s because Stetson Bennett and a bunch of first-round defensive talent have moved on, but they still have some of the shortest odds for any favorite (+240) in the past two decades, according to ESPN.
Other than Brock Bowers, I’d challenge casual college football fans to name another certified star on the team — though they undoubtedly will have a few. Smart finally named his starting quarterback two weeks ago, and the expectations for Carson Beck heading into his first year as a college QB1 are astronomical.
Title or bust is a weighty goal for anyone, but considering it would be a three-peat for the Dawgs — a feat that’s never been done in the AP Poll era — the burden is that much heavier. The only impetus I can find for oddsmakers’ obsession with UGA, at least this season, is their schedule.
Due to Oklahoma’s pending arrival in the SEC, the two schools called off their non-conference matchup, and as a result, Georgia doesn’t play a ranked team until November. Now, things could change as South Carolina, Florida, and Auburn all have the ability to pull competence out of the thick, humid Southern air, but, as it stands, No. 22 Ole Miss and No. 12 Tennessee are the only top 25 programs on the docket.
That would leave Georgia vulnerable if they don’t win the conference.
We know historically a one-loss SEC team is all but guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff, so you’d think all the Dawgs would have to do is beat the Vols in Knoxville, take care of business elsewhere, and it won’t matter what happens in the conference title game. That’s a big assumption considering the field in 2023.
It would be an ironic, and unlikely, twist of fate if the defending champs don’t get a CFP bid with only one loss, but I personally would love to see an SEC team get docked for a lax schedule. Southern Cal and LSU are getting a lot of title love from the gambling public, because of favorable lines, but, unlike LSU, USC could spoil the party.
The committee takes talent into account, and would leap at the opportunity to get reigning Heisman winner and projected No. 1 NFL draft pick Caleb Williams — and the ratings that come with it — into the playoff as a one-loss Pac-12 champ.
I don’t know if that logic applies to Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State, if a scenario like last year happens again. There would be a debate over strength of schedule, for sure, and UGA would probably prevail just because they’re the defending champs, but this is not the season to chance that by not winning the SEC.
Notre Dame has a tougher slate, Clemson certainly has the talent to get through the ACC mostly unscathed, and there’s always an outside shot of a Big 12 team surviving long enough to budge its way in, a la TCU. There obviously are a lot of outside factors that Georgia can negate by winning, but, in certain cases, reputation may not be enough.
Georgia’s star recognition is nowhere near the level of that Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart Trojan team, and Smart hasn’t yet fully wrestled the Big Palpatine energy away from Nick Saban. So, yeah, there’s an indefinable quality about this UGA squad that’s giving me pause.
Maybe it’s the uncertainty at quarterback, Georgia’s history before these past two titles, or I’m an idiot and the schedule is just that easy, but as of yet, I’m having a hard time blindly accepting Georgia as favorites for the simple reason that they won it last year.