ATHENS — Georgia fans can only hope history repeats itself where the return of defensive tackles Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson are concerned.

Some three years ago, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt decided to return for their senior seasons, keying the Bulldogs’ break-through championship season.

The players built themselves into first-round NFL draft picks leading into that 2021 season, anchoring a UGA defense that allowed fewer average points per game in the regular season (6.9) than any team since 1986 Oklahoma.

Stackhouse is hoping he can do the same, recently sharing in a Players Lounge interview the reason he decided to return rather than be a late-round NFL pick in the upcoming draft.

“Number one, I would say would be, my draft stock, and then all the in-house details about where you will fall in the draft, or if you go here, this is what they are looking for, that’s number one,” Stackhouse said.

“Number two would be because we lost to Bama in the SEC Championship. For those who don’t know, Georgia has never beat Bama in the SEC Championship, and I gotta break that,” he said.

“Three, just to better my play. I feel like I missed a lot of money on the field. I don’t think I had my best season, but I don’t think I had a bad season. A lot of people know my junior year (2022) was my best year playing, I made second-team (All-) SEC.”

Stackhouse wasn’t playing next to Jalen Carter in 2023, however, and the Georgia defensive front dropped off, likely the single-biggest reason the Bulldogs fell short in their quest to three-peat.

Kirby Smart challenged his defensive line last spring, saying he wasn’t sure UGA had the “train wreckers or havoc makers” it had in the past.

Brinson challenged that notion, saying by the end of the season the defensive line “could all be big names.”

As it turned out, safety Malaki Starks was the only UGA defensive player SEC coaches chose as first-team All-SEC.

That’s right, just one Georgia player on defense was deemed good enough to be a first-team All-SEC player according to the league’s coaches when they voted.

It was an eye-opener for a program that had built its reputation with tough physical practices, sometimes at the expense of the offense, to ensure the defensive sharpness.

RELATED: Warren Brinson challenges Smart’s notion that D-Line lacking

Smart knows his program better than anyone and is arguably the best talent evaluator in the game, based on his recruiting prowess and the number of players he recruited at Alabama and Georgia that have went on to the NFL.

Smart’s suspicion last spring that the interior Georgia defensive line lacked difference makers proved correct.

The Bulldogs slipped to 18th in run defense after leading the nation in stopping the run three of the previous four seasons (2022, 2020, 2019), and finishing second in 2021.

REVIEW: How the Georgia position groups ranked entering the 2023 season

It showed up in the clutch, Alabama outrushing UGA 114-78 in the Tide’s 27-24 SEC title game win.

Michigan, meanwhile, stopped the Tide and went on to win the national championship.

The Wolverines, not-so-coincidentally, finished No. 1 in total defense and No. 5 in rushing defense, featuring a fearsome front that could get pressure and stop the run without the benefit of extra bodies.

Georgia has an offseason to rebuild itself into a defensive dominator, just as Davis and Wyatt decided to do when they stepped up as team leaders before the 2021 championship season.

Now, like then, there are talents behind the veteran players who could become stars and play larger roles.

Former 5-star recruit Jordan “Big Baby” Hall has flashed upside, along with Jamal Jarrett, Christen Miller and incoming South Carolina transfer Xzavier McLeod.

READ: Projected Georgia defensive depth chart, 2024

It starts with the leadership provided by Stackhouse and Brinson, just as Davis and Wyatt once focused in on leading the so-called “No-Name” Defense.

That 2021 defense, amazingly, placed just one defensive player (Davis) on the preseason 2021 All-SEC team before its run to glory.

RELATED: How 2023 NFL Draft makes case for ‘No-Name Defense” as best of modern era

Georgia figures to be a preseason No. 1 pick before this season, as it was last year, but largely because of the return of quarterback Carson Beck.

A great defensive that can force three-and-outs and produce good field position would make all the difference in the world.