INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Stetson Bennett IV punched his mid laner then spread his arms, cocked his head and smiled in a pose worthy of the two-time National Champion.
The expression on the Georgia quarterback’s face indicated that this was too easy.
Bennett had just scored one of the easiest touchdowns of his career, entering the end zone unscathed, protected by a pair of lead blockers.
The national championship trophy ceremony was still hours away on Monday at SoFi Stadium, but by then it was already clear: Georgia remains at the top of college football.
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The best team in the country shattered a glass slipper and powdered Cinderella.
No. 1 Georgia 65, No. 3 TCU 7.
The size of Georgia is not a fairy tale.
TCU (13-2) earned a spot in that game, but the national championship was decided when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta as Georgia defeated Ohio State by a single point in the semifinals. The Buckeyes’ record was shattered by two poor fourth quarters, but I’m confident that two of the country’s most talented teams met tonight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
On Monday in the second quarter, the only question was whether Georgia (15-0) would score with every possession. The Bulldogs achieved it by halftime.
Six possessions in the first half. Six goals from the first half.
As a gesture of mercy, Georgia opened the third quarter. Then the beating resumed.
Nick Saban was turning national championships into blasts.
Four of Saban’s six Alabama National titles were tied. One of the two exceptions was Alabama’s overtime triumph against Georgia in 2018, a reminder of how close the Bulldogs have been to three national titles in the past six seasons.
“We want Bama” became a humorous paradox throughout Saban’s reign, as all you had to do was turn to face Bama to find out that you wanted nothing to do with the Tide.
Until now, perhaps.
Alabama has fallen from its perch, and this slogan from opposing fans needs to be reviewed. “We Want Bama” should become “We Want Bama”. Sure Beats Plays Georgia.
When Georgia defeated Alabama in the national championship last season, it seemed like a snapshot rather than a shift in the sport’s long-term power dynamics. Georgia then had a historically great defense and benefited from Alabama’s play without two injured wingers.
Order will be restored this season, or so I thought after the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs served up 15 NFL draft picks. Alabama came in 1st this season.
By winning a second consecutive national championship in a sport where such feats are rare, the Bulldogs have proven that under their coach Kirby Smart they can hold on. No team has successfully defended the title since the Alabama teams in 2011 and 12 went back-to-back. Smart was Saban’s defense coordinator in those years.
The list of coaches who hold one national championship includes the likes of Gene Chizik and Ed Orgeron. Winning his second title, Smart joins a more explosive group of trainers who have won multiple championships, a fraternity that includes Saban, Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, Bobby Bowden, Tom Osborne and Joe Paterno.
Like at the height of the Saban dynasty, the mass departure of NFL talent did not send Georgia into recovery mode. It was reloaded with a mix of remnants and new stars.
And if you think Georgia will quit next season, look for the highlight where Mykel Williams fired Max Duggan. Williams maneuvered past the veteran left tackle before crushing the TCU quarterback.
Williams is a freshman. First class five star. Of course.
Replacing Bennett will be a chore, but if Georgia successfully transfers power as quarterback, it will be considered a threat to become the first three-time college football champion since Minnesota won three straight titles in 1934-36.
Winning a single national title can be achieved with transformational talent like Cam Newton or Joe Burrow. It takes a solid program to win two games in a row.
Smart built it.
Bennett ended his improbable college career with the heyday of Elton John on his farewell tour. The one-off walk-on that became a Heisman Trophy finalist skinned the Frogs with 343 attacking yards. He came out early in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation.
But more than any single player, this championship is a byproduct of the ongoing recruiting and development program etched into Saban’s blueprint.
TCU has not been met with such team speed. The Bulldogs close quickly, and when they arrive, they deliver a blow. TCU had no one to cover Brock Bowers or deal with Kenny McIntosh’s outburst.
Georgia’s solid offensive line persistently opened running lanes and protected Bennett as if he were holding the crown jewels. His defensive front mauled TCU’s offensive linemen like they were Venice Beach hipsters.
Above all, Georgia played like a team with no weaknesses. Clever recruits, then develops and does so with the help of high-quality staff. This is all very familiar because Saban built the Alabama dynasty in a similar way.
On Monday, Saban sat on the ESPN set watching a match many had expected him to train until a few months ago.
Saban became the talking head and Smart won his second trophy. Consider that the torch has passed.
Alabama isn’t going to give up importance anytime soon. Talented players continue to flock to Tuscaloosa. But now you’d rather face Bama than Smart’s Bulldogs.
Nobody wants Georgia.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.