Those not as well versed in SEC depth charts likely didn’t notice the large absence of Georgia starters at the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday. The Bulldogs were missing six regular-season starters and 13 rotation players in New Orleans, but Kirby Smart’s squad still managed to overwhelm Baylor and quarterback Charlie Brewer in a 26-14 victory. The Bears didn’t score in the first half late Wednesday night. They committed three turnovers, and starting quarterback Brewer spent most of the second half running for his life before exiting the game in the fourth quarter due to a potential concussion. A short-handed Georgia squad handled Baylor with relative ease for much of the evening.
We shouldn’t completely dismiss the effort by coach Matt Rhule’s squad to close the slate of New Year’s Day games. Baylor mounted a 75-yard drive to pull within 12 late in the third quarter, and the Bulldogs’ offense stalled in spurts for portions of the second half. Yet it was a backup Bulldog who ultimately pierced Baylor’s front line in Georgia’s victory.
Freshman Zamir White logged just 60 carries entering Wednesday night, but he led all players with 92 rushing yards on 18 carries in the Sugar Bowl victory. White bullied Baylor midway through the third quarter, bursting into the end zone from 13 yards out. White is no ordinary backup. He joined Georgia as the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in the class of 2018. After waiting his turn behind D’Andre Swift for much of 2019, White arrived on the national stage Wednesday.
Another Georgia standout freshman, wideout George Pickens finished the evening with 12 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown, bullying the Bears’ secondary with his 6’3” frame. Pickens was one of Georgia’s five five-star recruits in the class of 2019. The Bulldogs currently sport the nation’s No. 4 class for 2020. Smart continues to keep Georgia stocked with the nation’s top talent on a yearly basis.
The Smart era has yet to bring Athens its first national championship since 1980, and back-to-back years outside the College Football Playoff is a minor disappointment after coming so close to the title against Alabama in January 2018. Yet it’s hard not to be encouraged as Georgia enters the next decade. Smart is 36–7 in his last three seasons. Georgia is 6–4 against Top-10 teams since 2017. A standard of success has been re-established, with Smart’s last three years matching the height of the Mark Richt era from the previous decade. With a steady stream of talent arriving each year, a return to the playoff could be imminent.
Georgia will certainly be among the top tier of title contenders entering 2020. LSU will likely lose Joe Burrow, and the potential departure of Tua Tagovailoa for Alabama could leave the conference with no true favorite. Quarterback Jake Fromm’s future may swing the odds entering September. The junior tossed 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2019, and he could sneak into the back of the first round if he performs well in the months between now and the 2020 draft. But Fromm could be well served by another year on a collegiate stage. If he stays, Georgia will likely cruise to the SEC East title. The road will be different if Fromm bolts, though the Bulldogs have proven they have enough talent to withstand any single departure. Smart has built a true power, one that’s in fine shape as we roll into 2020.