Clemson football’s rise to the top of the college football mountain was seen by, well, no one. The Tigers had always been a solid, respectable program, but no one expected Dabo Swinney to turn them into a two-time national champion, competing for the College Football Playoff every year.
What program is next?
Sports Illustrated attempted to answer that question.
The pick: Georgia.
Still, the program that seems most likely to make the jump is one you’re probably not thinking of because it got close to a national title twice in the past six years. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980, so it belongs in the category we’re discussing here. (Clemson won a title in ’81.) The near misses for the Bulldogs in 2012 and ’17 only served to deepen the frustration of the fan base. This season’s SEC title game loss made it even worse, because Georgia outplayed Alabama for most of the game and then lost because a) it couldn’t stop a backup quarterback and b) the coaching staff called one of the most perplexing fake punts in recent memory.
But the fact that the Bulldogs have gotten so close combined with Kirby Smart’s high-level recruiting suggests Georgia can be in the mix every season for the forseeable future. It’s just a matter of getting over the hump. That won’t be easy with Saban’s Tide on the other side of the SEC, but Georgia feels ready to break through—just as Clemson did back in 2015.
Georgia has been recruiting at an elite level under Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs should start the 2019 season ranked inside the top five. Most way-too-early preseason top 25s have Georgia at No. 3.
UGA has been better than Clemson was before Dabo Swinney, but it has been a long, long time since they won a national championship.
Perhaps that is going to change moving forward.