Hayes: Carson Beck's return means Georgia already has won the offseason
The biggest move of the offseason arrived late Monday afternoon in Athens, and it has nothing to do with a recruiting class or the transfer portal or motivation from a Playoff slight.
Carson Beck will return for his senior season, which essentially translates to Georgia being the early favorite to win the 2024 national title.
It got dicey in the 2 weeks since the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama, since Georgia went from the No. 1 team in the nation to out of the Playoff on the same weekend.
Since the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in the 2024 class, QB Dylan Raiola, decided he didn’t want to play for Georgia after all. Since All-American linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson left for the portal, and 4 5-star recruits from previous recruiting classes set to make impacts in 2024 followed him out the door.
Since top backup QB Brock Vandagriff said he was transferring to Kentucky, leaving the quarterback room with redshirt freshman Gunner Stockton and whole lot of questions.
Since invincible in Athens suddenly became vulnerable.
Especially with the idea of Beck moving to the NFL and foregoing his final season of eligibility. He would’ve been a Day 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, and 2 different NFL scouts told Saturday Down South last week that Beck could move into the top 2-3 quarterbacks selected with strong workouts and interviews.
Now all is well again in Athens — because without Beck, the 2024 season could have been a significant step back. Without Beck, Georgia coach Kirby Smart would have had to sign a quarterback from the transfer portal and hoped it all worked out.
With Beck, Georgia has an elite thrower returning and a 5th-year senior who can chase a national title and Heisman Trophy — all while mentoring 4-star QB Ryan Puglisi, a strong-armed but overlooked recruit who one Georgia staffer told SDS “fits perfectly” with Smart’s maniacal mentality.
Puglisi is already on campus and participating in bowl practices, and more than likely would’ve competed with any addition from the portal had Beck decided to leave for the NFL. But Beck stayed — with an NIL deal that reaches nearly $4 million with cash and benefits, an industry source told SDS — and now Puglisi is set up for 2025.
“My friends and family have helped put me in a situation to have options for my future,” Beck said in a statement released by Georgia. “However, the NFL can wait 1 more year.”
Georgia could still sign a quarterback from the transfer portal, but he won’t be a starter. It would more than likely be safe option, should something happen to Beck during the season.
Potential fits include Arizona State’ Drew Pyne and Washington’s Dylan Morris, both of whom have started multiple games at the Power 5 level.
Quarterbacks in the portal have been waiting for Beck’s decision, with some of the top available players interested in leading Georgia’s championship-ready team. Since Beck’s decision, K-State’s Will Howard has committed to USC, and others will follow — most notably, the top 3 remaining on the board (Cam Ward, Dante Moore, Maalik Murphy).
Georgia also feels good about signing Florida transfer RB Trevor Etienne, and adding to its current No. 1-ranked 2024 recruiting class when the Early Signing Period opens Wednesday — even with the likely loss of Raiola to Nebraska.
One Georgia source called this week “the biggest non-championship week around here in a long time” and that, “we’ll be talking about this week for years.”
It can’t get much better than keeping Beck, and avoiding playing a 1st-year starter — a transfer or a true freshman — in 2024.
The Georgia staff believes Beck can have Jayden Daniels-type growth in his 2nd season as a starter. More to that point: Expect Georgia to open up the offense next season, relying more on the passing game and veering away from Smart’s philosophy of a run-oriented, ball control offense.
Georgia, which has used the portal sparingly under Smart, will likely search for wide receivers and offensive linemen this offseason. C Sedrick Van Pran is leaving early for the NFL, and RT Amarius Mims is a projected Day 1 pick, and could leave early, too. Most expect Brock Bowers to declare, too. WR Ladd McConkey and G Tate Ratledge are also possible early entries.
But maybe Beck’s decision to stay will lead other draft-eligible players on the team to follow. Maybe the biggest move of the offseason at Georgia is just the start of something much bigger.
Something that looks a whole lot more invincible than it did a few days ago.