JT Daniels offered his thought process when the time came to make the decision to transfer from USC in 2020.
There was no reason to refuse Georgia.
“It’s really tough to beat Georgia,” Daniels told SEC Media Days on Tuesday. “It’s a top five team, a good school and a great staff. I couldn’t think of a reason not to come here.”
The evaluation of the program by the junior quarterback is perfect. Coach Kirby Smart has maintained a top-five program through elite recruiting and field production since taking office in 2016.
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In any other conference, that would be more than enough. Georgia, however, technically fell back half a step in the SEC in 2020. Florida won the SEC East for the first time under Dan Mullen. Alabama won another national championship.
Georgia is still the blue blood on the national title clock, which has been running since 1980.
Daniels, whether he knows it or not, is the key player in Georgia, rising from No.5 – where the Bulldogs sit in SN’s pre-season Top 25 – to that long-awaited perch at No.1 Daniels has a philosophical take on these preseason predictions that aren’t quite what you expected.
“It’s cool when they say you’re good,” Daniels said. “It’s cool when they say you suck.”
Daniels could have just said it’s cool to be in the top five every year. Georgia is 52-14 since Smart took over, the fifth-best record among Power 5 schools in this stretch behind Alabama (65-5), Clemson (65-6), Ohio State (56- 7) and Oklahoma (56-10).
Of those five schools, Georgia also has the second-best average recruiting class ranking according to 247Sports.com over the past five cycles. Alabama, of course, is No. 1.
Recruitment rankings since 2017
Smart made Georgia a cool place, and not just because he named rapper Quavo, who is from Athens, Georgia, as the person he is texting with regarding the name, the image and likeness. Georgia is expected to continue to be a destination for the top five recruiting classes.
“You think of Hines Ward or Champ Bailey at the University of Georgia. AJ Green and Todd Gurley,” Smart said. “What they could have done with NIL. These young men and women deserved this opportunity. We are thrilled for them.”
All these Georgian stars have also been under the pressure of this national championship drought. Smart’s five-year streak is compared to that of former Georgia coach Mark Richt, who did a better half-game at 52-13 after his first five seasons in Athens. Richt spent 15 seasons in Athens, but with each failure at the national championship, that pressure mounted.
Will Smart bring home a national championship in the next decade? He’s in the top three bets to win their first with Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma and Ryan Day of Ohio State, but there are challenges. Smart is 5-1 against Auburn and 4-1 against Tennessee, but is 3-2 against Florida and 0-3 against Alabama. Additionally, this year the Bulldogs open against Clemson in September’s biggest game of the season.
It’s a long way from No.5 to No.1, and Daniels is the key to catching up on that ground. Daniels did not play in the losses to Alabama and Florida last season. He’s won all four starts at quarterback one he’s picked up, and another offensive coordinator Todd Monken should help.
Smart sees a player in the vein of the last two quarterbacks of the National Championship – Joe Burrow of LSU and Mac Jones of Alabama.
“The two guys who have been national champions the last two years; they were really good quarterbacks. They were great decision makers. They were actually better athletes than people think. The decision-making process, from TD to interception -ratio, protect the ball, use the playmakers around them. JT has those skills. “
There is perhaps no bigger player as Smart enters his sixth year in Athens. Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm and Daniels were strong quarterbacks, but Georgia transfer Justin Fields totaled 63 TDS and nine interceptions in consecutive games with the CFP for Ohio State over the past two seasons.
Daniels has that elite arm talent that goes well with an offense that features the same stable, solid offensive line of the loaded running back. Smart also worked on the transfer portal with LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, West Virginia safety Tykee Smith and Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick.
Georgia is loaded. Georgia is in the top five programs. Smart may name Quavo, but he takes a transcendent view when looking at the big picture when it comes to facing those national championship or bust expectations.
“Success comes from those who are too busy to seek it,” said Smart. “This is Henry David Thoreau. For me, that’s it. I’m too busy working. I’m too busy trying to do the next thing. I’m too busy trying to take the next step to give our equips a competitive advantage to really worry about expectations. ”