Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows why his string of elite recruiting classes has not yet broken through with a national title. It’s not exactly a secret.
“You look at teams that have won the national championship recently,” Smart said last month during SEC media days, “they’re most dynamic on offense and at the skill positions.”
The Bulldogs have not been. But they have the chance to be this year.
Which is why former Bucs staffer Todd Monken is the most important assistant in the conference, if not the country.
The sport has evolved since Georgia came within a second-and-26 stop of topping Alabama for the 2017 title. A strong passing attack was an asset back then but not a necessity. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide both made it to the championship game despite ranking outside the top 90 nationally in passing yards per game. Georgia had half as many touchdown passes (24) as the Oklahoma team (47) it beat in the semifinals.
In the three seasons since, every title game participant has ranked at least 37th in passing yards per game. The last two champions were third and second.
Georgia? It ranked 73rd and 72nd before rising to 45th last year.
Every starting quarterback in a title game since the Alabama-Georgia bout has been picked in the top 15 of the NFL draft. Two of them (Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and LSU’s Joe Burrow) were chosen No. 1 overall.
Georgia? It let one of those top-15 picks, Justin Fields, transfer to Ohio State (where he became a Heisman Trophy finalist) because the Bulldogs stuck with eventual fifth-round pick Jake Fromm.
The last three years show a clear trend. You can’t win the College Football Playoff without a dynamic passer. And Georgia might finally have one.
Former five-star recruit JT Daniels.
Daniels was talented enough to become only the second USC true freshman ever to start Week 1. He might still be at USC, had a knee injury not cost him his 2019 season and the starting spot.
Smart said the last two championship quarterbacks, Burrow and Alabama’s Mac Jones, knew how to make the right decisions, protect the football and feed it to talented playmakers. He believes Daniels has the physical and mental tools to do the same.
“We have the recipe for those things,” Smart said.
So it’s up to the chef to make that recipe work. It’s up to Monken to cook up a national championship.
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Monken couldn’t get much out of Stetson Bennett or four-star prospect D’Wan Mathis last year. They were unimpressive through the first half of the season and combined for a ghastly 9-of-29 performance against the Gators in Jacksonville.
But neither has the talent of Daniels, and Monken has proven he knows how to use high-end quarterbacks before. Brandon Weeden’s passing efficiency jumped five points at Oklahoma State from 2010-11 after Monken became his offensive coordinator. Monken’s Bucs offense set franchise records in total yards (6,648) and scoring (396 points) when he called the plays in 2018.
Monken also has an encouraging history with Daniels, who returned from a knee injury late last year. Since 2014, Georgia has only two games with at least 350 passing yards; Daniels had both of them in the final four games, including a 392-yard showing against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. Daniels’ passing efficiency (178.5) would have ranked ninth nationally if he had played enough games to qualify.
Crucially, Daniels said he and Monken “see the game the same way” in their limited time together.
“It’s hard to knock Monken on anything really,” Daniels said. “We’ve always had a good connection.”
If that good connection becomes great, it might be enough to end the Bulldogs’ four-decade title drought.
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