ATHENS — The 2021 Georgia defense deserves better than what ESPN is doling out when it comes to its assigned all-time ranking.
The Bulldogs set a modern-era record with 6.9 points per game allowed during the regular season and had eight defensive players, and All-American punter Jake Camarda -- selected among their record-breaking NFL draft of 15 players selected.
Georgia did it with a defense that put team success first, hence the “No-Name” moniker which seemed to apply after USA Today failed to list any UGA players on offense or defensive to its preseason All-SEC team before the 2021 championship season.
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And yet, ESPN’s Bill Connelly ranked it only 17th among the greatest college football defenses of all-time.
At No. 1, per ESPN: The 2017 Alabama defense coordinated by Jeremy Pruitt that was bailed out by Tua Tagovailoa in overtime of the CFP Championship.
And there, at No. 2 on ESPN’s list, Kirby Smart’s 2016 Alabama defense — that gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter in losing to Clemson, 35-31, in the CFP Championship Game.
The love affair with Alabama football marches on, even in the face of evidence that Georgia’s defense had more of an impact on a championship season than any in recent memory.
The ranking seems curious when one considers that, not only did the 2021 Bulldogs feature defensive statistical prowess, but they also made game-winning plays.
The 10-3 season-opening win over Clemson — a preseason Top 5 playing in its ACC Championship Game home of Charlotte, N.C. — was won on Christopher Smith’s 74-yard Pick 6.
Without that win over the Tigers, the Bulldogs don’t get a second shot at Alabama in the CFP Championship Game.
And about that CFP title game …. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young was looking to work his magic once again before Kelee Ringo delivered a game-clinching 79-yard interception return for a touchdown with 54 seconds left.
Georgia might also have had another defensive touchdown against Alabama in the CFP title game, had Nakobe Dean’s fumble return not been blown dead on what may have been a Tide fumble.
Has there ever been two more pivotal plays for a national championship team in games pitting two Top 5 opponents?
We do know there had never been five first-round NFL draft picks off of one defense before the most recent draft.
Georgia produced the No. 1 overall draft pick (Travon Walker), along with the Outland and Bednarik winner (Jordan Davis) and the Butkus Award winner (Nakobe Dean) among their eight NFL Draft picks.
Perhaps South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer should have been consulted.
“They have a defensive lineman that weighs 340 pounds (Jordan Davis) and runs better than everybody on this call,” Beamer said, asked how UGA kept his team in check.
“They’ve got five-star defensive backs. They’re big and physical and fast. I mean, other than that, they’re really freaking good.”
Connelly penned in the ESPN pay-site article: