Last week, I told you why I was picking Ohio State to win the national championship.
This week, I am exploring why Georgia -- my pick to win the national title a season ago -- remains a fascinating (and perplexing) national championship possibility for this season.
On the heels of the start of the college football season, Georgia is in a unique spot. The Bulldogs, despite losing 15 draft picks, are still + 400 to win the College Football Playoff. And yet, despite the odds, Georgia feels like a third wheel behind Alabama (+ 175) and Ohio State (+ 300).
The bad news is that the most talented roster in college football last year has a ton of replenishing to do. The losses are so significant that I won’t bore you with the list. The defense and offense lost enormous pieces.
The good news is that no team in college football, including Alabama, has out-recruited Georgia over the past five years. This roster is overflowing with young, capable players, and a few positions truly stand out.
At quarterback, national championship QB Stetson Bennett (80-1 to win the Heisman) has returned. As strange as it sounds, he might have to play well to keep his job. The position is loaded for the Bulldogs, which could be a storyline to keep tabs on.
At tight end, Georgia has assembled one of the greatest collections of physical talents in the history of the sport. This is not hyperbole. Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert are all matchup nightmares. Good luck with them, opposing defenses.
The defense will not be what it was last year, although the rebuilding is well underway. The buzz on defensive lineman Jalen Carter is off the charts. Other future first-round picks will develop and emerge in short order.
So, how do we treat the Bulldogs? Georgia is now a 17-point favorite over Oregon in Week 1, which says a lot. The Bulldogs win total of 10.5 (with the over at a chalk-tacular -240) is also telling. The team is talented, the regular season schedule works and there is a lot to like.
The only team that has garnered this kind of gambling respect is Alabama, the program Georgia will be linked to for the foreseeable future. Although I am not ready to full double down on the Bulldogs, I am awfully intrigued.
And I can’t wait to watch those tight ends cook.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Myles Brennan is done playing college football, at least for now. The LSU QB announced this week that he was “stepping away from football,” which is significant for a few reasons. For starters, Brennan was actually pretty solid when healthy. It’s also atypical to see this kind of decision at this point in the year. (Although we certainly wish him well.) This also means that Jayden Daniels, formerly of ASU and 80-1 to win the Heisman, is almost certainly going to be the starting QB for the Tigers to begin the year. While there’s plenty of talent there, it’s not a bet I’m sprinting to make. It still feels like LSU has a long way to go.
2. Injuries stink. And for Texas, a team trying to build out its roster, they stink more. Wide receiver Isaiah Neyor and senior offensive lineman Junior Angilau both suffered season-ending knee injuries in the past week, which is rough news for the Longhorns. Neyor, a transfer from Wyoming, was a player I was really excited to watch this year. That is tough news for Texas.
3. We’re going long on the Longhorns with one more thought. The buzz out of Austin was that Steve Sarkisian might have a legitimate quarterback battle on his hands. While Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers was presumed to be the starter, Hudson Card wasn’t going away. Well, Ewers has officially been named the starter a few weeks in advance, and he’s 35/1 to win the Heisman. The talent is electric, although I am curious to see how Ewers can be aggressive and still limit turnovers. If he can protect the ball, he could be pretty special.
4. DraftKings is offering a slew of head-to-head season win totals, and I absolutely love some of these offerings. A few standouts include: North Carolina State (-120) vs. Texas A&M (+ 100), USC (-115) vs. Oklahoma (-105), Miami (-115) vs. Oregon (-105) and Ohio State (-115) vs. Alabama (-105). USC vs. Oklahoma is the spiciest offering, although NC State vs. Texas A&M is a matchup of two offseason hype champions. There are plenty of other offerings, and they are worth exploring.
5. We talked about Georgia in the open, and we will soon have a similar conversation about Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher, who has done a masterful job building that roster is tired of talking. "We gotta go prove it,” he said last week. “Hey, it's time to shut up and play, just go play.” A&M is 25/1 to win the national championship and 18/1 to win the SEC. To me, this program is still a year away from being able to finally reach the enormous expectations hanging over the program. Along the way, however, we’re going to see a slew of talented young players grow into their roles.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
We have football this week, and I will not hear a word about the slate lacking excitement. The sport is back, we have games to bet on. Order has been restored.
1. Nebraska (-13, 50.5) vs. Northwestern
We begin the year in Ireland, which is strangely fitting. And if you’re wondering how last year’s game between these two teams went, the answer is not great. Although “not great” was the anthem of the Cornhuskers’ football season last year, Nebraska clobbered Northwestern 56-7 in this game last year. Scott Frost’s offense also totaled a ridiculous 657 yards of offense in that matchup. In that same season, Nebraska lost NINE games by single digits. It hung tight with good teams and lost against bad teams. It then responded by dipping deep into the transfer portal, found a new starting QB and updated at coordinator. The line opened at -9, and it continued to rise. (As I have said in recent weeks, I am buying Nebraska. What could go wrong?)
2. Vanderbilt (-6.5, 55) at Hawaii
There is something magical about the college football season beginning on the island late at night. Yes, Week 0 brings us Hawaii at home, and the matchup is laced in intrigue. The home team, of course, has a new head coach. Program legend Timmy Chang will lead Hawaii this year, which means the offense is likely in good hands. Given the turmoil of last season along with a slew of transfers that followed, a good offense will likely need to do the heavy lifting. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, really needs this game. The Commodores played better down the stretch last season, although another two-win year isn’t exactly momentum. The offense returns some of its pieces, but I am not sure what that tells us. The hope is that second-year head coach Clark Lea, who is widely respected, will improve. The line doesn’t do much for me, although the over looks like a decent play.
3. North Texas (-1, 55) at UTEP
Both teams had volatile years in 2021, and that’s probably being a bit kind. North Texas, outside of a Week 1 win, was a mess until the end of October. UTEP opened the year at 6-1 and then lost five out of the next six games. One of those losses came to North Texas, although it was a 20-17 game. The end result is a pretty evenly matched game to open the year for both teams. Seth Littrell appeared to have North Texas heading in the right direction, but the last couple of years have not been kind. This feels like the type of team that can turn it around, although the experience must translate to wins much earlier this time around. I could see a similar game to the one we saw last in both score and outcome.
4. Illinois (-10, 44) vs. Wyoming
Bret Bielema made a splash in Week 0 last year, beating Nebraska at home. I was at that game, and I am still haunted at how poorly played it was across the board. Overall, the Illini had a weird season. Illinois beat Penn State, held tough with some decent teams and beat Minnesota on the road. Oh, and Illinois lost a bunch, too. The offense was rough, finishing near the bottom of the country in scoring. Like the Illini, Wyoming had some moments last year as well, although the Cowboys finished with the nation’s No. 84-ranked scoring offense. It also lost its best weapon, Isiah Neyor, to Texas. The total says that points will be hard to come by, and it’s hard to argue with that thesis given what we witnessed last year.
5. Nevada (-9, 50.5) at New Mexico State
Nevada was fun in 2021 -- that’s the good news. The bad news is that a program with a lot of success and offense just underwent an overhaul. In comes Ken Wilson, the team’s new head coach. Out is Carson Strong, the promising QB. Still, there are enough pieces in place to warrant this spread, although it has come down plenty since it opened. On the topic of change, New Mexico State is now coached by Jerry Kill. Remember him? The former Minnesota coach knows how to lead a program, and he’s going to want to run the ball. Given New Mexico State’s two-win season in 2021, he’ll have plenty of work to do. Still, the line is single digits and on the intriguing side. This is a curious one.