ATLANTA — There’s no need to rehash Stetson Bennett’s story.
You know it by heart. From walk-on to scout team to junior college and back to Georgia to lead the Bulldogs to the national championship.
When it comes to football experts, however, more appear to rank the 5-foot-11 quarterback because of the first part of his biography rather than the latter.
In offseason rankings of the country’s top quarterbacks, Bennett is low on lists if he’s on them at all.
In 247sports’ “25 best quarterbacks entering the 2022 season”, Bennett came in under “just missed the cut.” He’s 25th on Sporting News’ Top 25, not ranked in USA Today’s Paul Myerberg’s Top 10 QBs and eighth of 14 SEC quarterbacks as ranked by 247sports.
He’s perceived to be less of a talent than Florida’s Anthony Richardson, whose six touchdowns last season were 23 fewer than Bennett and whose five interceptions are just one less than Bennett in 223 fewer attempts.
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Bennett’s regarded lower than guys named Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), Will Levis (Kentucky) and Quinn Ewers (Texas), who was highly rated coming out of high school but has yet to take a snap in college.
More importantly, they’ve never led their teams to national titles.
“They have guys who have never played before that they put on (these lists) and then you got a guy who was the MVP of the Orange Bowl – I mean, he balled his butt off,” former UGA QB Aaron Murray said recently on Athens Banner-Herald’s Bulldogs Extra Podcast. “He’s a guy who absolutely loves the haters – the doubt – he embraces it, it energizes him and he uses it as fuel. I guarantee you he’s eating all this up and ready to prove everybody wrong once again this season.”
‘I can’t do anything about it’
Bennett was the star of Georgia’s Media Day on Wednesday, as reporters gathered around the sixth-year senior at his table at the rear of the big room of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Questions were hurled his way about being a champion, his route to stardom and the Bulldogs’ quarterback room.
Then he was asked about what more he could do to please the doubters.
The knock against him was that he didn’t have the moxie to lead Georgia to a win when it needed him too.
Then he did it in the national championship, a game after a superb performance against Michigan in the semifinals.
What more could he possibly do to earn respect?
He sat back, breathed heavily, and deliberated his answer.
“If I’m sitting in the mirror wondering how I’m going to please all those people—that reeks almost of desperation,” Bennett said on Wednesday. “Avoiding that poison, thoughts that enter your mind that you have nothing to do with … Why am I going to put 10,000 other people’s opinions on my plate? I can’t do anything about it.”
Bennett last season led the ninth best scoring offense while throwing the 16th most touchdown passes. His QB rating of 86.7% was third in the country, behind only Ohio State’s CJ Stroud (91.6) and Alabama’s Bryce Young (87.6), each ranked first or second on most QB lists.
Bennett didn’t have to carry Georgia past Arkansas last season (he was 7 of 11 for 72 yards) because it used its ground game effectively that game, part of the reason was because the Razorbacks prepared for the dual-threat ability of Bennett, recalled Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon.
“Most definitely I think he’s underrated. I’d say that he knows how to manage the offense,” Catalon said on Wednesday. “He knows how to make plays with his feet and he’s a smart quarterback. I respect his game, and I think he’s a really good quarterback in this league.”
When Bennett fumbled – albeit a debatable decision as to whether it was an incomplete pass – in the national championship game, Bennett took full responsibility.
He said afterward that he wouldn’t let his mistake cost the Bulldogs the national title. He then had the most important quarter of his career while throwing two touchdown passes to give Georgia the lead for good against Alabama.
“You can’t teach people how to win, and you can’t teach what Stetson has,” said Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith. “I personally think he has grit.”
‘Least respected guys in the country’
Smith on Wednesday explained the underwhelming perception thrust upon Bennett.
“People want that big-arm, five-star guy,” he said. “Not the guy who had to go to JUCO, had to take the tough way, had to take the long road and claw his way to the top. ‘He’s not tall enough.’ ‘He’s not this and that.’ Nothing that actually pertains to winning games. A man that leads men, basically, that’s what you need to be a quarterback. You don’t need five stars. The intangibles for a quarterback is just so much greater than what you can see.”
What confounds most experts is the players behind Bennett. A deluge of four and five-star quarterbacks named Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton, in some people’s eyes, should be starting at Georgia over Bennett because they were highly rated out of high school.
But, unlike the mobile righty, they haven’t produced on the field, which should be the metric used when valuing a quarterback.
Kirby Smart agrees.
“Look, Stetson is one of the least respected good players there is in this country,” Smart said. “Guess what, we get to see it every day. The kid is a tremendous athlete, he’s got good arm strength. People keep doubting him, and that’s fine with me.”
And it’s fine with Bennett, because that’s been part of the story that everyone knows. He’s always been doubted. He’ll continue to be doubted. He won’t let it bother him.
“I care more about being good than people thinking that I’m good,” Bennett said. “Yeah, am I competitive? Do I want to be the best in the country? Yeah, but not because people say I’m not, but because that’s just who I am.”