ATHENS — Georgia and Alabama are the overwhelming favorites to win their respective divisions and meet in the SEC Championship Game.
Most every respectable college football fans knows that, and certainly all those between Tuscaloosa and Athens.
Team captain Jordan Davis led a quick recovery, however, as the defense rebounded in the CFP Championship Game.
The Bulldogs’ defense, which produced a record-5 first-round NFL draft picks, held Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to just one touchdown in the 33-18 victory.
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At that, the Tide’s touchdown didn’t come until the fourth quarter, and it was largely the result of Alabama taking possession at the Georgia 16-yard line after a Stetson Bennett fumble.
The Tide didn’t score again, and the Bulldogs’ defense delivered the final blow with Kelee Ringo returning an interception 79 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
Some cast doubt on Georgia after a record 15 players were drafted, and 13 more left via the portal, including four former starters.
But many of the Bulldogs’ key players return, most notably on defense where projected first-rounder Jalen Carter is back on the defensive line.
It was Carter’s blocked field goal that changed the momentum in the third quarter, helping to jump-start an offense that had struggled.
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Ringo is also back in the secondary, as is safety Christopher Smith, who delivered the pivotal Pick-6 in the season-opening game against Clemson and another interception in the CFP title game with Alabama.
Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick Lewis Cine was the Defensive MVP, but both Christopher Smith and returning edge rusher Nolan Smith matched Cine with 7 tackles in the win over Alabama.
Robert Beal, who led UGA in sacks last season after taking over for suspended linebacker Adam Anderson, is another veteran defender who came back in search of another title.
To Dinich’s point, more is expected from Alabama, which returns eight starters from a defense that created its share of problems for the UGA offense.
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Bennett was sacked 5 times in the CFP title game and had the critical fumble that led to the Alabama score. The SEC Championship Game was also a challenge, with Bennett sacked three times while throwing two interceptions, one a Pick-6.
Still, Bennett flashed how good he can be between those Alabama performances, enjoying arguably the best game of his career in the 34-11 Orange Bowl win over Michigan, 20-of-30 passing for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The fourth quarter of the CFP title game also provided Georgia fans with confidence in Bennett, as he was 4-for-4 passing over the final 10 1/2 minutes and threw two TD passes.
Bennett has also improved the velocity on his passes and footwork in the pocket entering this season, and the Georgia offense is expected to be improved with a veteran offensive line and bonafide playmakers at the skill positions.
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Both Alabama and Georgia will need to keep their quarterbacks healthy to improve their SEC title hopes.
Unlike last season, many SEC teams feature experienced quarterbacks, which could lead to more upsets than most currently forecast.
So while the Bulldogs’ legendary defense stole the show last year -- setting a modern-era record with just 6.9 points per game allowed, and then holding the Heisman Trophy winner in check in the title game -- history shows the 2022 season could come down to quarterback play.