One thing I was curious about after the national championship game is how Georgia, its coaches and its players would be perceived on 2022 lists as they popped up.
Matt Hinton tracked the SEC quarterbacks last season at Saturday Down South. He had the Dawgs at third most of the time, although his ranking was based on the accumulated performances of Bennett and Daniels. Now that they are one, his first preseason rankings have Georgia, with Bennett alone, at three, still.
Bennett, improbable hero of the Dawgs’ national championship run, is back for a 6th year. There will be another competition against more 5-stars, but, for our purposes, we’re going to assume Bennett remains QB1 – undisputed, this time.
I must plead guilty here to being a Stetson skeptic. I doubted a former walk-on could generate enough downfield juice to win big against elite competition, I spent most of the regular season writing him off as a placeholder until Daniels was fully recovered from a minor abdominal injury, and I explicitly called for Kirby Smart to make the switch after Georgia’s loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. In hindsight that all sounds faintly ridiculous. “Game manager” rep notwithstanding, Bennett was everything UGA needed him to be, finishing among the national leaders for the season in yards per attempt, overall passer rating and Total QBR and delivering on some legitimately big-time throws in the playoff wins over Bama and Michigan.
His go-ahead, 40-yard touchdown strike to Adonai Mitchell in the fourth quarter of the CFP Championship Game was exactly the kind of throw he wasn’t supposed to be able to make on that stage…
So, the doubt is gone. Bryce Young tops the list (duh). Second is Spencer Rattler, who, no doubt also, is a talent. Even better, he’s a talent who won’t be burdened with the expectations of a fan base used to high end talent at the position.
At any rate, South Carolina is in dire need of new energy on offense, and landing a next-level talent in high demand was a major coup. The Gamecocks don’t get many of those: Recruiting at the position has been largely unproductive for a decade, and it’s been so long since a Carolina quarterback was drafted that the most recent name on the list, Todd Ellis in 1990, got picked in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore (the 9th). No one who’s occupied the job in the intervening 30 years has had a better shot at breaking that streak than Rattler.
That’s some track record you got there, ‘Cocks. And I’m old enough to remember a day when you guys kept promoting every starting quarterback under Holtz as a dark horse Heisman candidate. But I digress.
If you look at Matt’s list, there are actually a number of returning starters who were at worst decent at their position last season — Jefferson, Hooker, Rogers, Levis. The top half of the league certainly has a chance to be pretty good as a group. From eight on down, though, it’s something of a crapshoot. If quarterback remains the most important position on the field, there are probably some lessons to be drawn from that.