Talent alone has never won a national championship in college football, and that’s what has University of Georgia icon Herschel Walker the most excited about his beloved Dawgs’ chances the rest of the way this season.

It’s talent when combined with great chemistry and outstanding coaching that makes for special years like the magical 1980 season in which Walker, then a freshman tailback phenom, led UGA to its only national crown.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star spoke with Saturday Down South and said he likes what he’s seen thus far of this year’s version of his alma mater. Georgia, which remains unbeaten at 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC heading into Saturday’s date with visiting South Carolina, was ranked No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings released earlier this week.

“You see guys that love playing with each other,” Walker said. “They love playing together. That’s a good mix when guys love to step on the field and play with each other.

“I think the teams that I was on while I was at Georgia, we were excited to play on Saturday. And I see that with this team we have playing there now. They’re having fun and they’re doing their assignments, which is very key because sometimes you can have fun and you really break your assignments. But this team is doing what they’re supposed to do and having fun doing it.”

There’s still a lot of football to be played, but Walker talked about some of the many similarities and differences between his near-mythical 1980 championship team and the current version of the Dawgs that hopes to rekindle that same magic of 37 years ago and do likewise.


Power football on both sides A power running game was the key to both teams – Walker eventually won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1982, but the case could easily be made that his best season came his freshman year when he finished third in the Heisman voting after tallying 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns on 274 carries (5.9 ypc) to almost single-handedly fuel the Bulldogs attack.

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia

Neither Nick Chubb or Sony Michel – or likely nobody else for that matter – will ever duplicate Walker’s ridiculous feats, but both senior tailbacks are very special and will soon be playing on Sundays for a long time. The two have collectively helped the Dawgs chew up an average of 284 yards per game to rank No. 2 in the SEC and 10th nationally.

Chubb, more of the power back, most resembles Walker, while the shifty Michel is do-it-all player who blocks and catches the ball out of the backfield with equal aplomb as his running.

Both teams are characterized by stingy defenses – for all the talk about Walker, it was Georgia’s “Junkyard Dog” defense that set the stage for the 1980 national championship run.

Those Dawgs allowed an average of just 11.41 points game, registering three shutouts and six games of allowing just 10 points or fewer. Ball-hawking defensive backs Jeff Hipp and Scott Woerner combined for 13 interceptions that fall.

This year’s defense has been equally as spectacular thanks in large part to a stud linebacker crew of junior Roquan Smith and seniors Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. UGA enters this weekend’s game against the Gamecocks surrendering an average of just 11.9 points per game to rank third nationally in scoring defense.

“It looks like they brought the old Junkyard Dog defense back,” Walker said. “They bend, but they do not break. They love hitting and (opponents) are not getting too much from them. They’re going to go out and gang tackle. That’s what football is all about – everybody being involved on the tackle. That’s what you need now.”

Both teams rode early-season road wins to bigger things: The 1980 team was ranked No. 16 in the preseason, but road wins at Tennessee to start the season and at Clemson two weeks later set the stage for the Bulldogs run to glory.

One play in particular in the win over UT will be forever be immortalized in UGA lore after a speeding Walker absolutely destroyed Vols safety Bill Bates en route to the end zone in his college debut. “My God, a freshman!” Larry Munson famously exclaimed.

This year’s win in South Bend over Notre Dame in Week 2 was seen as an accomplishment in itself in September, but it just looks better and better each week as the surging Irish were ranked fourth in the initial CFP rankings. A possible rematch could await.

Great coaching: SEC Coach of the Year Vince Dooley was in his 17th year at Georgia when his team went 12-0, defeating Notre Dame, 17-10, in the Sugar Bowl to claim his only national championship.

The safe bet to be this year’s SEC Coach of the Year in just second season as a head coach, Kirby Smart has made all the right calls so far, perhaps none bigger than sticking with true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm instead of returning to injured previous starter Jacob Eason. That decision looks obvious now, but it’s the kind that can go south in a hurry and splinter your team if wrong.

Both teams are loaded with talent throughout the rosters: Eight Bulldogs earned All-SEC accolades in 1980. Similarly, there are a number of players not seeing significant minutes right now on this year’s Georgia team who will nonetheless go on to enjoy lengthy NFL careers. Talent is a rarely a problem in Athens.

There are a few differences, too

Georgia’s rise this year is much quicker: Not much was expected of the 1980 team from the pundits. But a string of impressive wins – including a Week 8 win over nationally ranked South Carolina and Heisman Trophy candidate George Rogers – made the nation stand up and take notice. Conversely, this year’s Dawgs were loaded in talent and the trendy choice by most to win a soft SEC East.

Herschel Walker was the RB committee: Walker shouldered the load for the Dawgs. It didn’t take long for Dooley and his staff to realize they had a once-in-a-generation talent in Walker, and they made sure to use him. No other running back totaled more than 56 carries on the season.

Conversely, Chubb and Michel have effectively stayed fresh by sharing the burden, with neither back listing more than 16 carries in any one game this season. D’Andre Swift has been a pleasant surprise. He already has 46 carries. Brien Herrien has 51.

Herschel Walker was doing the work of four in 1980.

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia

The 1980 team was led by a senior-laden class: College football was a different game entirely back then as underclassmen were not yet allowed to leave school early for the alluring riches of the pros. (Herschel Walker led the way there, too.) That meant a large senior class filled with strong, capable leaders and other experienced upperclassmen were able to lead that team and successfully help the many new faces like Walker transition to college life, both on and off the field.

It’s a different game now, meaning that youth is more the norm now rather than the exception. This year’s Georgia team is extremely young and has no choice but to count on those many new faces – like Fromm – to learn on the job quickly. So far, so good.

“We had an old, veteran class that handled the leadership,” Walker said, “but this is a young team.”

No close games so far in 2017: The 1980 team won six games by a touchdown or less, including the Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame that assured the national championship.

None, however, proved as dramatic as quarterback Buck Belue’s 93-yard pitch-and-catch to Lindsay Scott for a touchdown with 1:04 left that propelled the Dawgs to a memorable 26-21 decision in Jacksonville over rival Florida.

This year’s Georgia team has steamrolled the competition, winning its first five SEC games by an average of 32 points.

The SEC East was far tougher in 1980: Facing the gauntlet of Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida was a considerably taller order in 1980 than it is today.

Let’s just leave it at that.

One thing Walker and all Dawgs fans can agree on: As long as this season ends like the 1980 one did, nobody’s going to care about the margin.