The best college football team of 2023 isn’t in the playoff.

That was the statement that Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs made emphatically Saturday with their 63-3 steamrolling of previously undefeated ACC champion FSU in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

And, while they were at it, the Dawgs gave Bulldogs fans and the nation a good look at the future of UGA football, as the second half of the game against the Seminoles was turned over to second- and third-teamers, who added another 21 points to the commanding 42-3 halftime lead. (Georgia’s 39-point first half lead was an Orange Bowl record and a school bowl record.)

Saturday’s game was like G-Day on steroids with all the excitement generated for next season by many younger players’ outstanding performances.

Kendall Milton ended his UGA career in high style against the FSU Seminoles. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Smart obviously was determined to provide a lot of playing time to backups, even before the score got out of hand, which probably was his way of trying to assure players who still might be eyeing the transfer portal that they’re wanted and needed at UGA. One example of that apparently working: Cornerback Daniel Harris, who had announced he would enter the portal (but had not yet actually done so), played extensively in the game and said afterward that he will be returning to UGA for another season.

Overall, the Orange Bowl provided a prime example of the excellent job Smart has done of turning his team into the nation’s elite program. Instead of fretting over what happened four weeks earlier, as the Seminoles still were doing at gametime, the Bulldogs were focused and locked in on what needed to be done.

“The game mattered because we were playing a game,” Smart said afterward. “And as long as winning matters, we’re going to compete like hell at Georgia; it doesn’t matter what it is.”

While the score was only 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, it did not remain a competitive game for long, with the Dawgs’ Kendall Milton scoring his second touchdown of the day on the very first play of the second quarter. Georgia would score four more times before halftime, sending some Seminoles fans for the exits early. It seems Smart’s Dawgs have become experts at clearing out pro football stadiums in Florida when they play schools from that state.

Quarterback Carson Beck rolls out of the pocket the Orange Bowl win over Florida State. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

After turning it over on downs on its first possession, Georgia scored TDs on its next nine possessions before Brett Thorson finally was called to boot his only punt of the night deep in the fourth quarter.

Milton, who played with a knee brace and his hamstrings taped up, was named the Orange Bowl’s Most Valuable Player for his performance. He gained 104 yards on 9 carries (an 11.6-yard average), all in the first half. He had the game’s first two TDs, a 15-yarder and then a 5-yarder. It was his fourth career 100-yard game.

However, Milton certainly wasn’t alone in excelling in Saturday’s win over the No. 5-ranked Seminoles. Starting QB Carson Beck completed 13 of 19 passes in his one half of play for 203 yards and 2 TDs. That moved Beck up to second on UGA’s list of the most single-season passing yards, with 3,941, jumping him over Aaron Murray (3,893 in 2012). Stetson Bennett is tops in that category with 4,127 yards last year.

In the rushing attack, besides Milton there was Roderick Robinson with 7 carries for 70 yards, Daijun Edwards getting 62 yards and 2 touchdowns on 7 runs, and backup QB Gunner Stockton (who started the second half and played most of those two quarters) running 7 times for 46 net yards. Stockton also completed 6 of 10 passes for 96 yards and 2 TDs.

Receiver Ladd McConkey makes a move after a reception in Saturday’s Georgia win over FSU. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

The versatile Dillon Bell led Georgia’s receivers, with 5 catches for 86 yards. Catching touchdown passes for the Dawgs were Arian Smith, Dominic Lovett, Lawson Luckie and Anthony Evans.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 by the playoff committee, finished with a season-high and UGA bowl record 673 yards of total offense (fourth most overall in school history) on 76 plays. Georgia’s 372 yards on 47 runs was a Bulldog bowl record, too.

FSU, meanwhile, finished with 209 yards of offense on 53 plays. The Seminoles had 185 yards on 41 plays in the first half. FSU was 2-for-12 on third downs against the nation’s best third-down defense.

Georgia backup QB Gunner Stockton played most of the second half against FSU. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Speaking of defense, the Dawgs were led by C.J. Allen’s 6 tackles, while Jalon Walker and Mykel Williams had 4 each. (Williams also had a strip sack that forced a fumble that he recovered, leading to a TD.) Malaki Starks and Daylen Everette also made interceptions.

Among the game’s highlights for Dawgs fans were Cash Jones causing a fumble with his hit on FSU’s Deuce Spann on a kickoff return (Cole Speer recovered the fumble). On the next play, Beck threw a lateral pass to Ladd McConkey, who was planning to throw it downfield to another receiver, but instead tucked the ball and ran, maneuvering his way through most of the FSU defense for a touchdown.

“I really wanted to throw a touchdown,” McConkey said after the game, “but it worked out. We had that play in all year, and we finally got to run it.”

On Georgia’s special teams, placekicker Peyton Woodring tallied 9 points, going 9-for-9 on PATs, another bowl record. He ended the season with 134 points, which ranks third in school history.

The bottom line: Georgia responded to the College Football Playoff’s snub like the championship program it is, winning by 60 points, the largest margin of victory in all of bowl game history (topping the Dawgs’ own record set not quite a year ago against TCU).

Wide receiver Dominic Lovett scores on a 2-yard reception in the Orange Bowl. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

“To be able to come in and execute at a high level like we did, I think we sent a message,” Beck said.

Yes, Florida State was missing 20-something players, including some starters, due to opt-outs, portal departures and injuries, but Georgia also was missing more than 20 players, including its superstar, injured tight end Brock Bowers. Also not available because of injury were offensive tackle Amarius Mims, cornerback Julian Humphrey, inside linebacker Smael Mondon and split end Rara Thomas. But the Bulldogs notably had no healthy players opt out of the bowl game.

Still, apparently wanting to protect its considerable investment in the College Football Playoff, ESPN naturally played up the Seminoles’ depleted status as a backhanded way of diminishing the Dawgs’ overwhelming victory. However, when prompted by play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore, analyst Jesse Palmer came right out said he thought Georgia is among the four best teams in college football.

In other words, the playoff selection committee blew it when they dropped previous No. 1 Georgia out of the top four after the Dawgs lost to Alabama by just 3 points in the SEC Championship game.

It’d be one thing if the playoff goal was simply to match the four highest-ranked Power 5 conference champs, but it isn’t. It’s supposed to be the four best teams, and a season-long eye test made it clear that, even after the close loss to the Tide, the Dawgs remained among that group — as they showed Saturday in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia linebacker C.J. Allen tackles FSU receiver Deuce Spann Saturday. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

“We knew we were one of the four best teams in college football,” senior nose tackle Zion Logue said. “We tripped at the finish line in the SEC Championship, but we came out and showed today that we’re still the University of Georgia and we’re going to dominate anytime we step on the field.”

So, playing in its 27th consecutive bowl game, the longest streak in the nation, the defending back-to-back national champion Georgia Bulldogs finished a terrific season having won 30 of their past 31 games and 46 of their past 48.

The 2023 senior class recorded a 50-4 record, the most wins ever by a class in school history. In the Smart era, the Dawgs are 94-16 overall and are 9-2 in bowl games/CFP appearances, including winning the past seven in a row.

Saturday’s win was a fine ending to a season that marked three straight years of Georgia domination. The Dawgs absolutely dunked the Noles on both sides of ball — the running game was unstoppable and there were plenty of great throws and catches, as the offense did everything it wanted. And the defense just crushed FSU.

No, the 2023 Dawgs did not get the much talked about threepeat, but they still had a year that stands above many in UGA football history.

Also, you got the feeling that Saturday really was about the start of the 2024 season and chance to get another shot to win it all again.

It has been an incredible run, and there is every reason to believe there is more greatness to come.