Not since 1981 has there been this much joy for the Bulldog faithful heading into the annual G-Day spring game. Reigning national champion Georgia, realizing the dream, and exorcising the proverbial elephant in the room.
Every day since that glorious night of January 10, 2022 has been Christmas Eve, the Fourth of July, your birthday and New Year’s rolled into one. While the Georgia faithful have reveled in the glory of the national championship, the top Dawg quickly turned the page.
Kirby Smart, entering his seventh season as the head football coach at his alma mater, hit the ground running and turned the page to the 2022 season as soon as the splendid January 15 victory parade and Sanford Stadium celebration wrapped up. Despite losing a potential record number of NFL draft choice and first round picks, make no mistake that Smart fully expects for Georgia to contend again in 2022. And beyond.
The first step was putting the finishing touches on another stellar recruiting class, regarded as one college football’s finest once again. Smart is a master of roster management, and with all the moving pieces in this era of the transfer portal, the execution of that expertise has proven to be a cornerstone of the Bulldogs tremendous success under his watch. Step two, off season workouts and spring practice, the time of year when a team’s identity is born.
This spring offers a tremendous amount of excitement for the Georgia people, and not just another chance to revel in the afterglow of the Everlasting Yeah.
No, this is the first chance for Bulldog fans to glimpse the Bulldogs of 2022.
There is a defense to rebuild. Georgia loses the core of one of college football’s top stop units of the 21st century. The Bulldogs must also try and fill the shoes of two fantastic running backs who scored a lot of touchdowns and got a lot of big yards, a dynamic wide receiver, the best and most versatile offensive lineman on the team, and one of the best punters in school history.
Had things not gone the Bulldogs way on January 10, there would be a lot more questions. Did we miss a window? Do we have to wait maybe two more years to have a shot?
But instead of trepidation with all these new faces, there is excitement. This isn’t a rebuild … it’s a reload. That’s what Smart’s program is driving.
One of the most important events of Smart’s tenure was his first G-Day as the Bulldogs head coach, 93K Day. Back in the spring of 2016, Georgia packed Sanford Stadium to capacity of around 93,000 fans. That gave the Bulldog players a taste of game day. It fueled the economy of Athens and the state, and was a showpiece for recruiting. Several members of the ensuing 2017 recruiting class, which featured Andrew Thomas, D’Andre Swift, Richard LeCounte and Jake Fromm, talked about how important and impressionable that day was.
Dating back to Smart’s second season of 2017, the Bulldogs have won the 2021 National Championship, played for it in 2017 after winning the Southeastern Conference crown, making two College Football Playoffs. The Bulldogs have finished in the top ten five straight seasons, appeared in four of the last five SEC title games, and boasted an impressive record against the traditional arch-rivals. Since 2017, the Bulldogs are 4-0 against Tech, 4-1 versus Florida, 5-1 versus Auburn and 5-0 against Tennessee.
These are the good old days for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Personifying passion and possessing a tireless drive and work ethic, Smart is pushing to keep Georgia amongst the nation’s elite. That’s hard to do in the toughest league in the land where so many programs are throwing countless dollars and resources to reach the mountaintop. Over the last three years, three different SEC schools – LSU, Alabama and Georgia – have won college football’s national championship. All three want to do it again. Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M want to add to the list. And there are several other programs striving to make it to the elite.
If you’re stagnant in the SEC, you get passed.
In 2010, Auburn won the national title. The next year, they went 8-5, then 3-9. Then made a coaching change. LSU won it all in 2019, then went 5-5 and 6-7. Then made a coaching change. Since Urban Meyer left Florida in 2010 (after winning national titles in 2006 and 2008), the Gators have hired four different head coaches (plus two interim head coaches) and posted three losing seasons.
Then there is Alabama. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, who will be preseason No. 1 in 2022, have been a college football dynasty. You know the facts: seven of eight years in the playoff, six national titles, and undefeated or once-beaten regular seasons in 12 of the last 14 campaigns.
That’s gold standard consistent excellence Smart is striving for at Georgia. Prior to conquering the Crimson Tide in Indianapolis, his Bulldogs had done everything but win the national title.
Now Georgia is on the mountaintop. National Champions. National Champions of 2021, Smart quickly points out.The next challenge then isn’t staying on top, because 2022 is a year anew. No, the next challenge is getting back to the top. Powered by rocket fuel.