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Georgia Football: Can the Bulldogs Repeat as National Champions in 2022?

Jordan Davis and Stetson Bennett, Georgia Bulldogs Football in 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship

Georgia ended its lengthy national title drought but with key players such as defensive standout Jordan Davis (99) and quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) moving on the Bulldogs will look a lot different next season

After 41 years, countless heartbreaks, and the curse of former Nick Saban assistants looming, the Georgia Bulldogs are again national champions.

This Georgia football team will go down in history not only for winning the program's first title since 1980, but also for boasting one of the greatest defenses in the sport's history. And indeed, the national championship game was the Bulldogs' defense at its absolute best. Holding Alabama to field-goal attempts on most of its scoring opportunities gave the Georgia offense time to finally break through with a monumental fourth quarter.

In the process, Kirby Smart became just the second of the many former Saban assistants to beat the man himself and did so on the sport's most prominent stage.

Following a blueprint akin to how Saban restored Alabama as a national powerhouse, Smart has Georgia built to be in the mix for SEC titles every year — and given the recent history of the sport, being in the hunt for an SEC championship means leading the way for a national championship.

With a wave of players headed to the NFL, the loss of a key coach and other changes to come, Georgia's best season in four decades leads into one of the program's most intriguing offseasons of all time.

Related: Way-Too-Early Top 25 College Football Rankings for 2022

Offense

Key Returnees

QB JT Daniels
RB Kenny McIntosh
WR Jermaine Burton
WR Kearis Jackson
WR Ladd McConkey
WR Adonai Mitchell
TE Brock Bowers
OL Warren Ericson
OL Warren McClendon
OL Sedrick Van Pran

Likely Key Departures

QB Stetson Bennett
RB James Cook
RB Zamir White
WR George Pickens
OT Jamaree Salyer
OG Justin Shaffer

Defense

Key Returnees

DT Jalen Carter
DE Tramel Walthour
LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson
CB Kelee Ringo
CB Javon Bullard
S Dan Jackson 

Likely Key Departures

DT Jordan Davis
DE Travon Walker
DT Devonte Wyatt
LB Nakobe Dean
LB Nolan Smith
LB Channing Tindall
LB Quay Walker
CB Derion Kendrick
CB Ameer Speed
S Latavious Brini
S Lewis Cine

Possible Key Departure

S Christopher Smith

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Three Offseason Storylines to Watch

1. Quarterback controversy
Since reentering the national championship conversation under Kirby Smart, the one lingering question mark has been at quarterback. Jake Fromm replacing Jacob Eason was vindicated with an SEC championship and title-game appearance, but also became the backdrop for Justin Fields' exit from the program.

JT Daniels' transfer in from USC and electric play in the second half of 2020 after returning from a torn ACL seemed to address the Bulldogs' biggest uncertainty. But Daniels dealt with injury again in 2021, turning the offense over to Stetson Bennett.

Bennett's play in 2021 was reminiscent of quarterbacks in the first half of Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama: serviceable, but not game-changing — not until his final touchdown pass of the national championship game, anyway.

Daniels' flashes of brilliance at both USC and Georgia and his experience warrant him getting the first crack to captain the offense in 2022. However, his misfortune with injuries comes with justified concern.

The fluidity of the transfer portal could bring an immediate contender into the mix — Daniels was a late-spring addition in 2020 in his own right.

Meanwhile, Georgia has blue-chip prospect Brock Vandagriff on the roster and high-4-star recruit Gunner Stockton in the 2022 signing class.

2. Replacing Dan Lanning — and a LOT of defensive production
Coordinators overseeing historically excellent units don't often remain coordinators for long — with Kirby Smart's lengthy tenure at Alabama being a noteworthy outlier.

Thus, Oregon making defensive coordinator Dan Lanning an offer to replace Mario Cristobal comes as no surprise. Smart seemed to be prepared for such a move with Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp on deck to take over.

It's an intriguing pairing with the young rising star Schumann and veteran defensive coordinator Muschamp bringing unique dynamics to the job. Given Smart's own defensive acumen, coaching shouldn't be an issue for the 2022 Georgia defense.

The turnover of talent is another story.

The Bulldogs return a bevy of talented playmakers all over the defense, from proven commodities to blue-chip prospects. But asking even blue-chippers to replicate the performance of veterans like Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Channing Tindall and Nakobe Dean who guided a historically dominant defense might be setting unrealistic expectations.

3. From underdawgs to top dawgs
There's a famous quote, made most popular in today's culture by the film "Die Hard," that might apply to Georgia's offseason: When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Alright, so drawing a parallel between Alexander the Great and a college football team might be a little excessive. But where does a program that has agonized for so long to reach this point go?

The 2012 SEC Championship Game, the 2018 national championship, and the SEC title tilt 11 months later: Georgia came within yards of championships previously but was thwarted by Alabama each time.

Finally getting to the peak, and doing so against the opponent that has been a consistent albatross, completely transforms all outside narratives about Georgia football.

College football has had plenty of dynasties in the game's 152-year history, but far more programs appear to be on the brink of becoming dynasties only for it to fall apart. It happened to Miami after the Hurricanes' 2001 championship, it happened to USC not long after Vince Young's fourth-down touchdown rush. The consistency Alabama's enjoyed under Saban is almost unfathomably in the modern landscape, and not a fair standard to set for Kirby Smart and Georgia.

But continuing to at least have the chance at year-in and year-out championship contention is very much attainable. With the turnover ahead of the Bulldogs in 2022, they'll test the program's resolve immediately.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break