INDIANAPOLIS — Stetson Bennett should rightfully be at the front of the Georgia football CFP Championship parade, but he might not be back under center next season for the Bulldogs even with a year of eligibility remaining.
Bennett, named the CFP offensive player of the game after rebounding from a rough first half to throw two fourth-quarter TD passes in the Bulldogs’ 33-18 win over Alabama, hmmed and hawed when asked about his plans.
“We’ll wait a second on that one for me,” said the 23-year-old Bennett, whose sixth year of eligibility is made possible by the NCAA granting athletes an extra year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t want to spill all my personal stuff out here on the table. So we’ll keep that between me and Coach Smart.”
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Indeed, there are plenty of dominoes left to fall before Georgia gets its quarterback room set for spring drills, much less, the Bulldogs’ 2022 season-opening game against an Oregon Ducks team coached by departing UGA defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.
“We’ll have a few kids go into the portal that we’ve had discussions with that held that off, out of respect for the team,” Smart said. “I thought that was tremendous. We’ll have that.
“Everybody will think that’s a terrible thing, but in some cases it’s actually a good opportunity for kids.”
Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams’ name has been linked to Georgia, having been recruited the Bulldogs coming out of high school before sliding in with the Sooners after Brock Vandagriff flipped to Georgia.
Williams had, according to a source, narrowed his choices to the USC and the Bulldogs after entering the NCAA transfer portal.
But with USC quarterback Jaxson Dart entering his name in the transfer portal last night, the stage appears set for Williams to reunite with former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley as a member of the 2022 Trojans.
And, speaking of USC, Daniels’ future would seem to be up in the air after Smart kept him on the bench throughout the postseason in circumstances when Georgia was down 21 points (to Alabama in a 41-24 loss in the SEC title game) and up 21 points (on Michigan in a 34-11 CFP Semifinal Orange Bowl win).
Daniels has expressed an interest in wanting to stay with the Bulldogs and take graduate classes in kinesiology, but it’s not clear if the feeling is mutual with Smart.
Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken were the first to call Daniels when he entered the portal out of USC following the 2019 season, and Daniels rewarded them by capping the 2020 campaign with four-straight wins to secure a Top 10 finish.
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Daniels’ offseason hype grew to the point that he exited SEC Media Days as the online odds favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, but an upper-body injury sidelined him and Bennett was promoted to lead the team.
The improvement and ceiling of freshman Brock Vandagriff make it possible that neither Bennett nor Daniels is with the team next season, as Smart and Monken have been effusive in their praise for former 5-star from Prince Avenue Christian.
Vandagriff’s abilities match the offense Georgia ran this season with Bennett, which could explain why Smart never turned the reins back over to Daniels, who was a better fit for Monken’s Pro Style spread attack, than the offense the Bulldogs ran after his injury.
The athletic Vandagriff, 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, can also run the zone read and provide even more of a running threat.
Most everyone has concluded that redshirt freshman Carson Beck is one of the players Smart was referring to when he said on Sunday that some players were headed to the NCAA portal, but had kept their intentions quiet out of respect for the team.
Beck persevered through the 2020 and won the No. 2 position at quarterback in spring drills and in fall camp, and Smart went as far as to imply he would be the starter should Daniels not be able to play against UAB.
Instead, Smart and Monken started Bennett against the Blazers, and Bennett threw 5 first-half TD passes while Beck struggled, and the former Florida Mr. Football was resigned to the bench the remainder of the season.
Gunner Stockton is a 2022 signee and one of the “16 or 17″ early enrollees. Stockton has great mobility and a big arm, and is considered an elite prospect, but he’s not expected to contribute immediately.