The Georgia fans that I hear from seem to be of two minds when it comes to Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback.
“Very underrated athlete who can make plays with his arm and his feet. Instinctive player who rarely makes a mental mistake. It is also clear that the Georgia players rally behind him and believe in him. He doesn't blow you away with his arm talent, but he can do everything you need a quarterback to do.’
Mind No. 2:
“Great guy. Has a great story coming from walk-on to the starting quarterback for the No. 1 team in college football. Love what he has done for Georgia.
“However, the reality is that with Stetson Bennett as the starting quarterback Georgia can win every game on its schedule.
“I love Stetson Bennett. I love watching him play,” a fan told me in Jacksonville before the Georgia-Florida game on Oct. 30 . “He’s been good for Georgia. I just don’t think we can beat Alabama and win a national championship with him as our quarterback.”
To this point that fan is half right. Alabama beat then No. 1 and undefeated Georgia 41-24 in the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 4 but it sure wasn’t Bennett’s fault. He completed 29 of 48 passes for a career-high 340 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
But when the game got out of hand for Georgia, fans wanted to know why former five-star recruit JT Daniels, who began the season as the starter but then lost the job to an injury , did not get some snaps.
The difference in the SEC championship game was that Alabama had the soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner, Bryce Young, at quarterback. Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns, which included strikes of 67 and 55 yards to Jameson Williams. He was not sacked a single time.
Despite the loss Georgia (12-1) made the College Football Playoff and will meet No. 2 Michigan (12-1) in Friday’s semifinals at the Orange Bowl (7:30 p.m.), ESPN. Bennett will again be the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs.
So it came as no surprise during a Zoom call on Tuesday that three of the first four questions asked of offensive coordinator Todd Monken raised the issue of why Bennett has remained the starter, even as Daniels appears physically ready to play.
Monken’s response echoes what head coach Kirby Smart has said when asked about the quarterback position at Georgia.
“The reason Stetson Bennett plays is we think he gives us the best chance to win,” Monken said. “And that’s really the end of that question.”
Translation: "Guys. We watch them every day in practice and Stetson plays better."
On the question of whether or not Bennett’s arm talent can create the explosive plays that have become a big part of today’s wide open offenses, Monken insisted that the talent is there to win a national championship.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we can win a national championship,” said Monken. “There’s no doubt in my mind we can win it with Stetson Bennett. Stetson Bennett is a helluva football player.”
And it has been a helluva journey to the CFP semifinals for Bennett.
Bennett, from Blackshear, Ga. (about 80 miles North of Jacksonville, Fla.), was a second-team All-State quarterback at Pierce County High School. His parents both attended Georgia so he walked on and was redshirted as a freshman in 2017. He ran the scout team and played the role of Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in practice leading up to the Rose Bowl CFP semifinal, a game that Georgia won in overtime.
With Jake Fromm and Justin Fields already on campus, Bennett transferred to Jones College in Ellisville, Miss., where he led the team to a 10-2 record in 2018. With Georgia in need of quarterback depth in 2019 Bulldogs Coach Kirby Smart offered Bennett a scholarship to return to Georgia.
He played in five games in 2019 and started five games in the COVID year of 2020. This season he took over when Daniels was hurt against UAB.
So you’ll forgive Bennett if he doesn’t listen to the doubters. He’s heard it all before. The game is not a how many stars are by your name when you’re coming out of high school. It’s about production on the field. He is 12-3 as Georgia’s starting quarterback and is two wins away from leading the Bulldogs to their first national championship since 1980.
“You want your play on the field to be the determining factor,” Bennett said. “You don’t want to rely on anything else.”
To put it more bluntly, Bennett believes some of his critics are misinformed.
“You can put any value on people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “I wouldn’t listen to me talking about heart surgery. Why would I listen to someone who doesn’t do this for a living?”
Bennett will be playing against one of the best pass rushes in the country in Friday’s game with Michigan. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is third nationally in sacks with 14.
If Georgia beats Michigan on Friday, it is very likely that the Bulldogs will face Alabama for the CFP national championship on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. The No. 1 Crimson Tide faces No. 4 Cincinnati in Friday’s other semifinal in the Cotton Bowl.
Should Georgia and Alabama meet again, this time with the national championship on the line, the debate on Stetson Bennett vs. JT Daniels will return.