Bennett, a sixth-year senior, did not start his first game until his fourth-year junior season in 2020. Same for senior safety Christopher Smith, who did not become a full-time starter until last season, and McIntosh, a fourth-year senior who didn’t become a starter until this season.
As for Norton, to label the 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior defensive tackle a bust would be too harsh. He’ll leave as a three-year letterman and wearing a national championship ring.
However, he didn’t live up to the billing that came with having a high 4-star prospect rating and being billed as the No. 3 player in the state of Tennessee when he signed with the Bulldogs in 2019. Norton played in all 13 games this season and finished with three tackles for the season, two of which came against Oregon in the opener. He played in 26 games over four years and recorded 12 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Norton fits the profile of a lot of the players who have let Georgia recently. That is, by all accounts, he is good player with all the measurables for his position at the FBS, but he simply could not break through the lofty talent ceiling ahead of him on the Bulldogs’ roster.
Most of the players who have left Georgia have found their ways to productive careers elsewhere. Of the 13 players who departed after last season, eight became starters at their new destinations. Most of the others have found themselves in more productive roles.
Most notable among those is defensive lineman Tymon Mitchell. A junior, Bennett is starring for No. 3 TCU. He had 18 tackles and three sacks for the Horned Frogs, who the Bulldogs could meet if the teams advance to the CFP Championship game.
Some seeking greener pastures found the color to be much the same. Wide receiver Jermaine Burton transferred to Alabama to play in what he thought was a more prolific offense. So far, he’s had 37 catches for 590 yards and six touchdowns. But that’s only 11 more catches, 93 more yards and one more TD than he had last season at Georgia, and the Crimson Tide did not play for the SEC championship and will miss the playoff.
Ah, but the transfer portal giveth, and it taketh away. Ohio State and Georgia have had similar experiences in that respect.
Quarterback Justin Fields quite famously left UGA, where he was unable to unseat Jake Fromm, and landed at Ohio State, where he became a star and led the Buckeyes to the 2020 playoff. But, likewise, Joe Burrow transferred from Ohio State to LSU, where he led the Tigers to an undefeated record and 2019 national championship. The Buckeyes also saw former receiver Jameson Williams win a national title after transferring to Alabama from Columbus.
As for Fields and Burrow, the quarterbacks’ transfers came before NCAA legislation allowed the freedom of movement and immediate eligibility that is enjoyed today. Theirs required waivers, in Fields’ case a somewhat controversial one.
But the Georgia and Ohio State coaches insisted no hard feelings resulted.
“I just have so much respect for the way Kirby handled that,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Justin had nothing but good things to say about Kirby and his staff on the way out. And those are not easy situations. We’ve all been through it. … I mean, this is the way things have gone in college football. But the way (Georgia) handled it was with class.”
Might as well, as annual transfers are a permanent part of the college football landscape. In August, the NCAA adopted legislation that creates a 60-day window for players to enter its transfer portal. Sunday’s final college football rankings release preceded the first 45-day window Monday through the start of winter semesters in January. There will be another 15-day window May 1-15 for players looking for change after spring practices.
While UGA didn’t get any transfers in the last period, it wasn’t from lack of trying. Smart said the Bulldogs simply didn’t land the few players they targeted.
Likewise, they’re scouring the portal now for prospects they believe might help them next season. But, he added, being a cultural fit is more important than being an exceptional player at a position of need.
“I think it would be foolish to think you can be successful in college football and not evaluate and recruit through the portal,” Smart said. “But you have to be smart about who you bring into your program, especially if you want to keep the dynamic and culture that you want to keep.
“So, to be clear, I’m not saying that we don’t recruit the portal; I’m just saying that last year (there was) nobody that we got. We’re always going to look, but we’re going to make sure kids fit our culture.”
Day agreed. The Buckeyes had 16 players leave via the portal after last season and three come in through it. One was DeaMonte Trayanum, who came from Arizona State to play linebacker but ended up being Ohio State’s leading rusher against Michigan in the regular-season finale. Safety Tanner McCallister came from Oklahoma State and became a starter at safety.
“I think there’s nothing more important than the culture of your team,” Day said. “All the work that gets done in the offseason, the weight room, spring practice and the summers, that’s how you build your program, through culture. … When you move those pieces around year after year, it becomes harder to maintain that.”
Right now, Georgia is searching for receivers and defensive backs for next season. But the Bulldogs will consider a transfer from any position, as long as they believe he’ll immediately compete for playing time. So, they’re extremely stingy with offers.
“That’s why it’s so critical in recruiting to evaluate more players,” Smart said. “You may get (an opportunity for) a guy on the rebound, and you better know a better history than just what somebody calls and tells you about them. I’m a lot more likely to take a kid from the portal if I know he’s wired the right way.”
GEORGIA TRANSFERS FROM 2021 TEAM:
1. CB Jalen Kimber Florida 12G/0S, 13 T, 1 INT
2. WR Jermaine Burton Alabama 12G/11S, 37-590-6
3. DB Ameer Speed Mich. State 12G/12S, 62 T, 5 PBU
4. WR Justin Robinson Miss. State 9G/0S, 23-245-2
5. RB Lovasea Carroll South Carolina 5G/0S, 0-0-0
6. QB JT Daniels West Virginia 10G/10S, 200-327-2107-13-9
7. LB Matthew Brown — N/A
8. DL Marlin Dean In portal N/A
9. DB Latavious Brini Arkansas 12/12, 52T, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF
10. OL Cameron Kinnie Central Florida 4G/0S, 23 snaps vs. Temple
11. OL Clay Webb Jacksonville State 11G/10S, LG for Gamecocks
12. OL Owen Condon SMU 12G/11S Starting RT
13. DL Tymon Mitchell TCU 13G/13S, 18 T, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks