LOS ANGELES — Jacob Eason answered the most important question concerning him on Saturday.
No, not that one. This one: Would Georgia be in the position it is right now had he not gotten hurt in the first game?
“I completely believe that,” Eason said Saturday during Rose Bowl media day at the L.A. Hotel Downtown. “Just because this team is what it is. Jake Fromm deserves a lot of credit. He’s done a great job. I’m so proud of what he’s done for this team this year and he’s going to continue to do. But, you know, this team has played together so well this year and that’s the reason we’re at the Rose Bowl right now. It’s the ‘Granddaddy of Them All’ and I’m so proud of this team and these players and everything we’ve put into it to get where it has taken us.”
They probably should have given Eason his own podium here Saturday. The Bulldogs’ backup quarterback quickly found himself surrounded by reporters, cameras and microphones during this media day madness. One of the obligations of being involved in the College Football Playoff is each team — and that includes every coach and player — is required to participate in this 45-minute-long talkfest. Think the Super Bowl, when they trot out every player for interviews a couple of days before the game.
The way these things are set up, the head coach and four of the team’s most prominent players are given their own personal stage to sit on and answer questions from the horde of hundreds covering the event. Those spaces were occupied by Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Kirby Smart, of course.
Eason tried to sit inconspicuously at a table with his best buddy Isaac Nauta and some of Georgia’s offensive linemen. But the situation and circumstances wouldn’t allow it.
“I get it,” Eason sort of muttered before the interviews commenced.
As has been discussed quite often throughout the season, Eason finds himself in a weird place. Basically, Fromm is living his dream. Eason, a former 5-star prospect who hails from just two states north of here, was the starting quarterback coming into the season. But a stumble after being shoved out of bounds on Georgia’s third offensive series in the first game of the season resulted in a sprained a ligament in Eason’s left knee and sent Fromm into the game.
Twelve games later, Fromm is still the quarterback. He’ll start Monday against No. 2 Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. It’s a place with which Eason is quite familiar, having camped at both UCLA and USC and competed in several 7-on-7 tournaments over the years.
“Yeah, it’s different, but it’s still been one hell of a ride,” Eason said. “Being with the guys, being at the Rose Bowl, being in California, it’s been an awesome year.”
With the circumstances being what they are — Georgia in pursuit of a national championship — nobody really wanted to ask the question. And everybody was pretty sure what the answer would be, anyway.
But it had to be asked, and Eason knew it would be and was ready for it when it came fairly quickly.
Does he plan on remaining at Georgia or will he seek a transfer given the way things have shaken out?
“I’m just focused on this game coming up on Monday and however I can help the team beat Oklahoma,” Eason said, and would repeat several times over the course of protracted interview period.
And that’s not just a line. While his father Tony Eason and the many other football influences he has had in his life could be working to research whether there might be a more favorable landing spot next year, Eason himself is not an active participant.
There’s too much to deal with and play for right here and now. A victory over Oklahoma on Monday would mean a spot in the national title game on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. And whether it’s Fromm behind center or Eason, that’s the goal for every individual dressed in gray UGA warmups on Saturday.
“This is the ‘Granddaddy of Them All,’” Eason said, referring to the trademarked nickname of the Rose Bowl. “The whole team knows that so we’ve been preparing like it is the Granddaddy of Them All. We’re all excited. It’s a big stage to play on, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we all want to go out there and give it our best, have fun and try to win the ballgame.”
And it well could come down to Eason playing in the game. There’s no guarantee that whatever malady befell Baker Mayfield doesn’t find its way inside Fromm’s immunity system. As we know, football tends to be a sport hazardous to one’s health. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Fromm suffer a break, sprain or concussion just like Eason did in Week 1.
In no way is Eason rooting for that. But he is preparing this week as if that might happen.
“I’ll be ready,” Eason said. “I’m preparing like I’m a starter, like I have been all season. If I get my shot I’ll be ready to go.”
This is what excites Georgia coach Kirby Smart. In his mind, he has the best tandem of quarterbacks in college football. Should his freshman All-American go down, he’ll have the 2016 All-SEC freshman quarterback to turn to.
Not only has Eason proven to Smart that he’s capable of stepping in and doing the job, but he said the sophomore from Lake Stevens, Wash., has endeared himself even more to his coaches and teammates for his attitude throughout the season.
“Jacob Eason has been the most loyal teammate, one of the best teammates there is,” Smart said. “The best thing about him, he’s worried about this team. He’s worried about a game in two days and that’s all he’s worried about. Because like the game against App State, he could be in this game.”
Fromm himself and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Jim Chaney also have lauded Eason for his attitude and effort each week.
Eason confirmed he is 100 percent healthy now. The left knee has been fully recovered for quite a while, to the point he doesn’t even wear a brace anymore. He can go in and play on a moment’s notice, and he has been preparing that way in practices and meetings.
Eventually, Eason’s future will be discussed. No matter what happens these next two weeks, the Bulldogs know that Fromm will be back next season and Justin Fields — another 5-star quarterback who signed in the Class of 2018 — will be joining the quarterback room.
Eason would have tons of great options if he decided to move on. The home-state schools of Washington and Washington State would love to have him. The Easons loved Mark Richt when he was at Georgia, and Richt let it be known after landing in Miami that he loved Eason still.
Junior colleges offer the option of a great weigh station, whether it be just to spend a semester before moving on elsewhere as Jarrett Stidham did in going from Baylor to Auburn, or to play a season and reassess both pro and college options on the other side.
“At this time any story on Jacob is a distraction,” said his father, Notre Dame letterman Tony Eason. “The only thing that matters right now is winning the next two games.”
Suffice it to say, there will be a market for a 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback with a strong arm and a year worth of experience starting in the SEC. But all that is a consideration for another day.
“That’s not a big concern of ours right now,” Smart said. “I’m not even thinking about talking to him [about transfer considerations]. I don’t think that’s important. What’s important for this team and what we owe this team as credit that they got here is to be focused on Oklahoma. That’s our focus.”
And that’s Eason’s focus as well. In fact, if he had his way, nothing will happen to Fromm at this point. He has seen how the kid has played and how the offense has performed behind his leadership. Far be it from Eason to want to upset the apple cart.
“He’s playing really well,” Eason said. “He’s done a great job of taking this team to great places. He’s been a great leader for his young age and I’m super proud of him. I want him to go out there and do the best that he can and win the ballgame. I’m always going to root for Jake, no matter what. I love the kid and he’s done a great job.”
Probably under-emphasized in telling the remarkable story that has been Fromm’s rise to start quarterback has been Eason’s role in helping him get there. Especially back when Fromm was making the transition from expected-redshirt to freshman starter, it was Eason that had his ear the most.
Having been in the same situation just a year earlier, Eason had a lot of good advice.
“I told him, ‘Don’t leave anything on the table,’” Eason said. “’Study as much as you can but go out there and have fun and let it rip.’ Being a quarterback, there’s so many people looking at you and you have so many expectations put on you. I still tell him every day to just ‘go out there and let it rip and trust yourself.’ It always comes down to football is a game and we’re all playing it. Just go out there and sling it around and have fun.”
Now on college football’s grandest stage, the Bulldogs are having some fun. And that includes Eason as much as any of them.