It was a dream season, with a heartbreaking end. So much accomplished, and so tantalizingly close to the ultimate. In the aftermath, Georgia’s standout young coach Kirby Smart said exactly what the Bulldog faithful needed and wanted to hear, and what every college football observer certainly expects – “Georgia is here to stay.”
Think about what happened between the first Wednesday in February of 2017 and New Year’s Day, 2018. In a little less than 11 months, Smart and his staff assembled an elite recruiting class, ranked as high as No. 3 nationally. Combined with the decisions of noteworthy seniors to return for their final campaigns, highlighted by Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, the spirits of the Georgia people, so hungry for glory, were pointing upwards.
The 2017 season would go down as one of the most enjoyable, successful and memorable in Bulldog history.
On the Bulldogs third offensive series of the season against upset-minded Appalachian State, “the fickle finger of fate” touched Georgia. Starting quarterback Jacob Eason was injured and knocked out of the game. In came heralded true freshman Jake Fromm, and a gridiron baptism by fire. Fromm energized the entirety of Sanford Stadium, and the Bulldogs delivered a 31-10 win. Then he had to sleep on a Saturday night three-shot lead at Augusta, with Notre Dame in South Bend on the horizon.
With red and black taking over South Bend and covering at least half of the famed “House that Rockne Built,” Georgia won a game that far too often in recent years it wouldn’t have. The 20-19 victory seemed to get the Dogs over the hump.
There was a flea-flicking 31-3 thrashing of Mississippi State followed by successive 41-0 and 45-14 “Vengeance Tour” victories at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Georgia teams of the recent past, well at least one of those would have been a knee-knocker.
The Bulldogs of 2017 were “TCB.”
Georgia annihilated Florida 42-7 in Jacksonville and thrashed Tech 38-7 on the Flats. Those were two that the Bulldogs badly needed. To deliver in that manner was especially sweet.
In the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the Dogs, who defeated the four teams on the schedule who beat them in 2016 by an average of 41.5-7.0, avenged the lone regular-season blemish of 2017 with a sterling 28-7 triumph over Auburn.
“Kirby’s Canines” were SEC champions and bound for the playoff.
Next up was the new early signing period. With Christmas on the horizon, the Dogs opened the presents early, signing 20 prospects that made up the consensus top class in the country.
On New Year’s Day, in maybe the greatest Rose Bowl game ever played, Georgia came from behind to defeat Oklahoma 54-48 in overtime. It was one of the great victories in Bulldog lore.
One week later, the Bulldogs were oh so agonizingly close. There were three non-calls and a missed call that made it downright maddening.
It was the most heart-breaking loss in school history. It was Pitt, Penn State and Bama 2012 rolled into one.
But “Georgia is here to stay.”
A half-dozen more prospects would sign on February 7, and the Bulldogs had assembled the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, one of the most highly touted of any program in the 20th century.
The memories of 2017 will last forever – most notably those blowouts of Tech, Florida and Tennessee, the triumph in South Bend, the SEC title and the magic of Pasadena.
But we now turn the page to 2018, as spring practice gets underway and G-Day beckons.
There is a lot of talent to replace, with a tremendous senior class and All-Milky Way linebacker Roquan Smith graduating/moving on to the National Football League. A big chunk of a very talented defense, the team’s best offensive lineman, top receiver and standout punter plus Michel, Smith and Chubb are amongst the elite departing talent.
But there is a lot of talent coming back and a bunch of talent coming in.
Great programs reload. That comes from stacking up classes. Georgia is doing just that. By the way, the class of 2019 is ranked at this point as the best assembled thus far.
A major factor of what made the 2017 campaign one of the most enjoyable in Georgia annals is the slew of impressive margins of victory. Perhaps the point that most punctuates this is that the Bulldogs 24-10 win over South Carolina was the team’s 11th largest margin of victory on the season.
To have another run like that, with 11 double digit wins, well that may be a stretch. But could this Bulldogs team, which has three very difficult SEC road trips before the Cocktail Party, have a similar record and be in position for another special season? The Bulldogs of 2018 may just be playing their best football in the second half of the campaign and be right in the mix.
As for 2019 and 2020, Georgia fans, make those playoff reservations and get ready for a national championship – or two – celebration.