Four seasons ago, Georgia escaped with a 23-17 overtime victory against Georgia Southern. This remains, to a lifelong Bulldog loyalist from Statesboro, the best non-loss in Georgia annals. The next week, Georgia edged Tech 13-7 in Atlanta. That same season, Georgia was overwhelmed in Sanford Stadium 38-10 by Alabama and got embarrassed by Florida 27-3 in Jacksonville. The facts were, that in 2015, the Bulldogs much closer to losing to Georgia Southern and Tech than beating Alabama and Florida.
A major change was made.
In Kirby Smart’s first season at the helm, there were the usual bumps and valleys for a new coach. Georgia, as a 50-point favorite, avoided an all-timer upset, just getting past Nicholls State 26-24 in Athens. The 2016 squad would lose three unfathomable heartbreakers at home to Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Tech.
Now look where Georgia is.
Last season, the Bulldogs surged to one of the best campaigns in school history, capturing the Southeastern Conference championship, winning the Rose Bowl, playing for the national title and reveling in blowout victories over Tennessee (41-0), Florida (42-7) and Tech (38-7). Perhaps the most telling factoid of the Bulldogs impressive march to the conference crown is that a 24-10 win over South Carolina was just Georgia’s 11th biggest margin of victory on the season.
Through tremendous recruiting and player development, Georgia, riding a tsunami of momentum had great expectations in 2018 despite losing elite talent, highlighted by Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith, three of the most successful and popular players in program history.
Having to replace a majority of its starters, there were still a lot of questions about this Georgia team. While the third-ranked recruiting class in the country from 2017 and the top rated crop of 2018 certainly put the forecast of 2019 and 2020 in a sunny setting, this season was viewed as a bit of a bridge.
Well, Georgia has crossed it similar success to 2017.
A 45-21 triumph over Tech that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates – Georgia led 38-7 at the half (the same as last season’s final) and 45-7 five minutes into the third quarter – put the finishing touches on a second straight 11-1 regular season. The lone loss came in Baton Rouge to LSU in the seventh game of the season, as the Tigers beat Georgia by 20. The six victories prior featured a 41-17 rout of South Carolina and 43-29 win over Missouri in the two Columbias. Georgia took down Tennessee 38-12 and Vanderbilt 45-13. Since the open date, which followed Baton Rouge, everything has come together as the Bulldogs rolled past then No. 9 Florida 36-17, then No. 8 Kentucky 34-17, Auburn 27-10, UMass 66-27 and then “The Enemy” in impressive fashion.
The 14-point win at Missouri remains Georgia’s closest margin of victory thus far this season.
When Smart arrived at Georgia, he had a blueprint to deliver sustained greatness to his alma mater. At the top of the list, the building blocks, the foundation, winning the state and winning at home. That victory over Tech checked off both of those boxes, producing a second straight resounding win over the Yellow Jackets and back-to-back perfect records in Sanford Stadium.
These 2017 and 2018 seasons mark Georgia’s best back-to-back campaigns since the Golden Era of 1980-1983. Georgia is in the early stages of another Golden Era.
Meanwhile, Alabama has been a regular amongst the elite under Nick Saban’s watch. A 52-21 pounding of Auburn in the Iron Bowl pushed Alabama to 12-0 on the year, the 10th regular season in the last 11 in which the Crimson Tide has gone either 11-1 or 12-0. And this Bama squad could be his best of all, with its closest game a 24-0 win over Mississippi State.
Along the way, Saban has led Alabama to five national championships. His success in this decade has rivaled Paul “Bear” Bryant’s run through the 1970s. Two of the most significant wins by Alabama in the Saban era have come in memorable showdowns with Georgia. The 2012 SEC Championship Game and last season’s National Championship Game are on the Mt. Rushmore of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, lifetime worth of grimacing losses. Penthouse suites in the Bulldogs Heartbreak Hotel.
With a supernova bright future and the incredible early successes of “Kirby’s Canines,” this is a time for the Georgia people to rejoice and celebrate. The biggest of college football dreams, that was so tantalizingly close a year ago, is again within the Bulldogs reach.
But standing in the way, it’s you know who.
As the 16-time World Heavyweight Champion, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
When Luke Skywalker queried to his Jedi Master and mentor Yoda, “than I am a Jedi,” there was this famed response: “Not yet, one thing remains, Vader, you must confront Vader, then, only then, a Jedi will you be.”
So there they sit, Saban and Alabama, the empire, with Smart’s Bulldogs the mighty rebellion. It’s the next chance to “beat the man,” and destroy the Crimson Tide’s “fully armed and operational battle station.”