CFP title game QBs: Former 5-star recruit vs. former walk-on

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett tosses oranges after their win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Georgia won 34-11.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

ARLINGTON, Texas – Bryce Young is a former five-star recruit who won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback. Stetson Bennett is a former walk-on who became the starter at Georgia and never really lost the confidence of his teammates.

They will meet again in the national championship game after both threw three touchdowns in College Football Playoff semifinal games, only four weeks after Young and the Crimson Tide beat Bennett and the previously undefeated Bulldogs for the Southeastern Conference title.

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“It’s been a long journey,” Bennett said, referring to his entire Georgia career, not just the gap between two crucial interceptions in the SEC title game on Dec. 4 and his offensive MVP performance in the dominating 34-11 Orange Bowl victory over second-ranked Michigan on New Year's Eve. “But like coach (Kirby Smart) said, this game was just so we could play the next game.”

That game is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, where the top-ranked defending national champion Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia meet in the final game for the second time in five seasons. Both teams are 13-1.

Bennett was a scout team quarterback during the 2017 season when Georgia won the semifinal Rose Bowl before losing in overtime to Alabama in the national championship game. He left to play a season in junior college before returning to the Bulldogs as a backup, then started half of their games last year and the past 10 this season.

Young sealed the first Heisman Trophy for a Tide quarterback by setting SEC title game records with 421 yards passing and 461 total yards in a 41-24 win over previously undefeated Georgia. That came a week after the 20-year-old sophomore led a late, game-tying 97-yard TD drive in the regular-season finale, a four-OT win at Auburn that kept the Tide in the national championship hunt.

In a 27-6 win Friday over Cincinnati in the CFP semifinal Cotton Bowl, Young had a season-low 181 yards while completing 17 of 28 passes. But the Crimson Tide had 301 yards rushing against the Bearcats, the first non-Power Five team to make the four-team playoff.

“We want to do what’s best for us offensively,” said Young, whose 4,503 yards and 46 passing TDs are both single-season 'Bama records. “So for me, being able to hand the ball off, just clapping and hand the ball off to (Brian Robinson Jr.) or Trey (Sanders) and have the production we had, it’s amazing to have a night like that.”

Bennett completed 29 of 48 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns in that SEC title game on Dec. 4, but his two interceptions stood out.

After Young’s 55-yard TD pass to All-America receiver Jameson Williams to open the second half for a 31-17 lead, Georgia drove inside the 20 before Bennett’s first pick. Alabama’s Jordan Battle then returned an interception 44 yards early in the fourth quarter for a three-touchdown lead.

There were many questions from outsiders heading into the playoff about Georgia’s confidence in Bennett and if JT Daniels, who opened the season as the starter, could replace the former walk-on. But not from inside the program. Bennett completed 21 of 31 passes for 310 yards in the Orange Bowl, and Georgia became the first CFP team to score on each of its first five possessions.

“As a leader on our offense, he doesn’t let that negativity go to his head, for real. Like he said, he ain’t got no social media … and he just let the noise go over his head and play football. That’s what I love about him,” Bulldogs running back James Cook said.

“I didn’t go out there and play well today in spite of people. I came out there and played well and worked hard throughout the few weeks we had off because my teammates needed me to do that, and we needed that to win,” Bennett said. “As far as a statement, that’s my goal every week is to play that well.”

Bennett is a Georgia native, while Young went to Alabama after growing up in Southern California.

Young was the backup as a true freshman last year when Mac Jones became the fifth Alabama quarterback in 12 seasons to win a national title in his first season starting for the Crimson Tide. Young now has a chance to add to that total.

“We act and we move with that chip on our shoulder,” Young said. “And we understand what's at stake and it's on us to push ourselves every day to give ourselves the best chance to be successful and accomplish our goals.”


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