No. 1 Georgia is 7-0 as the Bulldogs head to their bye week before their Oct. 30 tilt with archrival Florida in Jacksonville.

The Dawgs aren’t just unbeaten; they’ve hardly been challenged, save a season-opening rock fight with Clemson, which Georgia won 10-3. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents by an average of 31 points and beaten 3 ranked foes by a combined score of 74-26 along the way. Georgia’s season to date can be described with one word: dominant.

Meanwhile, Florida limps into its bye week having just lost 49-42 to a lame-duck LSU coaching staff that was formally fired the following day. The Gators have lost to the only 2 teams they have played with equal or better talent in 2021, and they also fell to a Kentucky team with significantly lesser talent.

A year ago, the Gators routed Georgia at the Cocktail Party on their way to the SEC East crown. They ultimately fell by 6 points in a knockdown, drag-out SEC Championship Game with perhaps the greatest Alabama team of all time, but in defeat, the program certainly seemed to be ascending.

Instead, the Gators are 4-3 in 2021 and have won only 2 of their past 8 games against Power 5 opposition.

How did power in the SEC East shift back to Georgia so quickly? Why should Florida fans get their 1980 jokes in while they can?

Here are 3 reasons Georgia has surged past Florida — again — and why it may be a while before the Gators compete with the Dawgs again in the SEC East.

Kirby Smart cares about championship defense

Georgia’s defense is as close to a perfect unit as we’ve seen since 2011 Alabama. The defensive coordinator for that 2011 Alabama team? Kirby Smart.

These things aren’t a coincidence.

Smart has been criticized — too intensely, in the view of this writer — for his in-game decision-making as a head coach. He has not received enough credit for his talents as a program builder (more on that below).

Georgia ranks No. 1 nationally in total defense, No. 1 in S&P+ defense and No. 1 in yards allowed per play defense. In the latter category, Georgia is almost a full half-yard better than the No. 2-ranked defense (Colorado State). Georgia is also No. 1 in success rate defense (measured as the percentage of plays in which an offense gains at least 50% of necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd or 100% on 3rd or 4th).

This defense is stout on all three levels, and features multiple All-American candidates, from Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis to Adam Anderson to Quay Walker to Lewis Cine and yes, that probably isn’t comprehensive. This is a ferocious group.

Dan Mullen, on the other hand, has not cared enough about championship defense.

For all his ability as a play-caller, Mullen’s program building leaves something to be desired. That’s not just about recruiting (below). Most of that comes back to his decision to retain Todd Grantham.

From 2005-2016, Florida finished outside of the top 10 in total defense and yards allowed per play just once (2007). Under Grantham, they have finished in the top 10 in those categories just once (2019). In the other 3 seasons, Florida has finished outside of the top 25 in total defense. Grantham’s ineptitude, which Mullen has tolerated, has negated the value of Mullen’s revival of the Florida offense. When you are too stubborn to recognize your own staff is hamstringing your strength as a head coach, it is a problem.

That leads us to reason No. 2.

Kirby Smart hasn’t been too proud to make staff changes

While Mullen has gone full Tammy Wynette in standing by his man in Grantham, Kirby Smart has made tough choices and staff changes when necessary.

College football coaches are, in the main, megalomaniacs or at least control freaks, for better and for worse. Smart is absolutely a control freak, or so several coaches who have worked for him have told me. But great leaders have the humility to be reflexive and make hard choices and Smart has grown into that trait.

The decision to turn his offense over to Todd Monken has helped Georgia immensely. The Dawgs are young at playmaker positions in 2021 and are starting a former walk-on at quarterback. No matter. Monken has done a splendid job scheming to Stetson Bennett IV’s strengths (there are many, not all walk-ons are built equally) and putting younger players like freshman tight end Brock Bowers and wide receivers Ladd McConkey (freshman), Jermaine Burton (sophomore) and Adonai Mitchell (freshman) in positions to succeed.

Rather than meddling in Monken’s business, as Smart had done with his offense in the past, he demurred. That’s intelligent — and his ability to part ways with coaches he had relationships with is a huge reason Smart has Georgia in a position to make the College Football Playoff for the second time in his tenure.

As for Mullen, the stubbornness of his loyalty doesn’t begin and end with Grantham. While Mullen did make staff changes to his defense last year (that have paid dividends with an improved secondary in 2021) — he has not made changes elsewhere where they are needed. Special teams coach Greg Knox remains, despite Florida’s special teams being dreadful in 2021 and Knox’s inability to recruit (below). And Knox, who is a fine running backs coach, isn’t even the most questionable member of Mullen’s staff.

Loyalty is rare in the industry and by most accounts, Mullen is a great boss. But great leaders make hard choices. Smart has, Mullen hasn’t.

Recruiting, of course

It doesn’t all come down to Jimmies and Joes.

That’s a half-truth.

But it is absolutely true that every national champion since 2005 has ranked in the top 10 in composite talent. Per the 247 talent composite, Georgia’s 2021 team ranks 2nd (Alabama is No. 1).

Here’s where the disclaimer that Mullen has raised Florida’s talent exponentially since his arrival is useful: the Gators were 17th in 2017, the end of the Jim McElwain era. They are now 7th. That means Florida has edged “closer” to Alabama and Georgia in talent. It does not mean they are on equal footing.

Some of that is about Smart’s natural abilities as an elite recruiter.

Some of it is also about Mullen’s loyalty to staff members like Knox who simply don’t offer anything on the recruiting trail. Offensive line coach John Hevesy, who has even lost high priority recruits to the likes of UCF, is the biggest example of a coach who Mullen must be willing to part ways with if he wants to compete for championships. It isn’t enough to recruit what you can get and develop it. Mullen needs more than 2 elite recruiters (Tim Brewster, Christian Robinson) on his staff. If he won’t make changes, he’ll keep losing ground to Georgia.

Mullen’s decision to mine the transfer portal for big-time talent was ahead of its time, and has served Florida quite well. But the Gators need to win more recruiting battles 1-on-1 with the Dawgs. Smart rarely loses 1 v 1s to Florida on the trail. Gervon Dexter and Kaiir Elam are exceptions, not the rule. And Smart, along with Nick Saban, has dominated Jacksonville and Tampa area recruiting, long a staple of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer’s paths to victory at Florida.

As long as Florida is content signing a fringe top-10 class while Georgia rakes in top-5 classes, the Dawgs will remain superior to Florida from a talent standpoint. Not only does that mean “Advantage, Georgia” at the Cocktail Party; it means Florida’s margin for error will remain perilously small on other Saturdays.

That small margin for error in Gainesville has been evident over the past 2 seasons, when Florida lost at Texas A&M, at home and away to LSU and at Kentucky — all games they should have won but failed to because they didn’t play particularly well.

Georgia’s talent is so overwhelming they tend to survive sluggish Saturdays (though this season, they haven’t had those).

If that doesn’t change, neither will power in the SEC East.