Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Does Ohio State or Georgia face more pressure in 2024 season after falling short of expectations?

Two teams stand above the rest of college football entering the 2024 season with a strong case to rank No. 1 in the preseason polls. Both Ohio State and Georgia play spring games on Saturday with major focus on their programs. 

Georgia’s quest for a three-peat fell short in last season’s SEC Championship Game, but the Bulldogs exorcised those demons with a 63-3 evisceration of Florida State in the Orange Bowl. A handful of key playmakers are off to the NFL, but Georgia is focused on setting the tone for 2024 despite missing out on a trip to the national championship. 

Conversely, Ohio State limped into the offseason after an embarrassing 14-3 loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. In response, coach Ryan Day quickly set his eyes on the most important offseason of his career. His strategy will decide everything. 

The 2024 season also marks a demarcation in the history of the sport. The SEC and Big Ten grow by a combined six members, bringing 24 new claimed national championships to the leagues. The path to a national championship also gets more difficult as the College Football Playoff expands from four to 12 teams. Including a conference title game, winning a national championship could involve winning as many as four consecutive games against top-eight opponents. 

With both programs facing pivotal offseasons, which program faces the most pressure in 2024? 

Georgia’s pressure: Taking advantage of a post-Saban SEC

For all the success Georgia has put together over the past seven years under Kirby Smart, it’s amazing to think the ‘Dawgs only beat Alabama once: the 2021 CFP National Championship to capture their first title in 40 years. The Bulldogs dodged the Crimson Tide during the second national title run the following year and shockingly lost to them as an undefeated to miss the College Football Playoff and ruin a three-peat bid last season. 

Now, Nick Saban is gone and college football is Georgia’s for the taking. The Bulldogs return the best quarterback in college football for the first time in more than 15 years, Carson Beck, who projects as a potential No. 1 pick in 2025 after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards as a junior. Transfers Benjamin Yurosek, London Humphreys and Colbie Young join receiver Dominic Lovett and tight end Oscar Delp to create one of the deadliest passing games in college football. Of course, the defense should continue to be a soulless killing machine, the kind that’s become Smart’s signature. 

Needless to say, Georgia is a serious national championship contender in 2024, but after Saban’s retirement, more is on the table. Saban set the highest bar in the history of the sport, but Smart towers above all who remain. Only three active coaches have won national championships: Mack Brown, Dabo Swinney and Smart. Swinney’s titles came more than five years ago, while Brown’s lone national title came nearly two decades ago. 

Discussions started during the waning years of the Saban era about whether Georgia has surpassed Alabama as the sport’s signature program. The talk should only get louder this season. At only 48 years old, Smart has an opportunity to take over this sport. 

Ohio State’s pressure: Going all-in with rebuilt program

After Ohio State lost a third straight game against Michigan for the first time since 1997, Day did anything but rest on his laurels. Instead, he turned to the portal with urgency to try and fill holes. Out is starting quarterback Kyle McCord, rotation running back Chip Trayanum and receiver Julian Fleming. In comes All-American safety Caleb Downs (Alabama), top quarterbacks Will Howard (Kansas State) and Julian Sayin (Alabama), and star running back Quinshon Judkins (Ole Miss). 

Perhaps the biggest power move was going to future conference-mate UCLA and stealing coach Chip Kelly to run the offense after Bill O’Brien took the Boston College job. Day has been vocal about wanting to find an offensive coordinator, but landing Kelly was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. 

Combined with a couple of key retentions on defense – including potential first round defensive linemen J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer – the Buckeyes are on track to rank No. 1 in the preseason polls. If Ohio State captures the top preseason slot, it would be the first time since 2015. 

The roster comes not a second too soon as frustration builds around Day. Since quarterback Justin Fields departed after the 2020 season, Day has not won a Big Ten championship. An eight-game winning streak against Michigan was snapped in 2021, and then Day became the first coach since John Cooper in 1997 to lose three straight to the Buckeyes’ top rival. Against teams ranked in the top five of the CFP Rankings – teams that should be program peers – Day is 1-6. 

Like Georgia, the Buckeyes’ boogeyman is gone: Jim Harbaugh departed for the Los Angeles Chargers after leading Michigan to its first title in the BCS/CFP era. First-year coach Sherrone Moore was on the sideline for the Wolverines’ victory over Ohio State last season, but the vast majority of production left with Harbaugh. But in many ways, Michigan taking a temporary step back only adds pressure for Ohio State. There’s no time to waste. 

Who faces more pressure?

Georgia and Ohio State face differing quests in 2024, but each brings a unique spotlight and opportunity. For one, the goal is clawing back to national contention. At the other, the focus is wrenching away longterm control of the sport. 

Circling above both programs are the winds of realignment. The Big Ten championship race over the past three years has essentially been one game: Ohio State vs. Michigan. But now national contender Oregon joins the league. Washington played in the national championship just months ago. Lincoln Riley’s USC factors into the lineup, too. Penn State faces a critical year after a star-studded 2022 recruiting class. In the SEC, Georgia adds Texas to a schedule that already included Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Clemson. 

But while plenty of attention faces Georgia as the Bulldogs face one of their toughest schedules of the Smart era, the pressure on Day and Ohio State hits fever pitch. On paper, there’s plenty to like about Day’s 56-8 record and 39-3 mark in Big Ten play. But at Ohio State, winning regular-season games only gets you so far. 

If Georgia fails to win a national championship next season, the Bulldogs will be back and a favorite once more in 2025. If Ohio State loses early in the College Football Playoff – or, God forbid, loses to a reloading Michigan squad – Day might not get another shot. 

Saturday marks the debut of Ohio State’s most important team in a decade. The spring game, amazingly, will be broadcast on network television (Fox, noon ET). A quarterback battle remains open and holes need to be filled, but the roster has everything Ohio State needs to win a national championship. Now, it just has to do it. 

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