Rewind seven weeks ago.

Go back to that moment when Jacob Eason went down in the first quarter against Appalachian State. It was easy to fear the worst.

Unknown was what was in store for Georgia. How would the Bulldogs fare with a true freshman starter at quarterback? How would Kirby Smart and the coaching staff adjust to having him under center? And even if he did perform well, how would Smart’s defense look in Year 2?

Fast forward to present day. All of those questions have been answered. Georgia is the No. 3 team in America with a chance to clinch its best start to a season since 2002. The Dawgs are 2-touchdown favorites against the defending division champs in Jacksonville. Clearly, Smart looks like the real deal in Year 2.

A lot can happen in the next month. Georgia could solidify its stranglehold on a top-4 spot, or the far less likely scenario can happen and it could lose multiple regular season games. Many will continue to ask questions about Georgia as long as it stays in the College Football Playoff race.

But one thing shouldn’t be questioned at this point.

As of right now, Smart is college football’s coach of the year.

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the year has become an award given annually only to the coach who surpasses expectations, which were usually minimal. Every organization that gives out such an honor should basically call it the “we weren’t betting on you to be here” award.

Smart didn’t necessarily have minimal expectations entering 2017. His team began the season ranked No. 15 and as the likely SEC East favorites. In a normal year, Smart has certainly exceeded expectations. In a year in which his starting quarterback went down in the first quarter, Smart has blown expectations out of the water.

Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to replace a starting quarterback. Look at what it did to Florida State. On that same day that Eason went down, the Seminoles lost Deondre Francois in the fourth quarter against Alabama. FSU was No. 3 in the country when that happened. Now, Georgia is No. 3 and FSU is 2-4.

Not everyone is willing to give Smart credit for the quarterback situation. After all, he’s a defensive guy.

But tell me that Smart hasn’t done anything to bring Jake Fromm along. Anyone overlooking Smart’s ability to keep him level clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Perhaps they forgot Smart’s thrashing of Fromm when he went out of bounds instead of getting the first down up 31 on Vanderbilt?

Smart has been steady in his weekly approach. Like Nick Saban, he preaches a relentless mindset. Maybe “preaches” isn’t the right word. How about “embodies?”

Week in, week out, Smart’s team never looks unprepared or sleepy. Georgia won its four SEC games by an average of 31 points. Not even Alabama has done that. And like Alabama, Georgia still hasn’t had that letdown like other top-10 teams.

Even great coaches like Dabo Swinney, Chris Petersen and Urban Meyer have had somewhat embarrassing lapses this year. Does that make them any less coaches? No, but it sure makes Smart’s job that much more impressive.

There are plenty of other candidates who would get some votes if coach of the year had to be decided today:

  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
  • Mike Leach, Washington State
  • Gary Patterson, TCU
  • James Franklin, Penn State
  • Nick Saban, Alabama
  • Scott Frost, UCF
  • Mark Richt, Miami
  • Dave Doeren, N.C. State

But for my money, Smart would be the most deserving of such an honor right now.

As college football kicks it into high gear in the final month of the season, coach of the year will likely get pushed to the back burner. We’ll talk about the Playoff and the Heisman Trophy. We’ll break down résumés and individual performances. We’ll talk contenders and All-Americans. Oh, and we’ll talk hot seats.

Just don’t forget about the great coaching jobs we’ve seen across college football, especially that one in Athens.