But Bennett, a senior from Blackshear, Georgia, insists the No. 3 Bulldogs won’t be carrying that burden when they play No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 10 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App).
“Maybe I’m not capable of holding that weight on my shoulders, but no, I’m just treating it as a football game,” Bennett said Monday. “Do I know that means a lot to a lot of people? Yes. Am I trying to play some kind of savior by winning a national championship for millions of people? No. I don’t think that’s my job.
“My job is to go out there and throw completions to very talented people we have on this team. And I think it’s as simple as that.”
The Bulldogs will try to avenge a 41-24 loss to the Crimson Tide in the Dec. 4 SEC championship game. It was Georgia’s seventh straight loss to Alabama, which also defeated the Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime in the CFP National Championship at the end of the 2017 season.
“They’ve also been a problem and a thorn for any team they’ve played besides ours,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We have that in common with a lot of teams they’ve played. They have a really good football team, really good coach, really good program. It starts with really good football players and they’ve done a good job recruiting those.”
Bennett was a scout-team quarterback while redshirting in 2017. He was on the sideline at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta when Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith on second-and-26 in overtime to break Georgia’s hearts in the national championship game. It was perhaps the Bulldogs’ best chance to end their title drought.
Bennett, a former walk-on, is coming off one of his best performances of his career. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns in a 34-11 victory against No. 2 Michigan in the Capital One Orange Bowl. He threw for 340 yards with three touchdowns in the loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. He also threw two interceptions, including Jordan Battle‘s pick-six that gave the Tide a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to play well,” Smart said. “You’ve got to play well in the red area. You’ve got to play [good] situational football. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to beat good football teams. Those are things that we have done when we played them. We turned it over and we can’t do that.”
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, 30 different teams have won a national championship since the FBS/FCS split in 1978. None of them has an active drought longer than Georgia’s. Since the Bulldogs’ last national championship in 1980, they’ve had 16 top-10 finishes in the final AP poll, the most during that span among teams that haven’t won a title.
“I know it means a lot to a lot of people,” Bennett said. “Is it just another game? No, I’m not silly. But I don’t think for 20-year-old kids you can put that kind of pressure on yourself, because you might go crazy. I’m just treating it as another game and I’m preparing my butt off, and everybody on this team is. But the reason we’re doing that is because we respect the heck out of Alabama and the team they are. And we know we’ll have to give it our best shot to win this game.”
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