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Bennett Stars on Orange Bowl Stage

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Stetson Bennett has been tremendous. And, in Georgia's biggest game to date on Friday night, he was at his best.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett continues to star. Perhaps now all of college football is taking notice.

Against the nation's 4th-ranked scoring defense, facing the game's all-time winningest program, playing on the big stage of the College Football Playoff, Bennett was absolutely exceptional in leading the Bulldogs to a 34-11 triumph over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. He completed 20-of-30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers, adding 32 rushing yards. Bennett paced Georgia to well over 500 yards of total offense, helping the Bulldogs convert 10-of-15 third down tries.

Though Friday night was a spotlight showcase for Bennett, such production and proficiency was simply a continuation for one of college football's best signal callers. He entered the playoff ranked 4th nationally in passer rating, with a total, simply for frame of reference, higher than Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, Oklahoma's Caleb Williams, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett and, frankly, just about everyone else. Furthermore, Bennett, even before the Michigan game, ranked second in the country in yards per pass attempt and yards per play.

Bennett, despite constant talk of a quarterback controversey and regular criticism of his potential, has been performing at a top level all season. He went 14-of-21 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers on the road at 18th-ranked Auburn. The next week, facing 11th-ranked Kentucky, Bennett completed 14-of-20 throws for 250 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Making plays throwing and running, he helped Georgia to 41 points at Tennessee. Bennett finished the regular season with 255 yards with four scores and no turnovers at Georgia Tech.

None of that includes Bennett's historic effort against UAB, where he completed 8-of-9 passes for 269 yards and five touchdowns -- all in the first half.

In the SEC Championship Game, Bennett was overly-criticized for a showing where he still threw for 340 yards, the most of any quarterback against Alabama all season, and three touchdowns, with two picks, in Georgia's 41-24 loss. For context, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, projected to be a high pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, just went 17-of-32 for 144 yards and no touchdowns versus Alabama. Matt Corral, of Ole MIss, likely a first round selection, went for 214 yards. Will Rogers, the SEC's leading passer, threw three picks with no scores.

A former walk-on without prototypical height, Bennett simply has not been given the credit he deserves, the credit he has earned, for the remarkable job he has done this season. Bennett's efforts have often gone overlooked by national media and some of Georgia's fans alike. In an era of evaluation shaped by video game and fantasy football, Bennett has been playing championship football. He is a big reason why the Bulldogs are where they are, winners of the Orange Bowl set to rematch Alabama in the College Football Playoff Final.

Whether or not it is fully realized or not, this has already been a very real season for the ages for Bennett. After the Michigan win, Bennett now has a passer rating of 177.65. The only SEC quarterbacks this millennium to finish a season with a passer rating of at least 177.6, mimimum 200 pass attempts, are: Joe Burrow, Matt Corral, Hendon Hooker, Mac Jones, Cam Newton, Tua Tagovailoa (2x) and Kyle Trask. J.T. Daniels actually had a passer rating of 178.5 in four games in 2020. 

Bennett has been tremendous. And, in Georgia's biggest game to date on Friday night, he was at his best. Though some have cited some relative struggles in showcase opportunities, Bennett was near-perfect against Michigan's famed defense. He stepped under the bright lights of the College Football Playoff and promptly had the best performance of his career. Bennett, with the pressure all on him, was the go-to tone-setter as the Bulldogs won their second seminfal game ever. He earned Orange Bowl MVP honors in an all-time performance to remember.     

This storied legacy, for the Blackshear-native, is now becoming more and more well-known. Bennett finished his high school career at Pierce County as one of the state of Georgia's most prolific passers ever. He finished his remarkable prep run with 9,091 passing yards and 95 passing touchdowns, good for 10th and eleventh in the state all-time. As Bennett's college career comes full-circle, it's a spotlight that could soon take the shape of a ring.

Bennett has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country for Georgia. He has also been there whenever the Bulldogs have needed him. Both Bennett's play and his personality have helped Georgia to get to this point. He will soon be front-and-center for a famed 15th game, standing tall on the biggest stage in the sport. Though the commentary never concerns him, this is a quarterback who know has college football's full attention.

Undersized and underappreciated, reserve or record-setter, Bennett continues to be there for the team he grew up rooting for. The "Mailman", a nickname he earned for wearing a postal worker's hat on the camp circuit, simply continues to deliver.

Not only is Bennett  a great story, he is a great player as well.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports