Why Stetson Bennett IV is the greatest QB in Georgia history, and it's no longer a debate
Fire up the Vince Carter GIF.
Stetson Bennett IV is already the best quarterback in Georgia history. I don’t care how Monday’s showing against TCU turns out. I don’t care if Bennett’s only entry into an NFL game comes courtesy of a ticket. I don’t care if Bennett announces his retirement from football at halftime of the National Championship.
OK, I went too far. That’s just a touch unrealistic. After all, the dude is 25 years old and he’s 1 game from accomplishing something that only 3 quarterbacks (AJ McCarron, Matt Leinart and Tommie Frazier) have done in the past 40 years. That is, win consecutive national championships. (USC’s 2003 title was shared and its 2004 BCS title was stripped.)
Bennett has done anything but quit this year. There was never the championship hangover some speculated he’d have following a national championship last year that felt more like a Disney movie (minus the Pappy Van Winkle swig). All Bennett did was one-up his 2021 showing by earning his way to New York and becoming Georgia’s first Heisman Trophy finalist since Garrison Hearst in 1992.
The G.O.A.T. Georgia quarterback? Yeah, Bennett already has that locked up. It should be unanimous now, especially on the heels of Bennett carving up Ohio State to overcome a double-digit deficit in the 4th quarter to win the Peach Bowl.
Go figure that the guy many would argue was better — Aaron Murray — was actually the one who made the argument during Bennett’s SEC Championship brilliance.
Not only is Stetson Bennett going to NYC, he has moved into GOAT status at UGA
He is the greatest QB in Georgia history ??
— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) December 3, 2022
Mind you, that’s from Murray, AKA the SEC’s all-time leader in career passing touchdowns and passing yards. This year, Will Rogers passed Murray on the all-time SEC lead for career completions.
If you just do the career side-by-side without any context, you might wonder why Murray would say such a thing:
But even Murray can admit that cumulative numbers, as impressive as they are, aren’t on the level of Bennett’s feats.
“He has the ring,” Murray told SDS. “We were all brought to UGA to win a championship. He is the only one to have done that in 40-plus years.”
The guy who did that before Bennett, of course, was Buck Belue with the 1980 team. With all due respect to Belue, though, he completed 49% of his passes and averaged 7 completions per game during UGA’s title season, which was fueled by a certain Herschel Walker and a lights out defense.
Let’s also not confuse “most talented” with “best overall” because you’d have a hard time arguing that Georgia had a more talented quarterback than Matthew Stafford. So why not Stafford as “best overall” as well? In games against AP Top 25 opponents in his last 2 years as a starter, he averaged 8.3 yards/pass attempt and he had 15 interceptions in those 10 contests. During that stretch, only 3 times did he have a quarterback rating of 180.0 against an AP Top 25 foe (more on that stat in a minute).
The argument is Murray vs. Bennett.
It’s a simple fact, though for now, let’s throw out the argument that “Stetson is just a winner.” There’s no such thing as “QB wins” and if that’s the first thing that describes the quarterback, it’s usually because he has some holes in his game.
So let’s instead look at a key metric that defines elite quarterbacks. It’s not whether you threw 4 touchdown passes and lit up a Group of 5 team that earned a 7-figure payday in exchange for a beatdown. It’s whether you were dominant against the teams who mattered.
In 2022, Stetson played in 6 games (and counting) against teams currently in the AP Top 25 as of this writing. His quarterback rating was 186. Not only was that by far the best in America in 2022, but in the Playoff era, it trailed only the likes of 2017 Baker Mayfield, 2018 Kyler Murray, 2019 Joe Burrow, 2020 Mac Jones and 2021 CJ Stroud (min. 4 games). In all 6 of those games, Bennett’s QB rating was at least 149 and it was at least 180.0 in 5 of 6 games.
Since Bennett took over for JT Daniels in 2021, he played in 10 games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the matchup. In those games, Bennett had:
- A) A 24-3 TD-INT ratio
- B) 9.9 yards/pass attempt
- C) 7 games with multiple TD passes and no INTs
- D) 2 games with an INT
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Let’s compare that to Murray’s last 2 seasons as Georgia’s starter so that this isn’t just about cumulative numbers. Against teams who were ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the matchup, here’s that breakdown:
I showed Murray those numbers. He had a couple takeaways.
“INTs, Aaron. Take care of the ball!!!!” Murray joked. “(Bennett) plays the game as a risk-taker but has done a good job taking care of the football.”
That last number about QB rating is important because it shows you just how dominant Bennett has been in these important games. And for those who compare Bennett to Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron, Bennett had as many games with a quarterback rating of 180.0 against AP Top 25 teams (at the time of the matchup) as those 2 in their last 2 seasons combined (4 for McCarron and 3 for McElroy). Mind you, Bennett hit that mark 7-of-10 opportunities while McElroy and McCarron accomplished that feat 7-of-25 times.
Even if you wanted to look strictly at games against teams that finished in the AP Top 25, Murray’s best quarterback rating in a season against those foes was in 2013 when he posted a 148.5 mark. Again, Bennett is currently at 186 in those matchups heading into the national championship (that 2021 number was 163.0).
There’s perhaps a better question worth asking if Bennett is able to win his second title that 247sports’ Josh Pate brought up on the latest episode of The Saturday Down South Podcast.
“If I tell you that (Bennett) is the greatest Georgia football player of all-time …” Pate said.
I interrupted him during that response and blurted out “Herschel.” That’s just the knee-jerk reaction that I, along with many others, have had for our entire lifetimes without much room for debate.
“You push back on me saying there have been more talented players. That has to be the pushback because if we’re talking about the most decorated player, you’re looking at a quarterback of back-to-back title teams in a place where prior to this, they hadn’t won 1 in our lifetime,” Pate said. “There’s no argument to me. There have been plenty more talented players (than Bennett). So if you want to talk about NFL Draft prospects and all that, OK.
“But I know it’s such a shock to the senses because we’re still sort of new in the ‘we’re taking Stetson Bennett seriously’ thing, but very quickly, we’re on the precipice of that conversation of Stetson Bennett, greatest Georgia football player of all-time. I know how unpalatable that seems because I’m struggling just saying it, but I believe it. What’s the pushback on that?”
If Georgia wins on Monday night and Bennett continues his big-game brilliance, yes, we can at least begin that conversation. He will have earned it. It would be a 2-year run unlike any we’ve seen in the Playoff era. If Bennett’s sequel includes more clutch play that leads to another ring, it’ll be hard to argue with.
Let a new Georgia G.O.A.T. debate begin.