The University of Georgia Bulldogs beat the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff this month. Both programs had memorable quarterback performances that potentially set the stage for round 3 of Stetson Bennett vs. Bryce Young.
Young and Alabama dropped a 33-18 decision to Bennett and Georgia in Indianapolis as the Crimson Tide sophomore finished his Heisman Trophy-winning season at 13-2 and on a losing note. Bennett, the former walk-on who is far less celebrated than his counterpart, capped his storybook senior season at 14-1 with the Bulldogs’ first national title in 41 years.
But will this rivalry end there?
Before the championship, Bennett was unlikely to be a high-round NFL Draft pick. But because of the extra year of eligibility offered to college football players amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he has the opportunity to return to Georgia for one more season.
The Georgia native announced recently he will play one more year for coach Kirby Smart in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs’ starting role won’t be guaranteed, but Bennett could easily contribute to another run at a national title in 2022 and further build an NFL resume before leaving college once and for all.
Though Alabama is not on Georgia’s upcoming regular-season schedule, the potential for a Young-Bennett rematch in the 2022 SEC championship game is high. That storyline is sure to dominate college football next season. If fans are getting that third matchup, it could pit one future pro against another.
Young, who won the Heisman trophy, already has a clear path to the NFL. The last four quarterbacks to win college football’s most-recognized award, in fact, were full-time starters in the NFL this season: Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. On top of that, there were three other full-time NFL starters this season who played for the Crimson Tide before Young: New England’s Mac Jones, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Young has one more season left in Tuscaloosa before he is able to even declare for the NFL Draft. He could even return for two more seasons after that, which would be music to the ears of Alabama fans. But NFL Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay of ESPN Radio said that if he were eligible for the 2022 draft, Young would be a guaranteed no. 1 pick.
For Bennett? Different story, and in the long run, he might just not fit the NFL profile. The Bulldog is on the smaller, slower end — 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds — whereas Young is 6-0, 194, and is much more mobile with a stronger arm. His 4,872 passing yards, 47 touchdowns and 87.6 total quarterback rating with a 67% completion rate for the Crimson Tide will clearly stand out to NFL scouts. Bennett might need a boost in the statistical department next season. He has 2,862 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, an 86.7 quarterback rating and a 65% completion rate. Bennett has an exceptional arm for a college football player — as displayed in the CFP win — but Young is higher up the draft board, for sure.
Bennett does have the hustle facto. As he mentioned in the CFP postgame interview to ESPN’s Marty Smith, “you just work for things like this.” His narrative proves that he has a grit and a determination that is unrivaled, but that is no guarantee for longevity in the NFL. According to the Associated Press, the senior also has long-term plans to enter law school, so there is certainly a fall-back plan in place.
Again, draft speculation only gets people so far, and there’s no reason to count Bennett out just yet. He has proved naysayers wrong before — this month, in fact — and he may just turn out to be a Tom Brady-like, late-round pick with less-than-stellar measurables and a low-projectile profile who turns out to be an NFL star. Anyone with the fortitude to knock off Alabama in a title-game atmosphere is probably headed for success in his career, whether it is on the field or in industry.
Smart agrees and spoke glowingly of Bennett’s CFP performance during an interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis.
“What did winning a championship with Stetson Bennett, quarterback, teach you?” Davis asked. “Trust your gut. He did things in practice, he did things as a third-string, second-string quarterback that made you think… man this guy can be really special. And there’s a lot of talk and debate throughout the years he’s been here… is he the guy? Is he gonna be the guy? But I’ll never doubt my gut in that he was a winner and a leader and a really special player.”
Alabama’s Nick Saban, albeit after a loss, had a memorable CFP moment and soundbite regarding Young, and his teammate, linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who were both at the postgame podium with their coach. Just as the players were released to the locker room and rose from their seats, Saban spread both arms to stop them from exiting.
“I’d like to say something… can I say something,” he asked. “You know these two guys that are sitting up here, they’re not defined by one game. These guys played great for us all year. They’re great competitors… and we would not be here without them, all right. And both of them take responsibility for the loss, but both of them contributed… so I just want to thank them for that and let everybody know how proud I am of these two guys.”
To have a legendary coach speak that highly of Young, after a loss, pushes his NFL narrative even further.
So, with at least one more college season — and maybe even another rematch — for these two quarterbacks still to come, their NFL stories are clearly still to be written. From here on in, it’s all about the action the players put forth, which only goes to show that they have scintillating futures ahead of them.