By Ron Johnson
In 2022, Georgia reloaded on both sides of the ball after surviving the shootout with Alabama in the 2021 National Championship Game. What resulted was a straight beatdown of the young upstarts from TCU in the 2022 National Championship Game. Now the question is this: Does 2023 truly become ‘The Year of the Bulldog?”
Considering how the school and the conference as a whole is looking, I would say yes.
But who could be the biggest threats to a potential Georgia Three-Peat? Let’s take a look at those contenders trying to prove they are not pretenders.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (FBS-Independent)
For some reason, Notre Dame has found itself on every ‘expert’s’ radar when it comes to yet another trip to the College Football Playoff. But losing some key members of the team (namely Tommy Rees and Tyler Buchner to Alabama) could spell disaster for the Irish. Marcus Freeman still has the talent and the tools to make a lot of noise for the Irish heading into the 2023 season, including the arrival of Sam Hartman. Heading back to FBS Independent may or may not cause issues for their quest to not only get back to the playoff but also get their first win in it.
Clemson Tigers (ACC)
Dabo Sweeney has been nothing if not consistent. Even after losing Heisman winner Trevor Lawrence to the NFL, the Tigers are still dubbed the team to beat in the ACC. However, they will have stiff competition in the form of North Carolina, Duke and Florida State. Outside the ACC, we already know that South Carolina will be a thorn in their sides.
The addition of Garrett Riley does provide more time to improve the game of Cade Klubnik before handing the reigns of the team over to him. Regardless, though, Clemson is looking to avoid a third consecutive season of not reaching the CFP Semifinals after spending as much time there as their SEC counterparts Alabama and Georgia.
Florida State Seminoles (ACC)
IF you were to tell me that the Seminoles would be a threat to the Clemson Tigers AFTER Bobby Bowden’s departure, I would have laughed in your face. Well, you can laugh at my face now because these ‘Noles are legit. After finishing last year with their first 10-win season since the Jimbo Fisher era, head coach Mike Norvell has already crossed one mission off his list by getting FSU to a bowl game as well as continuing its own dominance with Florida in the Governors Cup Game.
But the question now becomes can these Seminoles take Dabo Sweeney down a peg or two, or will they fall to mighty Clemson again? My question is how can they but more how far can they go.
USC Trojans (Pac-12)
Despite losing a trifecta of wideouts, Lincoln Riley is determined to make that massive push to the postseason. While the offense is still trying to gel up, the biggest red flag on the Trojans happens to be their defense. In a conference where teams like Utah, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State live for the longball and the ground and pound, USC needs to figure out a way to solve their own Rubik’s Cube if they truly want to contend with the rest of the Power 5 Conferences this season.
They look to beef up their defense with the arrivals of Anthony Lucas and Mason Cobb, which would leave quarterback Caleb Williams to try to find a solution to the conundrum on the other side of the ball.
Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
The Wolverines are back in the eyes of many. After taking down Ohio State for the second time in Jim Harbaugh’s reign as head coach, the Wolverines now have the opportunity to prove that last season was not a fluke. But then again, heading to the Playoff this time around would be the third straight for them. They are either starting to learn what it takes to fully win or they are one of the lucky ones out of that conference.
But beating Ohio State after so many times of being victimized is not lucky…it is indeed skill. J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards look to control the offense, while newcomers Ernest Hausmann and Josaiah Stewart look to anchor a smashmouth and hungrier defense. The sky’s the limit for the Wolverines if it all comes together.
Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)
Every single time my brother and I get together for beers, and every time Ohio State dominates, he is the first one to say these words: ‘God Loves The Buckeyes!’ And clearly this is accurate considering that every year, they find themselves in the thick of the national championship conversation.
This upcoming season is no different as the Buckeyes are not only ranked above their rivals Michigan, but they are also planning to be the biggest threat to Michigan’s chances to head back to the CFP for the third straight year. However, after dropping two straight rivalry games to the Wolverines, people are starting to question if the dominance of THE Ohio State University has drawn to a close.
Ohio State will have to find someone to replace drafted Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud and hope that they can do enough to at least be in the conversation this season if not an official nod next season when the field expands to 12.
LSU Tigers (SEC)
Yes, folks. The LSU Tigers are still a threat to any team in the SEC, especially in the West. While Georgia seems to be running on all cylinders in the East, LSU has become a perennial threat to the dominance of Alabama. Brian Kelly led his Tigers to the SEC West Crown before falling short to eventual champion Georgia and stomping a mudhole in the backsides of Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.
With the returns of quarterback Jayden Daniels on offense and 2022 Freshman All-SEC selection linebacker Harold Perkins on defense, the Tigers look poised for a repeat performance of last season’s meteoric rise to the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC)
Do you remember when the Alabama Crimson Tide were touted as the most unstoppable force in college football? Do you remember when the Tide were once thought of to be in G.O.D. Mode? Do you remember when the Tide were in the CFP every single year and winning the National Championship a majority of the time?
Well, let’s just say that Pepperidge Farm is not the only that remembers.
Yes, last season was a shocker for a plethora of reasons. The once proud program ran by Nick Saban suffered regular season shockers to Tennessee and LSU, thereby knocking them out of contention for the SEC Title as well as the National Championship.
But as we have seen in years’ past, Saban does not stay down long. He touted the top recruiting class in the country according to some experts, but Alabama has some serious holes to fill if they want to get back to the promised land. One of those holes, the main one if you have been paying attention to Alabama football over the years, is finding a quarterback that can replace Bryce Young, who was drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.
Will Georgia Three-Peat?
That will be the question on everyone’s mind heading into the new season. The two-time defending champs are boasting a 29-1 record in their last 30 to go with a pair of SEC East titles, a SEC Championship and of course their back-to-back ships. Kirby Smart may have found the formula to dethrone powerhouse Alabama, and after surviving Ohio State and decimating TCU to hoist up their second, the question becomes can the Bulldogs run it back?
Throw in the fact that Smart has made Georgia an appealing place to play (as the barrage of blue chippers committed to Georgia shows), and it should be no surprise that no one is picking against Georgia outside of the SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, ACC and Pac-12.
To put it bluntly, Georgia could be the team that puts the POWER in the Power 5 Conferences.