three plays. Georgia was just three plays away from ending a 40-year championship drought. Leading Alabama in overtime, the Tide pinned him 41 yards out of the end zone on his second down. The Bulldogs needed three more stops against a true freshman quarterback. Yes, and the national championship was theirs. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium was still rattling with its foundations, tension and anticipation, ready to blow the roof off its new joint.
Dawg fans remember very well what happened next. At 26th and 26th, Tua Tagovailoa dropped back and found Devonta Smith wide open on the left side of the field and hit him, ending the game, ending the season and blowing away any hopes of perfection. I made a nice touchdown. He had to wait four more years for the creation of a new Georgian dynasty.
Of course, the Bulldogs rebounded. Georgia used a ferocious defense and opportunistic offense to reach the playoffs and get revenge against Alabama by smashing the Tide in last season’s title game. Still, second place and he’s 26th left, a constant reminder that nothing is guaranteed in college football.
Three years and 51 weeks after that pivotal game, Georgia is back in the playoffs. The Dogs are the overwhelming favorites this time around. They’re backed to beat Ohio State in the Peach Bowl by a near touchdown, which gives them an advantage against Michigan and a huge advantage against TCU if they reach the national championship. With all things on track to become the first repeat champions of the era, Georgia’s path to establishing itself as the preeminent college football dynasty of the 2020s is clear.
It may be rude, it may be harsh, it may be rude to even ask a question, but it is necessary: What if Georgia loses?
In the same building where Alabama powered the Dawgs in 2018, what if Ohio State rediscovered their championship pedigree and beat Georgia on Saturday night? What if we showed that we learned some important lessons from losing to Georgia? What if TCU wrote a feel-good, unlikely, NIL-era Rudy underdog story? What about image, legacy and future?
The simple, and most likely, answer is don’t be damned. Kirby Smart has built a huge team in Athens, a team deep enough that the Dogues’ backup could run in his SEC East. From high school recruits to championship confetti, Smart has created an end-to-end monster.
Still, this is where problems can occur. It wasn’t that long ago that Georgia was considered an unfinished program that didn’t quite find the final piece to his championship puzzle. SEC rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida had all managed to win titles following Georgia’s most recent title back in 1980. At the national championship, Athens, things were going very poorly.
Today, even with that nifty thing in hand, Georgia fans can only look out over the South Carolina border to see how the slightest deviation in pace can derail the program’s dynastic aspirations. Clemson has spent most of his college football playoff years threatening and banging Alabama and Ohio. There is a reason why no team has won the national championship in this era. The playoffs are a boiling crab pot, and teams that get too high tend to be pulled down again in a hurry.
Elsewhere in the SEC, the head coach of two recent national champions, Auburn and LSU, lost their jobs much sooner than they expected when they were lifting the championship trophy. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances in both cases, but nonetheless, relying on the patience and goodwill of SEC backers is not a formula for long-term job security.
(And let’s not raise even the specter of Atlanta-area sports that seems specifically designed to wreak the most havoc on the minds and souls of fans. No, but the same heartbreaking conversation..)
Consistency. Self-satisfaction. heritage. dynasty. Teams seeking immortality must master their first two before they can start thinking about his next two. Smart solved the consistency problem. Georgia has not lost a regular-season conference game since 2020 and Athens has not lost since 2019. When Georgia completely trailed his team, the foretold Tennessee, in the biggest Dogs test of the season.
Perhaps this is a moot issue. Georgia will only need to perform well-established and well-proven ability to carve out a playoff field as they did in the SEC. Legacy is safe and Smart is on track to build its dynasty is.
Still, Georgia fans and players alike should keep in mind the timeless lessons of numbers 2 and 26.
Contact Jay Busbee (email@example.com) or Twitter (@jaybusbee).