Can anyone in college football actually beat Georgia in 2023? Maybe Tennessee | Opinion
LOS ANGELES – Breaking news: The 2023 Georgia Bulldogs just qualified for the College Football Playoff.
Yes, I’m being facetious, but only a little. Who is going to stop them?
Georgia’s schedule is a cakewalk.
Georgia Tech is the Bulldogs’ lone Power Five nonconference opponent next season, and the Yellow Jackets haven’t played like a Power Five program very often the past few seasons.
Rival Florida is a mess. By the “Cocktail Party,” Gators fans will be ready to launch Billy Napier into the Atlantic Ocean.
Auburn is stockpiling transfers and should regain competence, but mere competence doesn’t beat Georgia.
Spencer Rattler dazzled against Tennessee and Clemson. He was woeful against Georgia. In 2023, he’ll face the Bulldogs inside Sanford Stadium. Good luck.
Ole Miss fizzled against its strongest competition this season. That competition didn’t include Georgia. Next season, it will. Lane Kiffin better start tweeting Kirby Smart sweet nothings today in hopes his old coworker will settle for winning by three touchdowns.
Perhaps the likes of LSU or Alabama will challenge Georgia in the SEC Championship, but if the Bulldogs are undefeated entering that game, they’ll likely be ranked No. 1 or No. 2. So, even with a loss in Atlanta, they’d remain a CFP candidate, and the SEC probably would nab two playoff spots in this scenario, with the chance for a national championship game that's a rematch of the SEC Championship.
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That leaves Tennessee as the team with the best shot at keeping Georgia out of the playoff.
Tennessee will host Georgia on Nov. 18, and Alabama can attest to Neyland Stadium’s ferocity since the Vols awakened from their years-long slumber.
A Tennessee upset of Georgia could propel the Vols to the SEC East crown and halt the Bulldogs’ takeover of the sport.
How likely is that?
Not very, if you watched the teams play in November.
The Bulldogs had their way with the Vols, then ranked No. 1 in the CFP, on Nov. 5 in front of a home crowd that created a din. Georgia’s pass rush handcuffed Hendon Hooker, and the score was 24-6 by halftime, before the Bulldogs eased off the accelerator and drained clock during a rainy second half.
The final tally, 27-13, didn’t tell the true tale of the tape.
The Vols are nonetheless the most formidable opponent on Georgia’s schedule, and they made a case for a preseason top-10 ranking by handling Clemson in the Orange Bowl to complete an 11-2 season.
Veteran Joe Milton is set to take the reins of the offense after a career-best performance against Clemson, and Josh Heupel's track record suggests his high-flying attack can survive a quarterback transition.
Tennessee’s defense remains a concern, though. It succeeded in bend-but-don’t-break fashion against Clemson, but Georgia doesn’t wilt in the red zone like Clemson did in Hard Rock Stadium.
But if the Vols pass protect better than they did against Georgia this season and Neyland Stadium becomes an X-factor, Tennessee’s offense at least supplies the potential for UT to become a tough out for Georgia. Can’t say that about Georgia’s other scheduled foes.
By Tuesday morning, hours after Georgia had pasted TCU 65-7 to repeat as national champions, the conversation had shifted to next season.
Smart’s first championship team made Georgia a party wrecker.
Two in a row proved the Bulldogs are here to stay.
A three-peat? That would be unprecedented in the modern era.
Set aside history, though, and examine Georgia’s returning roster, and you can understand why sportsbooks pegged the Bulldogs as the early favorite to win next season’s national championship.
The Bulldogs must replace quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, but they are set to return three backup quarterbacks who were well-regarded recruits. A majority of the offensive and defensive starters from Georgia’s national championship romp are expected to return, and a wave of talented underclassmen are primed for bigger roles.
So, who’s going to trip up Georgia? Perhaps Georgia itself, according to its coach. With so many returners, Smart worries foremost about fending off complacency.
“I do think it's going to be much tougher,” Smart said Tuesday. “And we have a lot of guys, in my opinion, that are going to come back, and it's easy to get comfortable. And comfortable does not win.”
Supreme talent usually rules the day, though, and few, if any, teams will match Georgia’s 2023 assembly.
Tennessee won't match that assemblage, but scheme and a rabid crowd can be a bit of an equalizer.
More likely, the Vols become a taller hurdle than most but a hurdle that Georgia nonetheless clears in prolonging its rule.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Who can keep Georgia football from 2023 playoff? Maybe only Tennessee