Here's the ultimate sign that Georgia has achieved juggernaut status
It’s not the No. 5 ranking. It’s not the national runner-up trophy. It’s not the consecutive division titles or the perfect record against SEC East opponents since the start of 2017. It’s not the SEC Championship, either.
It’s not the top-ranked recruiting class, nor is it the expected top-5 class expected to sign in a few short weeks.
It’s not the 6 players drafted or the handful of players who will hear their names called in 2019.
None of those things epitomize why Georgia has achieved juggernaut status in Year 3 of the Kirby Smart era.
Kirby Smart not getting a ton of run as SEC Coach of The Year is the ultimate compliment to him and UGA football.
He loses a TON of talent, but reloads & competes for a CFB Playoff spot & people are not shocked
That tells you that this is the new norm in Athens#SECThisMorning
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) November 19, 2018
Georgia is sitting there with an SEC Championship berth and a potential Playoff spot up for grabs again, yet there’s zero buzz about Smart as the SEC Coach of the Year. We could get into the debate about how all coach of the year awards should be renamed “surprise coach of the year,” but I’ll save that argument for another time.
Smart isn’t being considered because nothing Georgia is doing is surprising. Nobody is talking about the Dawgs in that light because well, they started the season ranked No. 3 in the country and they’re sitting at No. 5 heading into the regular-season finale.
That’s actually 2 spots better than where they were at this time last year after suffering a somewhat similar blowout loss to a top-10 SEC West squad on the road. But unlike last year’s loss, which was followed by 2 lopsided victories against unranked teams to end the regular season, this year’s Georgia squad responded even better after its lone defeat of the season. Three consecutive wins by 3 scores against ranked SEC opponents is a feat that nobody in college football has accomplished this year.
Add in a 66-point showing against UMass or don’t. It doesn’t change the fact that Smart has the Dawgs rolling like many thought they would when they started the season at No. 3.
Let’s not forget that many people questioned if Georgia deserved to be ranked that high in the preseason. Losing the likes of Roquan Smith, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and others from arguably the program’s most talented team in the post-Vince Dooley era could have easily brought Georgia back to a “good, not great” reality.
Nobody is saying this is an all-time Georgia team — at least not yet — but now it’s feeling more like this is the early stages of a golden era. The notion of a “reload” as opposed to a “rebuild” is easy to say, but really only a few programs nationally can actually claim it. Alabama, Clemson and maybe Ohio State feel like the only other programs who could have withstood the losses Georgia had and still found themselves in Playoff contention this late in the season.
Obviously a big part of that is recruiting. But it’s also coaching.
Besides just replacing the middle of his defense, Smart had to properly handle one of the country’s most unique quarterback rooms. Dealing with the highly-anticipated arrival of Justin Fields while also continuing to instill confidence in Jake Fromm as the leader of the team was probably a tightrope act at times. Shoot, it still is.
Fields played in all but one game this year, and there’s no question that Fromm is still the guy. In an era where 5-star quarterbacks transferring is more likely than them staying, I’m not sure Smart and his staff have gotten enough credit for how they’ve handled that.
And to be clear, I’m not saying SEC Coach of the Year is the only way to give Smart the props he deserves. The guy obviously won that award last year, and deservedly so.
The fact that it seems like Ed Orgeron, Mark Stoops and Dan Mullen are the more likely candidates to win the award than Smart suggests he’s now in Nick Saban territory. Saban has 4 national titles from 2010-17, and he has just 1 SEC Coach of the Year honor in that stretch to show for it. Of course, everyone knows that Saban is the best coach in America and arguably of all-time, so handing him the honor almost feels like it’s preventing other coaches from finally getting their due.
Smart, I believe, is in that rarified air. Confirmation bias set in when Georgia responded the way it did after LSU. It was “well, the Dawgs are starting to look like the team we thought they could be.” That’s a good thing.
In many ways, this season was more of a standard-setter for Georgia than last year was. That’s true regardless of whether the Dawgs can take down what looks like the most dominant college football team of the 21st century in the SEC Championship.
Perception is that this is Georgia’s new floor. Everything — the underclassmen skill players, the historic 2018 recruiting class, etc. — suggests that the program will have preseason 2019 expectations that are even greater than they were this year.
Smart is indeed leading a juggernaut. Go figure that not winning some more hardware will be what proves that.