Georgia football: It's official. The Bulldogs are the new Alabama
Saturday was a significant day in the fabric of the Southeastern Conference.
There was a collection of games and moments that, taken together, signify the most important shift in the foundation of college football competition in perhaps more than a decade.
For years, we have discussed various teams that could challenge Alabama for conference — and, by extension, national — supremacy. Florida had its moment at the beginning of the Crimson Tide dynasty more than a decade ago. Auburn showed flashes on a couple of occasions. LSU has risen to the top and then floundered back under.
But then there was Georgia. Georgia felt like the one that really might be able to do it. It hired a Nick Saban disciple in defensive guru Kirby Smart. It finally matched and, at times, surpassed Saban’s Alabama in recruiting, more than any other program had been able to.
For years, the consensus was that if the Bulldogs could get over the hump, they might just be able to join the Crimson Tide on the rarest of plateaus as the nation’s premier programs.
And when they finally topped Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship last season, that moment had come.
But Alabama was still Alabama, of course. It had its Heisman-winning quarterback and a roster full of elite talent. Saban was still leading the program, recruiting was still at an all-time high and Alabama wasn’t going anywhere. The 2022 season would be a revenge tour for the Crimson Tide, and they would remind everyone that they were still the best of the best, a category of 1 in college football.
Until Saturday. On Saturday, finally, the landscape shifted.
Georgia is the new Alabama. It is in a class by itself. There is no Tier 1 that includes a 1A and 1B. The Bulldogs are officially the elite program in college football, and all others are chasing after them.
Here’s why Saturday confirmed that shift:
The Dawgs succeeded against Tennessee where no one else could
No one — and I mean no one — was stopping that Tennessee offense this season.
Week after week, the Vols proved that they had the top offense in the country. They blew past ranked opponents like Florida and LSU, outscored Alabama in a shootout, dominated top-20 Kentucky, averaging more than 40 points in those games.
If anyone was going to beat Tennessee, it would have to find a way to outscore it, because shutting down that offense wasn’t an option.
And then Georgia shut it down. Completely.
A garbage-time touchdown is all the Vols had to show against a relentless Georgia defense that didn’t allow 300 yards and sacked quarterback Hendon Hooker 7 times.
You know what you need to be the nation’s elite program? The ability to send all your talent to the NFL 1 year and come back just as strong on that side of the ball the next.
Different names. Same results.
Georgia doesn’t rebuild. It reloads. That’s the Alabama way, and no other program has matched the Crimson Tide in that regard until now.
The SEC East isn’t close
Hats off to Tennessee this season for all the aforementioned reasons. It truly has been a remarkable turnaround for the Vols, and I fully expect Josh Heupel’s crew to continue to grow.
But 2022 was a perfect storm for Tennessee when you consider the return of Hooker and his offensive weapons. With respect to the Vols, I can’t see them being able to match their 2022 output in the next season or 2. So while they continue to recruit, the gap between Georgia and the rest of the division remains.
Kentucky has done well and remains competitive. Florida might have finally found the right fit in head coach Billy Napier.
But for the foreseeable future, no one is challenging Georgia for East supremacy. That means you can expect to see the Bulldogs play for a chance to go to the College Football Playoff virtually every season.
Alabama isn’t quite Alabama anymore
Look, we’ve gone through this exercise before.
“Alabama has lost a step in recruiting, and LSU just won a national title. Maybe the end finally is here.”
And then there’s another national title.
But this time it feels different, right? It’s not just that the Crimson Tide have lost 2 games before the Iron Bowl for the first time since 2010. It’s that they’re lucky it wasn’t more.
I’m not sure how everyone else has felt watching Alabama this season. But to me, it has looked like a team that we knew should be good but really didn’t have the same edge as any of the previous editions.
Alabama is lucky to not have fallen against unranked Texas in the 2nd game of the season. Texas A&M, which has been so bad this season that many in Aggieland are passing around donation buckets trying to gather the cash needed to buy out coach Jimbo Fisher’s contract, was 1 dumb goal-line play away from knocking off the Tide.
Now, Alabama has lost 2 of its past 3 games, and it very easily could make it 3 of 4 next week against Ole Miss. Thinking that the Tide are just a couple of plays away from being a 4- or 5-loss team is astounding.
The SEC Championship will likely feature Georgia and either LSU or Ole Miss, a development that would have seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
But here we are. Another reason that this conference now belongs to the Bulldogs.
None of this means that Georgia’s path to back-to-back national titles is clear. To just assume it will go to Starkville and leave with an easy victory or to Lexington and upend Kentucky would be folly.
There are still roadblocks. And Georgia must take care of its business to complete the 2nd leg of a legacy-defining dynasty.
But what we’ve learned is that there is no longer a power vacuum where multiple teams are jockeying for position.
There’s Georgia. And then there’s everybody else.
Now we’ll see how just how heavy lies the crown.