ATLANTA — It’s unlikely anybody could have fathomed a drought of 37 years in the heady days following the University of Georgia’s last national championship back in 1980.

To get a better idea of how long it’s been, just consider that 19 programs have claimed at least a share of the Associated Press championship since then, including 10 that have claimed multiple college football crowns since the last time the Dawgs brought a national title back to Athens.

None of the current UGA players were even close to being as much as a glimmer in their Daddy’s eye when freshman tailback Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame to cap a perfect 12-0 season in 1980.

That harsh reality has been pretty hard to square for enthusiastic Georgia fans who often like to reference their program in the same high-fallutin’ air as more championship-laden rival programs like Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame and the like. So that’s made the many heart-breaking disappointments in recent years all that much more unbearable for them.

But things just might be different this year, and Georgia fans cynically awaiting the other shoe to drop after years of annual disappointment might be in for a surprise.

And ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says the Dawgs have second-year coach Kirby Smart to thank for it.

“Those Dawgs look and feel like a different team,” Herbstreit tweeted after Georgia overpowered Tennessee, 41-0, on Sept. 30.

Third-ranked Georgia (7-0, 4-0 SEC) enters Saturday’s annual showdown in Jacksonville against rival Florida looking like a runaway locomotive en route for the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff. A power running game, stifling defense and excellent special teams suggest that the long national championship drought in Athens could soon at last be over.

But UGA fans aren’t exactly making plans for repeat trips to Atlanta just yet. They remember all too well the 2002 team that came within a lone loss to the hated Gators of competing for a national title.

Things weren’t much better in 2005 as the D.J. Shockley-led Dawgs rose to a lofty No. 4 national ranking after winning their first seven games before dropping three of their final six.

The biggest heartbreak may have come from the 2008 team featuring a troika of future NFL stars in QB Matthew Stafford, TB Knowshon Moreno and WR A.J. Green. That uber-talented group started the year ranked No. 1 in the country, only to stumble to a lackluster 10-3 record after a 4-0 start, including a 49-10 shellacking at the hands of Florida.

There have been other unexpected heartbreaks along the way, the most notorious being a pair of losses to Vanderbilt in 2013 and 2016 and several underachieving losses to the hated Gators as well.

But Smart cut his coaching teeth at Alabama under the venerable Nick Saban prior to returning to his alma mater and appears to have brought with him the needed consistency the program might have lacked at times in the past. These Dawgs haven’t shown any signs of taking their foot off the gas, having won their first four SEC games by an average of better than 31 points per contest.

Even former players have begun taking notice.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction,” former Bulldogs quarterback David Greene said recently on the Dawg Nation Daily Podcast.

Alabama, however, is still the undisputed King of the Hill until somebody proves otherwise in the SEC and Florida isn’t to be taken lightly, but Georgia is looking like it could perhaps finally end that drought in Athens.

It’s been a long time coming.