Jake Fromm already had cemented himself as Georgia's starting quarterback at this point three years ago, with the true freshman having guided the Bulldogs to a memorable win at Notre Dame.
Fromm was the unquestioned starter entering the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but his early departure to the NFL's Buffalo Bills has left this year's quarterback race heading down to the wire.
"As far as we can tell, it probably will be a game-time decision," Georgia fifth-year coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday night on a Zoom call.
Redshirt junior Stetson Bennett, redshirt sophomore JT Daniels, redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis and true freshman Carson Beck are the four quarterbacks vying to replace Fromm, with Wake Forest graduate transfer and former favorite Jamie Newman having opted out of the 2020 season earlier this month. The two most likely candidates to start next week's opener at Arkansas are Daniels, the transfer from Southern California who is coming off an ACL tear in last season's opener against Fresno State, and Mathis.
Daniels has yet to be cleared for the season, but Smart "certainly expects" that to happen.
"He had a repair done in either December or January," Smart said. "They had to go in and do some other things to help fix it from the original surgery, so that was all before we really even knew about him. That put him behind a little bit."
Should Mathis get the starting nod, he instantly could become one of the top stories in college football. The four-star member of Georgia's 2019 class out of Belleville, Michigan, went 15-of-28 passing for 113 yards in last year's G-Day game but then underwent surgery to have a cyst removed from his brain.
Mathis returned to the practice field last season but was never cleared to play in a game.
"We don't pull for him more just because he's had the brain surgery, because we pull for all of our kids, but he's been through so much," Smart said. "He's a bright-eyed, talented kid, and there are a lot of guys who have confidence in D'Wan. The best thing that happened to him probably was all the reps he took on the scout team last year, because he had some live bullets coming at him.
"I still remember going to see him in the hospital. It was a scary, scary moment, and for him to push through that — I know he got really skinny during that time — and put some weight back on and work hard during the offseason — I know during the COVID outbreak that he worked extremely hard. He would go out there and throw on his own and send us videos of him throwing on his own."
Mathis received most of the first-team work during this past Saturday's scrimmage, but Smart said that was partly due to it being his turn in the rotation of quarterbacks with the starting offense. Smart was asked why Bennett's name hasn't been discussed more this preseason, and he responded by saying, "He took every single rep last year with the twos. We've seen him the most."
Two years ago, backup quarterback Justin Fields was used in certain offensive situations, and Smart said something similar was possible this season.
"It's not a problem for me," Smart said of making the 11th-hour call. "We've had this happen before, so it's not cause for concern among our staff or in our organization. We talk about it a lot with our players and make sure they understand where we are."
Another tight race is at kicker, where freshman Jared Zirkel of Kerrville, Texas, is battling redshirt sophomore Jack Podlesny of St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Smart said he is not lacking for concerns with this year's team, especially after watching football last weekend.
"There were punt returns for touchdowns, kickoff returns for touchdowns and field goals getting blocked all over the place," he said. "Those are learning lessons, and if you use them the right way, you can prevent them from happening to your team.
"We're going to have a lot of young men who didn't get that spring game under their belt. That's like an extra game for our guys, and we basically just finished spring practice Saturday, in my mind. We're behind, but we're even with everybody else."
Georgia's athletic association announced Tuesday that tailgating will not be allowed on campus for the four football games at Sanford Stadium this season against Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
The athletic association's statement said the decision "is consistent with the approach taken by other SEC schools, including Alabama, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss." Fans will be allowed to gather near their vehicles with family members or those with whom they traveled and plan to sit with inside the stadium.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.