Georgia football’s 5 best players in the SEC Championship Game

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Georgia's Roquan Smith (3) and coach Kirby Smart hoist the SEC championship trophy after the Bulldogs defeated Auburn 28-7 to claim the school's 13th conference title in history. Smith, a junior inside linebacker, was named MVP.

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The Georgia Bulldogs are SEC champions and Rose Bowl bound. But before we get into the month-long buildup to the College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma, let’s take a moment to bask in the 28-7 beatdown Georgia handed Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Here are the five best Bulldogs from the title game victory on Saturday.

It was announced Sunday that Smith won the Butkus Award for the best linebacker in college football, beating out Devin Bush (Michigan), Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), T.J. Edwards (Wisconsin) and Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson).

Smith, a junior, is fourth in the SEC in total tackles (113) and also has 10½ tackles for loss, 5½ sacks, 2 fumbles recovered and 3 forced fumbles. He leads the Bulldogs in tackles for the second consecutive season.

Smith is the first Georgia player to win the Butkus, but the fourth to be named a finalist in recent years, along with Justin Houston (2010), Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012) and Leonard Floyd (2015).

The Butkus Award likely won’t be the last honor Smith receives this postseason. He’s a virtual lock for first team All-SEC and All-America honors and is among the finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, both of which are given to the best defender in college football.

Natrez Patrick and Jayson Stanley

Two Georgia football players were arrested in the early morning hours following the SEC Championship Game win. Junior linebacker Natrez Patrick and junior receiver Jayson Stanley were arrested in Barrow County, Ga., and charged with possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. Stanley also was charged with DUI.

Smart said he is still gathering information on the arrests and will handle discipline internally.

“Natrez and Jayson, obviously I’m disappointed in some of the actions there,” Smart said, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. “But we still don’t have all the information completely in from that. So their discipline will be handled internally.”

Georgia football hands out team awards

Georgia football held its annual team gala Sunday night at the Classic Center. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn and Smith were named team captains. Chubb was named offensive MVP, Smith was named defensive MVP and Mecole Hardman was named special teams MVP. Check here for a full list of team awards.

A first time for everything

We haven’t talked any about the Rose Bowl showdown with Oklahoma on New Year’s Day yet, but we’ll have plenty of time for that over the next month. But I didn’t want to leave you without some discussion of the game against the Sooners.

The Rose Bowl will be the first time Georgia and Oklahoma have faced one another, somewhat surprising for a pair of programs as storied as these. And even though this is the first time these two will meet, it has all the makings of a classic matchup between one of the best defenses in college football and the best offense in college football. From Emerson:

But on paper it’s pure offense vs. defense: Oklahoma has the nation’s most prolific offense with [Baker] Mayfield, who is the Heisman Trophy favorite, while Georgia has a great defense led by linebacker Roquan Smith.

“I tell people all the time, [Mayfield] is entertaining to watch,” Smart said during ESPN’s selection show. “He’s unbelievably talented. He’s got great athletic ability. He seems like he’s been playing forever. He’s what college football is all about. He embraces it, he loves it. I love the way he plays the game. ….

“We’ll probably have a lot of sleepless nights over the next 30 days or so.”

Mayfield is undoutedly the best quarterback Georgia will face this season. He has 4,340 passing yards and 41 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions. In his teleconference, Smart referred to Baker as a Heisman Trophy winner — going along with the conventional wisdom that he’ll win the award this Saturday — and compared him to Brett Favre.

But the praise wasn’t one-sided. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was also effusive in his praise for Georgia’s defense. From Cody Daniel of DieHards:

“Well, they’re always a challenge. There’s great defenses in that league,” Riley said of the challenge of playing an SEC-style defense. “Auburn was tremendous last year and I’ve had a chance to see Georgia a little bit this year and they’re tremendous. They have great athletes all over the field. Kirby [Smart] and his staff do such a great job defensively with their schemes and the way they attack you. It’s going to be a challenge. It will be one of the best defenses that we’ve played in the three years that we’ve been here.”

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