Stetson Bennett: Greatest Bulldog ever, or beneficiary of circumstance?

Stetson Bennett #13 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Stetson Bennett #13 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart called quarterback Stetson Bennett the “greatest Dawg of all time” immediately following the win over TCU. Hyperbole or accurate statement?

Ask any Georgia football fan how they feel about quarterback Stetson Bennett, and you’re likely to get wildly different answers from person to person. But should his greatness even be up for debate?

Stetson Bennett. The name is a source of both pride and irritation among Georgia football fans and followers. He’s the quarterback who led Georgia to its first national championship since 1980, but he’s not necessarily the one some fans wanted.

And then he did it again.

Stetson Bennett. The only Georgia quarterback to lead the program to back-to-back national titles. Was that enough to be considered the greatest Bulldog ever?

The Blackshear, Georgia product has been labeled a game manager, a great athlete but average quarterback, someone who has benefitted from some generational defensive players, and even (believe it or not) a scrub.

Yeah, Georgia fans are not easily pleased, it would seem

Despite the former walk-on’s polarizing presence among the Bulldog Nation, the question has to be asked — is Stetson Bennett the greatest Bulldog to ever play football for the University of Georgia?

It’s not an easy question to answer. Or, maybe it is.

Stetson Bennett is a complicated player to evaluate

Quantifying “the greatest” for any team is a complicated and daunting task at best. There is no J. Evans Pritchard system for plotting statistics on a graph to measure greatness, as stats only paint a small part of the picture for any player, but especially a quarterback.

When discussing Bennett, the statistics are there…sort of. He broke legendary Bulldog Aaron Murray’s 2012 single-season passing record in 2022…but it did take 15 games to get there versus Murray’s 14 games. It’s also one of three UGA records Bennett holds in addition to total offense, and touchdowns responsible for in a single season.

Bennett was a Heisman Trophy finalist, something Georgia fans haven’t seen since the days of another Bulldog legend, Garrison Hearst, in 1992. The last time Georgia saw a player actually hoist the Heisman Trophy was in 1982 when this little-known guy named Herschel something-or-other took home the prize.

He was the offensive MVP in the 2021 Orange Bowl and 2022 Peach Bowl, and the MVP of the 2022 and 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship Games. Something few players can boast.

But when it comes to Georgia football and taking up the mantle of the “greatest of all time” you have to measure yourself against some pretty stiff competition. Legendary names who played in different eras under different rules and made indelible marks upon the fabric of the game.

Names like Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi, Fran Tarkenton, Buck Belue, Terry Hoage, David Pollack, and (of course) Herschel Walker give anyone, regardless of accomplishments, a tough mountain to climb to be called the greatest. All names who either shattered Georgia records, won Heisman Trophies, or brought home national championships.

In the case of Herschel Walker, it was all of the above.

When the late, great Larry Munson bellowed, “Heroes have graced the field before you. Men with hearts, bodies, and minds for which the entire Bulldog Nation can be justifiably proud. The tradition of unbridled excellence demonstrated by these individuals and many others spans more than a full century,” these are the names he means.

Has Stetson Bennett been oversold to the masses?

So how does a former walk-on who left the hallowed confines of Sanford Stadium’s hedges to polish his game in junior college at one point become a more legendary Bulldog than all those men whose accomplishments mark the time in Athens, Georgia?

Can it be as simple as winning those two national championships?

Have Kirby Smart and the Bulldog Nation become so enamored with this young man’s story and the pure euphoria of winning the national title two years in a row that they are giving too much credit to the team’s scrappy quarterback?

In truth, there’s something that sets Stetson Bennett apart from that list of near-mythological names. No one wanted Stetson Bennett. Not other Division I schools, not some former teammates, not even his coaches.

But Bennett refused to be demoralized. He defiantly told them all, “You’re stuck with me” and worked his 5-foot-11 ass off to make sure he couldn’t be pushed aside.

There’s something else about Bennett that you don’t hear a lot of people discuss. 2021 Stetson Bennett probably was that “game manager” and a quarterback dependent on being lifted by a defense sent to Athens from Olympus.

But the 2022 version of Stetson Bennett was a different player. He was confident. He was unflappable. And, he was damn good.

In 2022, Stetson Bennett made up for some deficiencies the defense showed at times. He saw the finality of the season in each passing week and refused to let the Bulldogs’ record be blemished, knowing those in power could and would do anything they could to dismiss Georgia when the postseason approached.

Bennett exhibited the qualities seen in the greatest of field generals, earning not only the respect of his teammates but the fear of letting him down. Every player wearing a Georgia uniform in 2022 had two men for whom they were going to battle — Kirby Smart, and Stetson Bennett.

It’s rare when that happens, but when it does, it makes a team a truly impenetrable unit.

Stetson Bennett did that, and he did it better than anyone ever has at Georgia. He led — by example, by his work ethic, and by his refusal to give up.

If you look at the statistics, Stetson Bennett isn’t even close to being the “greatest Dawg of all time” but his game, his impact, and his greatness as a part of Georgia football lore go far beyond those numbers.

His career at Georgia is loaded with firsts, and his story will become an inspiration for those who feel unwanted, unappreciated, and even unworthy. They will look to the furrowed brow of Stetson Bennett transforming to unbridled elation as he realizes every single one of his childhood dreams, and they will fight for their own.

Stetson Bennett is the greatest Bulldog of all time because no one wanted him to be…but he did it anyway.

Next. Tell Him He Can't and Bennett Will Succeed in the NFL. dark