ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — No one in college football has bigger shoes to fill than Carson Beck.
His predecessor as Georgia's starting quarterback was Stetson Bennett, who guided the Bulldogs to consecutive national championships and was always at his best in the biggest games.
Now, after three years spent watching mostly from the sidelines, Beck is finally getting his chance to lead the No. 1 Bulldogs.
Coach Kirby Smart is confident that he's got the right man for a daunting job.
“He’s very bright, very intelligent,” Smart said. “He’s been around, so he understands the demands that we put on the quarterback."
Beck is well aware of the scrutiny he's under. He has played in only 10 college games, usually in mop-up roles when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Now, it's his team. From the very first snap.
If the Bulldogs slip up the least bit offensively, it will be easy to pin the blame on the new guy. Rest assured, everyone around these parts remembers that Bennett closed his career with a 65-7 demolition of TCU to claim a second straight national title.
Beck wants to keep it going with a title of his own. If he can pull it off, Georgia would become the first school in the history of the poll era to capture three championships in a row.
“It's different to be part of a national championship team than actually win a national championship,” Beck said.
He figures to have learned some valuable lessons watching Bennett's rise from an obscure walk-on to a tenuous starter facing persistent doubts to a Heisman Trophy finalist who'll go down as one of the greatest players in school history.
“A lot of people really hated on him a lot," Beck said. “He just maintained and kept his head down and kept going. I’d say that’s the biggest thing that I learned from him is that you just have to do you. You have to be you.”
Even with three years in the red and black and a full season as Bennett's No. 2, Beck had to fend off two other highly recruited quarterbacks — Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton — to claim the starting job.
While it was clear that Beck had the edge coming out of spring practice, Smart waited until about well into fall camp to make it official.
“Obviously, this whole entire year I’ve been working for it and grinding for it,” Beck said. “I kind of expected that for myself, but to actually hear it go live, it meant a lot to me. It’s something to see all the hard work pay off.”
If nothing else, Beck has proven to be a very patient 20-year-old in this era of the transfer portal, where so many players have jumped schools when it becomes apparent they won't get a chance to start right away.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be patient in a world where everything is so immediate with social media and the internet and everybody wants stuff now,” he said. "Just seeing that patience pay off really hit home with me.”
While Bennett could display a fiery side — and a definite chip-on-the-shoulder attitude after all he went through — Beck has earned his teammates' respect with a more reserved demeanor.
“Carson is wise, intelligent and a personality that I think the team draws to, because he’s relatively quiet and doesn’t show a lot of emotion,” Smart said. “I think that they’ve embraced him.”
Beck has a huge line in front of him and plenty of offensive firepower to help him grow into the job, including tight end Brock Bowers.
Smart stressed throughout the quarterback competition that he wasn't looking for a star. He wanted a guy who could manage the offense most efficiently in every situation, by making the proper calls, limiting mistakes and getting the ball in the right hands.
“A big thing for him was the confidence that he developed in fall camp,” Bowers said. “I feel like he got faster, faster at making reads. I think that helped him a lot.”
Beck's margin of error will be bolstered in the early going by a very favorable schedule that begins with four straight games inside the friendly hedges of Sanford Stadium.
Georgia opens the season Saturday against FCS opponent Sanford, and will face another seemingly overmatched team in Week 2 when Ball State visits Athens instead of No. 20 Oklahoma, which was originally in that slot until conference realignment forced a change.
Beck shouldn't be too stressed by those games. Then again, he doesn't want to take any chances on losing the job.
After all, the last time he started was in 2019, as a senior at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Florida.
“That's crazy,” Beck said. “It's been a long time, and it felt even longer than it actually has been. It's been what, four years almost, since I started in a football game? Obviously, I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to it.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll