Georgia's intriguing QB race could yield unexpected starter

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt freshman quarterback D'Wan Mathis, left, could be the surprise starter for the Bulldogs over Southern California transfer JT Daniels, right.

The Georgia Bulldogs have displayed plenty of college football success this century, qualifying for bowl games in all 20 seasons and winning eight Southeastern Conference Eastern Division titles and three overall league crowns.

Consistency at quarterback has played a prominent role in such stability.

Combining the four-year starting stints of David Greene (2001-04) and Aaron Murray (2010-13) with the three-year efforts of Matthew Stafford (2006-08) and Jake Fromm (2017-19) has accounted for 14 of Georgia's 20 seasons since Y2K, but Fromm's decision to bypass his senior year for the NFL has resulted in another rare competition in Athens. Fifth-year Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart and first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken began the preseason with Jamie Newman, JT Daniels, Stetson Bennett, D'Wan Mathis and Carson Beck vying for the starting role, but Newman, the Wake Forest graduate transfer and early favorite for the position, opted out earlier this month to focus on an NFL career.

The timing of Newman's departure, which occurred after Georgia's first scrimmage, may have been the biggest surprise of the SEC's extended preseason, but it didn't temper the excitement of the players he left behind.

"All the quarterbacks back there are very excellent and very smart, and I think all of them can get it done if they put their minds to it," junior running back James Cook said. "I don't think there will be any slips in the quarterback position. All those guys are good, and they're going to do well moving forward."

Smart said this past week that Daniels, a transfer from Southern California, has yet to be medically cleared from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in last season's opener against Fresno State. Mathis sat out last year after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his brain but has made a recent push to become the league's most unexpected starter.

The starter for Saturday's opener at Arkansas could be a game-time decision, Smart said.

"I think D'Wan is going to be the quarterback, and I think he is going to present an interesting dynamic that you haven't seen from Georgia in a long time," former Bulldogs coach Jim Donnan said. "He's among the 10 fastest players on the team. He's 6-foot-6 and has a rocket arm. He studied other quarterbacks last year while on the scout team and watched what they do, and you can learn a lot while redshirting.

"He also has a pure acceptance of the players, because they know what he's been through."

The combination of a new starting quarterback and a new coordinator is providing plenty of curiosity with this year's Bulldogs, who have little to no issues defensively after leading the nation last season in fewest points allowed. Georgia's offense must replace four players who left early for the NFL - Fromm, running back D'Andre Swift, and first-round tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson.

Yet it's hardly a bare cupboard for Monken, who has the services of standout sophomore receiver George Pickens and the potential 1-2 tailback punch of Zamir White and Cook.

"Todd has brought a lot of energy on the offensive side of the ball," Smart said. "He's very demanding. He has an expectation of what it should look like, and what he loves doing is trying to do each individual job better than the next guy. Can we run a curl better than the other team can run a curl? Can we run a dig route better than the other team can run a dig route? Can we coach those things better than the other team?

"If we can do that, then we'll have success."

Whether Georgia maintains its brand of power football - the Bulldogs do cling to the mantra of "Running Back University" - or shifts to the more wide-open attack that Monken produced as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator a decade ago remains to be seen.

"I think it's always a happy balance," fifth-year senior right guard Ben Cleveland said. "You've got to be able to run the ball to throw the ball, and you've got to be able to throw the ball to run the ball. I definitely think that there is a happy medium."

Said Cook: "It's been pretty exciting being out there with Coach Monken and learning different things, but we're always going to be an RBU team. We're going to pound the ball and run downhill, and that's never going to change."

Cleveland said the quarterback competition has created a "good vibe" on the team, and Mathis may yet provide the greatest vibe of all.

"People like to pull for guys who have come off the deck like that," Donnan said, "and D'Wan has earned their respect."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.