Georgia marches on without Manning and questions about Kirby Smart quarterbacks

Georgia football marches on with Kirby Smart locked on the 2022 season and any potential recruit that might lift the program.

The “Big One” got away on Thursday when Arch Manning, the No. 1 recruit of the 2023 class and arguably the most visible recruit of all time, chose Texas over Georgia.

RELATED: Manning chooses rebuilding program over reigning champion Georgia

The Bulldogs aren’t used to losing lately, as as far as upsets go, Manning choosing a shaky 5-7 Longhorns’ program over Georgia was surprising at surface level.

There’s still plenty for the Bulldogs to celebrate, in terms of program validation:

• Winning the CFP Championship Game by a 33-18 count over Alabama

• UGA alum Matthew Stafford quarterbacking the Rams to a Super Bowl win

• A record-15 Georgia players selected in the NFL draft

• A No. 1 overall draft pick in Travon Walker

RELATED: Georgia football atop football world with college and NFL success

Many Georgia football fans will say they don’t care that Manning committed elsewhere, or that it doesn’t really matter.

RELATED: Manning could be worth millions in NIL deals to Georgia, or wherever he signs

But the outside perception is that it does matter, and greatly.

A sample of some headlines and lead-ins

• With Arch Manning commit, Texas football could be ready to take SEC by storm

• Wall Street Journal: Arch Manning has decided to Hook ‘em

• Arch Manning gives Texas huge boost with commitment

Some have wondered if Manning’s commitment could hasten the entry of Texas and Oklahoma into the SEC. His presence on the field is that anticipated to bring even more value to the SEC, it seems.

RELATED: Manning high school coach weighs in, Texas coach ‘genius’

Of course, not everyone believes Manning’s presence will make that big of a difference in the SEC, least of all fans in Alabama that listen to WJOX and took an unscientific morning show poll:

Who wins the 2025 SEC Football Championship?

— McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning (@macandcube) June 24, 2022
But there’s plenty to take away as far as the future at Georgia goes.

The best thing that could happen this season for Smart and the Bulldogs is for Stetson Bennett — or Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff — to throw for 4,000 yards and finish among the Heisman Trophy finalists.

A look at the preseason Heisman Trophy odds tells the story: Two of the top five Heisman Trophy favorites are Texas players, and there are three Alabama players mentioned before the top Georgia Heisman candidate is named — Bennett, who is tied for 34th.

Georgia can show that quarterbacks can be superstars and have impressive passing numbers in Smart’s system, after all.

1. Open it up
Smart has said this offseason Georgia needs to open up the offense and play more aggressively now that five first-round NFL draft picks have moved on from the 2021 defense.

The truth is, Georgia could have done that last season and may have gone undefeated while landing Manning, who like any other quarterback likes to pass the ball more than handoff.

Smart might need to overcome his defensive-minded tendencies, like his mentor Nick Saban recently did, to land great quarterbacks and receivers moving forward.

UGA also tried to sign transfer Caleb Williams before the Oklahoma transfer followed his former head coach out to USC.

RELATED: Pieces in places for Georgia offense to have explosive 2022 season

2. Pay for play

Georgia is not among the most aggressive schools when it comes to the NIL, and Smart prefers to downplay it relative to wanting players who prioritize team success.

That’s only natural, but the reality is that NIL money does matter, and Major League Baseball provides proof that over time, the programs that invest the most in players pass up those who spend less.

Take Texas, for example. Georgia may be “RBU” but the No. 1-ranked running back entering the season plays for the Longhorns and has a Lamborghini NIL deal. Fast cars trump slogans in this 2022 world.

Rightly or wrongly, the quarterback is the front man for most every football team and that’s certainly no different at Georgia.

Sixth-year senior Stetson Bennett represents the Bulldogs entering the 2022 season, and it will be important for Georgia to promote him for awards and NIL deals to show prospects the value being a quarterback at UGA can bring.

To this point, Bennett hasn’t gotten the sort of preseason hype or accolades that a CFP Championship Game should MVP, and UGA has done little to market him.

It’s up to Bennett to be ready when his image and name are put on blast, which it will be as the season-opening game between Oregon and Georgia gets major media hype.

As the parent of one 5-star QB recruit once said, “How does Georgia sell its quarterback position to recruits, and what can it really say?”

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