INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The aftermath looked like championships often do.
Confetti flew everywhere while fans belted out “We are the Champions” and the locker room was filled with celebratory cigar smoke and rap music. Every single Georgia player knows the words to “Faneto” by Chief Keef and “No Flockin” by Kodak Black.
But what was different about Georgia’s memorably lopsided 65-7 victory over TCU in the College Football Playoff national championship at SoFi Stadium on Monday night was the fact that this win put the Bulldogs in extremely rare company. They are now just the seventh program to repeat as outright national champions since the AP poll began in 1936.
Of course, the last team to do it was Alabama in 2011 and 2012, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart was Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at the time.
So now the question must be asked: Is Georgia the new Alabama?
“We don’t want to compare ourselves to anybody else,” cornerback Kelee Ringo said. “We’re starting our own thing over here, and we want to continue to build on that.”
“Nah, we’re Georgia,” added right tackle Warren McClendon. “We don’t want to be like Bama. We’re Georgia.”
That’s fair. But when Smart was hired by his alma mater in December 2015, he began building Georgia in his image, an identity that he developed and honed while working for Saban for 11 years at LSU, with the Miami Dolphins, and then at Alabama, where he helped the program win four national championships as a faithful assistant.
Over the past seven years, Smart has turned the Bulldogs into a team that’s physically imposing and stingy on defense, with a relentless must-win attitude. Before kickoff, he said on the TV broadcast, “We’re gonna hunt tonight.” It sounded kind of like those Alabama teams that strived to make their opponents quit before the game even starts.
While Georgia wants to distinguish itself from its SEC rival, it is basically the next iteration of the Crimson Tide as the new measuring stick in the conference and the sport. The torch has been passed.
Georgia showed no mercy against TCU on Monday night in so many ways. Smart said after the game that he instructed his scout team defense to become the Horned Frogs defense as they prepared to face them this week.
“We said we’re going to do it better than they do it,” Smart said. “You’re going to watch tape, sit in here, learn how to do it. We had guys be their guys and do their defense exactly right. Until the last day we were walking in there, they were giving an unbelievable look. That set our offense up for success.”
This helped Heisman finalist quarterback Stetson Bennett have his way from the start, running for a 21-yard touchdown on the opening drive and finishing with a glowing stat line of completing 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns, and no sacks or interceptions.
Bennett, whose Hollywood story has been told fondly over the past two seasons, led the offense to pile up 589 total yards while averaging 8.2 yards per play. The Bulldogs scored 65 points on 72 plays and established the run early without pushback, racking up 254 yards to the Frogs’ 36.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s defense held TCU to nine first downs (UGA’s offense had 32) and 188 total yards. Defensive back Javon Bullard had a fumble recovery and back-to-back interceptions in the first half that were completely deflating.
Georgia led 38-7 at halftime, breaking the previous CFP record of 35 first-half points set by Alabama against Ohio State in the 2021 semifinal. Georgia then finished with 65 points, breaking another CFP record for highest point total, also previously held by Alabama (52 against Ohio State in 2020).
By the end of the night, TCU was ready for the game to be over. Most purple-clad fans missed the fourth quarter entirely, fleeing SoFi Stadium. This meant they luckily avoided watching Jalon Walker, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound freshman linebacker, sack Max Duggan for a loss of 10 yards. And they didn’t see the play that followed, which was when Georgia’s fourth-string running back Branson Robinson scored the game’s final touchdown.
Meanwhile, Georgia fans sitting in the plush field-level suites clinked wine glasses and said cheers with seven minutes technically still left to play.
“It’s hard to put into words,” McClendon said of winning his second title. “I never thought we would be in this position. You know, during recruiting, Coach Smart told me we were going to win championships and I just thought he was giving the same old recruiting pitch everybody else does.
“But he stuck to his word.”
For the past 20 years, there’s been an overwhelming sense that until Saban retires, no other program would be able to reach this level of consistent excellence.
But Smart learned from the best, and he is actually ahead of where his mentor once was. Smart won his first national championship at 46 years old, becoming the first Saban disciple to beat the boss himself as Georgia took down Alabama one year ago. When Saban was the same age, he was coming off a 6-6 season at Michigan State. Now 47, Smart just won his second straight title; Saban didn’t win his second until he was 57. And Smart is having success during an unprecedented era of NIL and the transfer portal. He still has a ways to go to catch Saban’s seven titles, but he’s young and should be around college football for a long time.
One of the most astonishing details about this Georgia title is the fact that a record 15 players from last year’s team were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Bulldogs still managed to go undefeated and win it all again after filling those holes.
“I had four national championships at Alabama, I don’t think we had but one that was undefeated, and that one was really special,” Smart said. “Sometimes it takes a loss to galvanize, put your team in a spot to win. It did last year. And it didn’t take that [this year]. I always tell guys, do you have to take a loss to learn? Why? And this team is special because they didn’t have a flaw.
“There are some parts of me that think, if the team last year played this year’s team, last year’s team probably had more talent on it. But this year’s team was different. They just had this eye of the tiger; they weren’t going to lose.”
Gone are the days of fans holding up “We Want Bama” signs and preseason predictions assuming Alabama will win it all. Smart is building this thing to last.
And so even if Georgia doesn’t want to compare itself to Alabama, how does it feel about the word dynasty?
“The start of one, 100%,” Ringo said. “You could definitely say it’s the start of one.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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