From the Georgia national title victory to shocking coaching changes, the 2021 college football season has been a wild one

INDIANAPOLIS — The celebration in Athens, Georgia, was as great as widespread panic ’98, Kirby Smart said. Wait, what is widespread panic ’98?

“Google it,” said an outraged Stetson Bennett, the quarterback who largely orchestrated Georgia’s first national championship in 41 years, sending a wave of emotion through the streets of Athens Monday night.

We did. Turns out the reference comes from a legendary free open-air concert held a quarter of a century ago by a band that lives in the hearts of Athenians, just like their last national title.

“The first thing I thought of was Widespread Panic,” Smart said. “I was like… there are people on signs. There are people on stilts. You can’t see the street. I was quite impressed. Hopefully everyone is safe.”

Twenty-five years ago, Smart was heading into his senior season as a defensive defender with Georgia. Who knows if he was part of the crowd that day? Not so secondly, who would have thought that a reference to widespread panic would be used to describe the widespread joy Dawg Nation is experiencing?

These are some of the who-would-thunk-it moments that populated the 2021 college football season.

Somehow, football intervened in a year when college athletics was redefined by the U.S. Supreme Court and the NCAA stepped down, leaving name, image, and likeness rights unchecked. The transfer portal became such a tool that it created staff positions for programs across the country just to monitor it.

As for the College Football Playoff National Championship, we knew Georgia was good, especially the defense. Little did we know that it would be the sixth team since 2001 to play for a national title without winning the conference.

“Had we beat them the first time, I wouldn’t have felt so bad,” Smart said of Alabama. “And we would have had an SEC championship, which I always argue is just as hard to get as a national championship.”

We’ll never know, at least in 2021. In these day-after looks, it’s common to speculate about repetition. Not so much with Georgia. Eight Dawgs will compete in the Senior Bowl on February 5. That doesn’t include underclassmen Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean, Outland Trophy winner Jordan Davis and linebacker Quay Walker, all of whom are expected to run for the NFL Draft. Recoiling Zamir White, defending defender Lewis Cine and linebacker Nolan Smith all have decisions to make.

When asked about his future, Bennett said it was “personal” between him and Smart. Bennett has one year left to qualify, but does Georgia? want to he back? That can be an awkward process with five-star Brock Vandagriff and rising redshirt sophomore Carson Beck waiting in the wings.

If not, there are plenty of QB1s in the transfer portal looking to lead the defending champions.

“I don’t know if our team… coming back is prepared for what they’re going to see, because there’s a sense of entitlement, there’s a sense of the disease that has always crept into Georgia,” Smart said. “[It’s] a tremendous anointing and justice that can affect your program.”

Back to pure joy. Five years ago, Bennett was a walk-on quarterback who could swing it “like Baker Mayfield”… against the scout team, according to Smart.

On Monday, Georgia’s long wait was purged. This also applied to the nears and hads of recent years. Smart still hasn’t won a “second and 26”, the down and distance as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa hurled the national title winning pass to DeVonta Smith in the 2018 CFP National Championship.

“I don’t know if that pain will ever be numb because you put so much into those years,” Smart said.

At last, red were the cheeks of Bennett, who was playing his game of football. Ever. He had cried tears of joy Monday night.

“We all feel the weight of the state of Georgia on our shoulders,” Bennett said.

There was no trace of panic in his voice.

Here’s more that would be hard to believe at the start of the 2021 season:

  • Texas and Oklahoma are (at some point) going to the SEC to engage in the most active reshuffle round in history. When the wheels stopped spinning, five conferences (American, Big 12, Conference USA, SEC, Sun Belt) saw a combined 20 schools move through their ranks.
  • Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Bryce Young, made $1 million (in NIL) for more than a year before turning pro.
  • A conservative Supreme Court installed by a conservative president (Donald Trump) making the most pro-labor decision in the Alston v. NCAA case. The decision effectively pushed the NCAA to the sidelines, as the court said the association has “built a massive fundraising venture on the backs of student athletes who are fairly compensated.” Unless Congress intervenes, the decision has paved the way for college athletes to perhaps become employees at a later date.
  • Texas won five games — a draw in 32 years — when NIL deals were made that could allow Longhorn’s offensive lineman to get $50,000 a year. If you can’t beat them, pay them.
  • In the span of 11 ½ months, Florida’s Dan Mullen played for the SEC title, lost twice to Alabama for a total of eight points, defeated no ranked teams, defeated Georgia but lost by 27 points, got his quarterback situation wrong and gave up. 52 points up against Samford and being fired a day after he lost to Missouri overtime. The collapse was one of the most spectacular in recent years for a coach who, at least once, has been counted among the nation’s elite. Mullen was just part of a wave of coaching changes across 28 schools in 99 days.
  • The nation’s No. 1 in high school, defending defender Travis Hunter, committing to play away from the bright lights at Jackson State in the FCS for a Deion Sanders coach who pinned the position. Sanders yanked Hunter away from his own alma mater, the state of Florida.
  • No one blinks when Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett, a Heisman finalist, opts out of a New Year’s Six Bowl to protect his body for the draft. The backup who replaced him, Nick Patti, broke his collarbone in the Peach Bowl. That alone should put an end to all criticism of opt-outs.
  • A coach aged 16-14, Mel Tucker of the state of Michigan, becomes one of the highest paid coaches in the country, with annual revenue of $9.5 million for the next 10 years. These 10-year contracts became the new two-year extension.
  • A Houston Baptist transfer, Bailey Zappe of Western Kentucky not only led the country in passing, but also set the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. In other words, Zappe set an unbreakable record. His 62 touchdown passes broke Joe Burrow’s only two-year-old record of 60.
  • Jim Harbaugh is rebounding as arguably the best coaching bargain in the country. For his $4 million base salary (cut in January), Michigan won Ohio State for the first time in a decade, a Big Ten Championship and its first CFP berth. Michigan’s next challenge: arm the NFL stiff and keep Harbaugh in corn and blue.
  • Spencer Rattler was booed by his own fans and moved to South Carolina after starting the season as Heisman’s favorite in Oklahoma and owning two free cars as part of his NIL deal. He finished it with a 75% completion rate, but it wasn’t enough to stop Caleb Williams from replacing him as starter. Oh yeah, Rattler returned the cars.
  • Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team to earn a playoff spot when Clemson dropped (at least temporarily) from the elite ranks and failed to make the playoff for the first time in seven years.
  • Three Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12) are missing the CFP. (The Pac-12 extended its streak of missing the CFP to 1,837 days.)
  • George Kliavkoff, 54-year-old president of entertainment and sports at MGM Resorts International, becomes Pac-12 commissioner and tweet a shout out to Georgia’s defensive coordinator after the Dawgs’ national title win.
  • Georgia finished with the highest-scoring defense in a decade (10.2 points per game) under 35-year-old coordinator Dan Lanning. After winning the national championship, Lanning will face his old team in less than eight months as Oregon opens the 2022 season against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

Happy trails, 2021. 2022 couldn’t be crazier, right?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *