Carson Beck debuts as Georgia's starting quarterback on Saturday when the No. 1 Bulldogs open defense of their latest national championship on their home field in Athens against Tennessee-Martin.
Beck, officially named the starter by coach Kirby Smart on Aug. 19, handled every test the coaching staff put in front of him since Stetson Bennett's storybook stay at Georgia ended with the second of the program's back-to-back national titles in January.
"Carson is very knowledgeable, very intelligent," Smart said of the promotion. "One of the smartest quarterbacks I've been around.
"He did the best job."
Beck said last month he "was just not ready" to be the No. 1 quarterback when Bennett jumped him on the depth chart just before the opener in 2021. Smart asked Beck to share with the entire locker room his experience, which the coach described as a "missed opportunity." But Smart said the end result to date is that Beck learned how to prepare, and he is ready for the moment this time around. The junior threw for 310 yards with four TD passes in 2022.
"He's different, the players really enjoy him, they rally around him," Smart said. "He has a way with the skill players, calm, cool and collected, and poised in the pocket. People point to the fact he hasn't done it in a game, but around here we value practice, and a lot of times the practice is more valuable than the game in terms of who you are going against."
Smart doesn't want most of the roster to revisit the past, or put any weight into the narrative of being a team chasing a three-peat as back-to-back defending champs without a loss in the Southeastern Conference regular season over the past two years.
In addition to Bennett, the Bulldogs have a bevy of key players now playing their craft professionally. Among the All-SEC honorees Smart had to replace on the depth chart are top-10 pick Jalen Carter (Philadelphia Eagles) and two other first-round picks in offensive tackle Broderick Jones (Steelers) and linebacker Nolan Smith (Eagles).
UT-Martin (0-0) went to Tennessee last season and lost 65-24 but the FCS power has "the football character to compete," said coach Jason Simpson, whose son, Ty, spent the summer competing to be the starting quarterback for Alabama.
"I'm waiting for these guys to say something about being picked third," Simpson said of his team in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference poll, which now includes the Big South.
The Skyhawks have won consecutive OVC titles. Like Smart, Simpson spent the summer reminding his team that 2021 and 2022 hardware means noting in 2023.
Simpson doesn't have the benefit of the top-ranked recruiting class in the country to lean on when attempting to replace 14 All-OVC players from the 2022 roster. He does have a defense that is expected to rate near the top of the OVC-Big South, led by defensive end Daylan Dotson, defensive tackles Giovanni Davis and Jay Rogers, safety Carson Evans and linebacker Tevin Shipp.
Kinkead Dent, an Ole Miss transfer, takes over at quarterback in a backfield that returns 2022 OVC Freshman of the Year Sam Franklin.
"The biggest challenge is getting the new players caught up to speed to play winning football," Simpson said. "It all hits at different spots and it will all come together at some point, but you just wish you could speed it up."
—Field Level Media