Winners and Losers from the 2022 National Championship

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2022

Winners and Losers from the 2022 National Championship

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Georgia Bulldogs can rejoice for the first time in 41 years as a national champion football program.

    Riding a huge fourth-quarter performance from quarterback Stetson Bennett and a dominant defensive performance throughout the game, the nation's top defense proved it was the top football team in a 33-18 win over Alabama in Indianapolis.

    The victory gave UGA its first national title since 1980, gave coach Kirby Smart his first-ever win over former mentor Nick Saban and gave Dawgs fans everywhere plenty to bark about.

    "It's a special moment for the University of Georgia," Smart told ESPN afterward, "a special moment for this team."

    And it's a special moment for Smart, whose program already had been on recruits' minds and looks like the top is ready to come off in a big way. Could we be seeing the blossoming of another dynasty?

    Let's take a look at the national championship game's winners and losers.

Winner: Stetson Bennett and UGA Offense Coming off the Mat in the 4th Quarter

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    After Stetson Bennett's brutal, tough-luck fumble while trying to do too much instead of just going down on a sack, the narrative was being written.

    "He's not a good enough quarterback to win a title." "There are too many turnovers in big games." "Kirby just chokes against the Tide."

    Somebody forgot to tell him or the Bulldogs.

    Yes, Bennett's blunder with 11:35 left in the game was huge. It set up Alabama's go-ahead touchdown to give the Crimson Tide an 18-13 lead. But this resilient, battle-tested UGA team was up to the challenge, and at the center of it all was the scrutinized former walk-on, lifetime-Dawgs fan in Bennett.

    Following that fumble, the quarterback led Georgia on two touchdown drives, giving his team a 26-18 lead. Alabama had a chance to tie late, but Bryce Young threw an interception to Kelee Ringo, who returned it for the game-clinching score.

    Bennett was 4-for-4 for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns following the fumble. An offense that was dead in the water started soaring in Indy.

    After a beautiful 40-yard bomb to Adonai Mitchell for the first touchdown, Bennett floated a perfect pass to Brock Bowers for another 15-yard score with Jordan Battle in his face.

    "I just knew we weren't going to let a turnover like that stop us from winning a national championship," Bennett told ESPN after the game. "I wasn't going to let that happen. I wasn't going to be the reason we lost tonight."

    When Ringo crossed the goal line, the cameras caught Bennett bawling tears of joy on the sidelines. Think this didn't mean everything to him? He isn't the flashiest quarterback or the most skilled, but Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken saw something in him all year to keep him running the show.

    He showed the nation why.

Loser: Bryce Young's Struggle-Fest Against Dominant Dawgs D

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    Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy with brilliant play throughout the year, but he etched his name on that trophy with his 421-yard demoralization of the Dawgs in the SEC championship game win.

    The best defense in the nation took it personally.

    In the national title game, UGA harassed Young all night. While the box score showed he threw for 369 yards, it was far from the typical game. It may be unfair to call out the nation's top player for a performance like this one that was far from bad, but everybody had come to expect so much.

    The sophomore was rattled as he ran for his life for much of the night. Young threw a couple of interceptions, wasn't as sharp as he normally is, and under-threw passes more than we're used to seeing.

    It's worth noting his top two receivers (John Metchie III and Jameson Williams) were injured, and Young had to throw to several guys who were forced into action.

    To blame Young or the injuries to the receivers would really be doing a disservice to UGA's dominant defense, though. This was more about what the Junkyard Dawgs did than what Alabama didn't. There's a reason why everybody was so shocked when the Tide posted 41 points to win the SEC.

    Coordinator Dan Lanning's defense wasn't going to allow that to happen again. They turned it up a notch with the game on the line, sealing the game with Kelee Ringo's pick-six of Young.

    As Nick Saban and Kirby Smart met at mid-field at the end of the game, the mics caught Saban telling Smart, "You guys kicked our [butt] in the fourth quarter." Young probably felt a culmination of that throughout the game.

Winner: Kirby Breaking the Curse of 1980

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Georgia fans have heard it for so long, bristling at rival fans ending any argument about SEC supremacy with "1980."

    That, of course, is the last time the Bulldogs won a national championship, way back when Vince Dooley coached the Dawgs.

    Kirby Smart exorcised those demons Monday night with a 15-point win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. In the process, he also notched his first-ever win over his former boss, Nick Saban. Much more than an aside, he also avenged a lopsided SEC championship game loss and, more importantly, got a little revenge for the 2018 overtime loss to Bama in the title game.

    "That one will be with me for a long time," a beaming Smart said after winning his first national title, "but this one will be with me for much longer."

    Prior to the big win over Bama, Smart was 0-4 against Saban. The great UA coach had never lost to one of his former assistants before this season, but Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher got him in the regular season, and now Smart beat him in the biggest game of the year.

    The former UGA defensive back from Bainbridge, Georgia, who has recruited at a level matched only by Saban the past five years, finally proved he got the chops to get it done on the field. It may be the first of many with the way the red and black train is rolling in recruiting.

    When ESPN reporters brought up 1980 in the postgame, Smart quipped: "Hope it doesn't take that long again. Go Dawgs."

    Monday night felt like the start of something big.

Loser: Alabama's WR Injury Bug (Again)

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    Not this again!

    After losing second-leading receiver John Metchie III with a season-ending knee injury in the SEC Championship game win over the Dawgs, they saw another one of their superstars go down early Monday in the national title game.

    Streaking unimpeded down the middle of the field on a 40-yard catch, Biletnikoff Award finalist Jameson Williams went to make a move, but his knee planted and turned awkwardly in a non-contact injury.

    He writhed in pain and didn't put weight on the leg as he was helped off the field but did hobble to the locker room under his own power. The Ohio State transfer didn't return, either. 

    This injury bugaboo in the receiving corps is all too familiar for Nick Saban in recent history. Not only did Metchie go down, but remember Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith suffered a gruesome finger injury in last year's title game that took him out.

    Unlike Smith—who'd amassed 12 receptions for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of last year's dominant win against the Buckeyes—Williams didn't get to post monster numbers before exiting, but he was on his way. That was his fourth grab for 65 yards early in the second quarter.

    The Tide were forced to go deep into its talent pool to keep the pass-catchers coming for Bryce Young. But they unfortunately were left to deal with a big loss and hope one of their stars didn't have a lasting injury yet again.

Winner: The Kickers (and, Therefore, the Under)

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    Maybe it's time for college kickers to have their time to shine in the spotlight—perhaps a NIL deal for a gym promoting "leg day" or something.

    After Monday's national championship game, companies should strike while the iron's hot.

    In a game that featured offensive stars like Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, Georgia freshman phenom tight end Brock Bowers and elite pass-catcher George Pickens, kickers Will Reichard and Jack Podlesny got a foot in the door at center stage (at least in the first half).

    At halftime of the title game, it was 9-6 Alabama, thanks to three Reichard field goals, including a 45-yarder. Podlesny made both of his opportunities, too, including a season-long kick of 49 yards.

    The good vibes faltered a bit in the second half when Georgia's Jalen Carter blocked a Reichard kick that could have put Bama up by six. It was that kind of night for miscues, even if most of them didn't happen on special teams.

    UGA coach Kirby Smart was in no mood for praise at the break, though. He'd just watched his team continually make costly penalties that kept them behind the chains and fail to muster much offensively.

    Alabama didn't do much better, stalling time and time again and settling for three points.

    "We're shooting ourselves in the foot," Smart told the ESPN television crew. "We're 1st-and-15, 2nd-and-20. You're not going to have a good football team when you do that. We've got to get some things together on offense."

    At least they didn't shoot the kickers' feet.