1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

Forget about who deserved a spot in the Playoff and who didn’t. It’s a fruitless exercise for Georgia.

Now it’s all about what happens moving forward. How did the Bulldogs get here —- and where do they go as the college football world dramatically changes in 2024?

Georgia was good enough to be selected to the 2023 Playoff. Will Georgia — with 1 loss in its past 30 games — be good enough to win the new 12-team Playoff in 2024?

And can coach Kirby Smart do what his mentor Nick Saban has done at Alabama and keep the machine rolling despite the inherent demons that drag down dynasties (more on this later)?

From on-field or off-field distractions, or personnel losses on the roster or coaching staff, there are numerous entry points that can derail an elite program.

Alabama has avoided those traps, and Saban has beaten Smart 5 of the 6 times their teams have played — because the focus on the greater good never waivers. No matter the season, no matter the opponent, no matter the circumstances.

“The message doesn’t change,” Smart said after the SEC Championship Game. “It’s about looking inward and figuring out what we can do.”

But there will be change, and maybe even drastic change. Among the multiple questions lingering:

— Does quarterback Carson Beck to return to Athens for another season, and ignore a Day 1 grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board?

— After 3 seasons of grinding to win a national championship — and defend 2 titles while taking every team’s best shot — does Georgia sustain and return to the level of excellence that changed the dynamics of the SEC and the national landscape?

— Can Smart, 1 of the game’s top 2 coaches, harness the intricate intangible of deftly pushing and motivating a team past disappointment and keep everyone on a talented roster happy and away from the transfer portal?

“We’ll have a team meeting to go over the plans for the future,” Smart said. “But these guys need some time. They’ll get some time off, but we’ll go over what our plans are based on what we find out.”

2. The inevitable slide

Think about what Georgia has been through — some self-inflicted — over the past 11 months since last winning the national championship.

It began with the tragic loss of a teammate (Devin Willock) and staffer (Chandler LeCroy) in an automobile accident a few hours after a parade for winning the national title.

It continued with a rash of speeding and reckless driving arrests, and an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that painted a program out of control — the AJC fired the story’s writer because it could not “verify that 11 players accused of sexual assault were allowed to stay on the team” — that led to a constant negative drumbeat in an offseason where Georgia was preparing to become the first team to win 3 straight national titles in AP poll history.

Then the season began, and wideout Ladd McConkey missed games with a back injury. And star tight end Brock Bowers missed multiple games with an injury.

The offensive line took a half season to find its stride, and the offense didn’t play efficiently until late October. Then the team’s best defensive player (linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson) sustained a season-ending injury.

Then came the SEC Championship Game and a coaching meltdown. The game plan on both sides of the ball was bizarre and played a role in ending Georgia’s run at history.

The offense stressed a run game, taking the ball from the team’s best player (Beck). The defense chose an unusual dual spy for Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, and dropping 5 to 7 in coverage to force Milroe to make plays in the passing game.

Those moves eliminated what Georgia did best on both sides of the ball: The passing game on offense, and the ability attack the quarterback on defense and force poor throws and decisions.

Georgia was so concerned about blocking Alabama’s pass rush, it decided to run right at it. And the Bulldogs were so concerned about Milroe’s off-schedule running ability, it eliminated a pass rush (unless it blitzed) that had defined its defense over the 29-game winning streak.

Two drastic, out of the norm coaching decisions that changed the course of a game — and a season. And maybe history. Now Smart will deal with consequences that could extend into next season and beyond.

3. Moving forward through change

An industry source told Saturday Down South that Smart has been trying for weeks to convince Beck to stay in Athens for the 2024 season.

But what if he can’t? What if the end of the winning streak and the chase for perfection and a 3rd straight national title changes everything?

Georgia has multiple key players who could leave early for the NFL, and there more than likely will be turnover from a roster of talented players looking for something different. The extent of that turnover will be determined by how well Smart sells his plan for the future.

Smart will likely ask Beck for a quick NFL decision, allowing Smart to reach out to quarterbacks in the transfer portal if Beck is leaving. Smart recruited Caleb Williams from the portal 2 seasons ago despite having Stetson Bennett IV returning for his final season.

So the idea of finding a starter from current backups Brock Vandagrif and Gunner Stockton (and No. 2 overall recruit Dylan Raiola) isn’t as much of a lock as you’d think.

Then there’s the new and improved SEC, and the potential of turnover on the roster and uncertainty at quarterback is compounded by Georgia’s 2024 schedule in the new 16-team league.

Gone are the recent days of frolicking through the East Division. The Dawgs play at Alabama and at Texas (2 Playoff teams), at Ole Miss (New Year’s 6 bowl), Tennessee, Auburn and rival Florida in Jacksonville, among the teams on the 2024 schedule.

Georgia also opens the season against Clemson, and possibly with a new quarterback. The Bulldogs will add the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, and will be active in the transfer portal.

But as recent history has shown us: When winning streaks end, chaos inevitably follows.

4. Following greatness, The Epilogue

— Clemson won 29 consecutive games before losing to LSU in the 2019 Playoff National Championship Game. The Tigers are 39-11 since but clearly not the dominant team that won 2 national titles and had a streak of 12 straight double-digit win seasons.

— Florida State won 29 consecutive games and a national title before Oregon ended the streak in the 2014 Playoff semifinal. The Noles went 27-12 over the next 3 seasons before coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. New coach (2 removed from Fisher) Mike Norvell has FSU on a current 19-game win streak.

— USC won 34 consecutive games and 2 national titles, and lost to Texas in the 2005 BCS National Championship Game. The Trojans went to 3 straight Rose Bowls after the streak ended but haven’t played for a national championship or advanced to the Playoff since.

— Miami won 34 consecutive games and a national title, and lost to Ohio State in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game. The program has been lost since.

That’s 4 elite programs, all with the financial wherewithal and geographic recruiting footprint to sustain greatness. None of the 4 accomplished their rare runs with the inherent problems Georgia faces: NIL, free player movement, and an expanded (and more powerful) SEC.

It’s not as simple as rolling into a season and expecting everything to stay the same. Or expecting elite quarterback play, which Georgia has had during the streak.

It’s hard work, and it’s — as much as anything — dealing with the human condition. How badly do players want it after they’ve had it for 3 years?

And how quickly do they give up and search for higher ground when they don’t have it anymore?

5. The Weekly 5

Ranking the top 5 SEC bowl games, and the early spread for each:

  • Alabama (1.5) vs. Michigan, Rose Bowl
  • Missouri (+6.5) vs. Ohio State, Cotton Bowl
  • Ole Miss (+3.5) vs. Penn State, Peach Bowl
  • Georgia vs. Florida State (+14), Orange Bowl
  • Tennessee vs. Iowa (+7), Citrus Bowl

6. Your tape is your resume

And NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: LSU WR Brian Thomas.

“He has really created value for himself this season. He’s a big guy who is all of 6-4, and he’s long and and can go get those 50-50 balls. He’s going to run in the 4.4 range (40-yard dash), but there are some concerns about explosion after the catch. He doesn’t really have that twitch and quick change of direction. That’s what separates him from a late Day 1 to a Day 2 pick.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.

1. Alabama: Tide are 6-1-1 all-time in the Rose Bowl, the last a 31-14 win over Notre Dame in 2020 played in Arlington, Texas because of COVID restrictions in California.

2. Georgia: Bulldogs are 3-1 all-time in the Orange Bowl, the last a 33-18 rout of Michigan in the 2021 Playoff semifinal.

3. Missouri: Tigers are 2-1 all-time in the Cotton Bowl, the last a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in 2014.

4. Ole Miss: Rebels are 1-1 all-time in the Peach Bowl, the last a 42-3 loss to TCU in 2014.

5. Tennessee: Vols are 4-1 all-time in the Citrus Bow, the last a 45-17 win over Michigan in 2002.

6. LSU: Tigers are 1-1 all-time in the ReliaQuest Bowl, the last a 21-14 win over Iowa in 2014.

7. Kentucky: Wildcats are 1-1 all-time in the Gator Bowl, the last a 23-21 win over NC State in 2021.

8. Texas A&M: Aggies are 2-1 all-time in the Texas Bowl, the last a 24-21 win over Oklahoma State.

9. Auburn: Tigers are 2-0 all-time in the Music City Bowl, the last a 63-14 win over Purdue in 2018.

10. Florida: The last time the Gators missed the postseason: 2017, in coach Jim McElwain’s last season.

11. South Carolina: The last time South Carolina missed the postseason: 2020, in coach Will Muschamp’s last season.

12. Mississippi State: The last time Mississippi State missed the postseason: 2009, in coach Dan Mullen’s 1st season.

13. Arkansas: The last time Arkansas missed the postseason: 2019, in coach Bret Bielema’s last season. (Hogs qualified in 2020, but game was canceled).

14. Vanderbilt: The last time Vanderbilt reached the postseason: 2018, a 45-38 loss to Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

7. As and you shall receive

Matt: Do you have a Heisman vote, and if so, would you vote for Jayden Daniels? Who do you think wins the award? — Donna Cartwright, New Orleans.


I have a vote, but Heisman Trophy Trust rules prohibit me from announcing my vote until after the ceremony. But it’s clear Daniels will be a finalist, and it’s clear he has had the best statistical season of any player — by far.

The only remaining question: Do Heisman voters hold against him LSU’s disappointing season? Like it or not, fair or not, there are many voters who believe the best player in college football should be one who leads his team to a championship.

Frankly, it’s ridiculous — but the goal of the award is to get a group of voters across the country that don’t think as one. They want variety among media members and former winners.

There will be voters who casted their vote at the end of the regular season before Championship Weekend, and those who wait for the last day (5 p.m. Monday) before the weekend the trophy is awarded.

I’ve been very clear it’s hard not to vote for a player who averages a 1st down every time he touches the ball. Daniels averages 11.7 yards per pass attempt, and 8.4 yards per rush — or 10.3 yards every time he touches the ball. His 4,946 total yards (1,134 rush) and 50 TDs (10 rush) are hard to ignore.

9. Numbers

43. Nick Saban likes to say “sacks are overrated” when it comes to affecting the quarterback. Maybe there’s something to it.

Alabama has given up 43 sacks this season — and a remarkable 106 in the past 3 seasons. Yet Alabama’s quarterbacks in those 3 seasons were No. 3 in the SEC in QB rating in 2021-22 (with Bryce Young), and No.2 this season (with Jalen Milroe).

10. Quote to note

Alabama coach Nick Saban: “They’re truly a team. Everybody’s together. Everybody trusts and respects the principles and values of the organization and program and buy into them. They’re all responsible for their own self-determination.”