“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”—Henry David Thoreau.
Hoover, Ala.—It is a quote that Kirby Smart holds close to his heart as the 2021 season, his sixth as the head football coach at Georgia, draws near.
Because more than any season in recent memory, the Bulldogs are facing unrelenting great expectations for this team.
Now expectations come with the territory at Georgia, especially given the fact that the Bulldogs have not won a national championship since Herschel Walker led them to a 12-0 season in 1980. That’s 41 years ago if you’re counting at home, and the passionate Bulldog Nation most assuredly is.
Now the Bulldogs have been close. In 2012 they were on the five-yard line when time ran out against Alabama in the SEC championship game. Had Georgia won the Bulldogs would have surely handled Notre Dame for the BCS national championship, as Alabama did (42-14). It was men against boys.
In 2017 Georgia held the lead in overtime against Alabama in the CFP national championship game in Atlanta. But on second and 26, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith and the Crimson Tide won the title.
If either of those games had gone the other way, we wouldn't be having this conversation about Georgia.
But we are. The fans are still waiting and are so passionate because to them it looks like all the pieces are in place to break the 41-year dry spell.
**--The Bulldogs return an elite quarterback in JT Daniels, who led Georgia to a 4-0 finish after taking over in November.
**--Georgia has one of the deepest running back rooms in college football led by Zamir White, James Cook, Kendall Milton, and Kenny McIntosh.
**--A deep and experienced offensive line and a defensive line that features Jordan Davis, one of the very best in college football.
**--Concerns in the secondary have been addressed by the transfer portal as safety Tykee Smith comes from West Virginia and cornerback Derion Kendrick comes from Clemson.
**--Georgia has just moved into a brand new $80-million football facility which will do nothing but help recruiting efforts, which have been at a high level since Smart, a former All-SEC defensive back, took over at his alma for the 2016 season.
**--And the relentless winning machine that is Nick Saban and Alabama had substantial losses from a national championship team that includes 10 NFL Draft choices (six in the first round), a Heisman Trophy winner (DeVonta Smith), a first-round quarterback (Mac Jones), a first-round running back (Najee Harris), and the best offensive line in college football (Joe Moore Award).
With one of the best recruiting classes ever coming in, this may be the only chance to get Alabama in the foreseeable future.
So are there great expectations? Yes.
Is it the College Football Playoffs or bust for Georgia?
Bring it on, said Smart.
“I’m too busy working. I’m too busy trying to do the next thing. I’m too busy trying to take the next step to give our team a competitive advantage to really worry about expectations,” said Smart. “We want our team to think the same way.”
Georgia, which will be a consensus top five team in the preseason, will take on another top five team in Clemson to open the season on Sept. 4 in Charlotte.
If Georgia can find a way to win that game, the rest of the regular season sets up nicely. Georgia has to go to Auburn on Oct. 9 and there is the annual rivalry game Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 30. If an undefeated Georgia meets an undefeated Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4, there is a case to be made for both teams getting in the College Football Playoff.
Lose to Clemson and the Bulldogs must run the table and beat Alabama to make the playoffs.
But the conversation of Georgia’s 2021 season starts with the Clemson Tigers. At least for the fans.
“Obviously, it’s a huge game,” said Daniels. “It’s Clemson-Georgia. It’s two really good teams. (But) you can beat Clemson by 100 and still have a terrible season. You could lose to Clemson by 100 and still have a great rest of the season. I think it’s important to keep in perspective that all it is is the week one game.”
In the COVID impacted season of 2020, Georgia lost to Alabama (41-24) and Florida (44-28) but still finished No. 9 the final CFP rankings. The Bulldogs rallied from behind to beat Cincinnati (24-21) at the buzzer in the Peach Bowl, their fourth straight appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl.
In the off season, given what his team and other SEC teams had gone through, Smart made a conscious decision for his team to spend more time together. He even reduced some practice time in order to do it.
“I definitely think the key to a successful team is a cohesive team,” said Davis. “We need to know the brother inside us. I always say, if you can’t trust the person next to you, then you won’t be willing to play your heart out for them.”
In short, Smart told the attendants at SEC Media Days on Tuesday that his team is embracing the expectations that have been put upon them.
“Connection is one of the key ingredients for this team,” said Smart. “So I’m excited about that part. Proud of the expectations for this team. Our team doesn’t back down from those expectations.”