John Bazemore, File
August 29, 2016

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) For all those who might think he's trying to turn Georgia into Alabama East, Kirby Smart would like to point out that he's not calling up Nick Saban every day for advice.

''Coach Saban has to get ready for his game,'' Smart said. ''I'm getting ready for North Carolina.''

No. 18 Georgia will begin a new era Saturday when it opens the season right down the road in Atlanta, taking on the 22nd-ranked Tar Heels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

For the first time in 15 years, the Bulldogs are breaking in a new coach.

After dumping Mark Richt, Georgia turned to Saban's longtime defensive coordinator, hoping Smart can replicate the sort of success his mentor has produced in Tuscaloosa.

Smart has brought along many of things he learned at Alabama, from holding his weekly news conference on Monday instead of Tuesday to making freshmen and assistant coaches off-limits to the media.

And, like Saban, the new Bulldogs coach is reticent about revealing a whole lot of information, such as who the starting quarterback will be in just a few days. Freshman Jacob Eason would appear to have the inside track, but Smart insisted that senior Greyson Lambert, last year's starter, was still in the mix.

''No starter has been named,'' Smart told reporters, in a brusque tone that would've made Saban proud. ''We'll let you guys know.''

Good luck trying to figure out the rest of the lineup, as well.

On the depth chart released Monday, 16 other positions still listed two potential starters. The most common word on the list was ''or.''

''When your mom and dad read the paper, they like to know their sons are on the roster,'' Smart said. ''We've got a lot of great competition at a lot of positions. A lot of guys deserve `ors'.''

In addition to quarterback, there will be plenty of attention directed toward the tailback position. Nick Chubb was one of the nation's top runners until he went down last season with a gruesome knee injury.

Now, just 10 months later, he's healed and fully cleared to play. Smart said there won't be any need to limit his carries, like one might do with a pitcher coming back from an arm injury.

''He's scrimmaged and done a lot of things,'' the coach said. ''He's had a lot of practices where he's carried it more than five to seven times, and we feel good about Nick. He feels great. He's ready to go. So he won't technically be on a pitch count by any means.''

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said it doesn't really matter who the Bulldogs decide to play.

''I don't think there's been a year that Georgia hasn't been in the top 10 in the recruiting rankings,'' he said. ''I mean, they've got players. There's going to be a tailback back there that can go. There's going to be an offensive line that can go. There's going to be a quarterback, whoever it is, he can go. Same thing on defense.''

Smart downplayed any attempt to turn the focus of the opener on himself, even though it's clear the Bulldog faithful are counting on nothing less than an SEC East version of the powerhouse that Saban has built while winning four national titles in the last eight years at Alabama.

Sure, Richt captured a pair of Southeastern Conference titles and had the second-most wins of any coach in school history, but Georgia has long been viewed as a bit of an underachieving program given the amount of talent that has gone on to play in the NFL.

The 40-year-old Smart is out to change that. While he's never been a head coach, there is no lack of bravado heading into his debut.

''The amount of pressure that I've put on myself as a defensive coordinator for the last 10, 11 years, I really believe there's a lot more decisions that go into that position than the head coach,'' he said. ''Not week to week, absolutely not. How we practice, who plays quarterback, all that's a whole different story. But when it comes to game day, I think the confidence in what we've done up to this point allows me to be comfortable with where we are.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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