During Thursday afternoon’s press conference leading up to the SEC Championship game, Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart was asked about the transfer portal, the expansion of the College Football Playoff from four to twelve teams in 2024, and his time as a young assistant at LSU. Smart was not trying to hear any of it.
“Yeah, we’re really focused on LSU, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “That’s where our concentration is. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
That concentration must serve Georgia as the sharps in Vegas have installed the ‘Dawgs as a 17.5 to 18.5 point favorite heading into Saturday’s SEC Championship game. Throughout the season, Georgia has shown to rise to the occasion and was able to meet each challenge. Whether it was the first game against Oregon, the conference games against Auburn and more recently, against the formerly top-ranked Tennessee volunteers.
“It’s about that next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever,” Smart said. “It’s an SEC championship. You don’t belittle those. Those are hard to come by.”
Tuesday night’s release of the College Football Playoff rankings would suggest Georgia’s path to the National Championship game runs through two potential trips down Highway 316 and Interstate 85 from Athens to Atlanta.
“That preparation is the key to any game,”Smart said. “This is no different. Our other SEC games we’ve had in terms of the difference, we’re playing at a neutral site. It’s an opportunity to go out there and play. Nobody else is playing in our conference but us.
Our peers get to watch this game. One of the most watched games of any football season. We talked long and hard about being at our best as needed. Those critical situations in games that decide games, they’ll decide this game no different, whether that’s turnovers or explosive plays.”
Georgia will have to mitigate the explosive plays coming from LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. LSU’s season began to turn in the Florida game in which Daniels had eight explosive plays (plays gaining more than 20 yards). Daniels has suffered from an ankle injury but LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday his quarterback will be ready to play.
“He’s had a good week of practice. He’ll play for us on Saturday,” Kelly admitted.
LSU comes into the game with three losses. Even though their playoff hopes have been dashed due to their shocking loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, Kelly is optimistic about becoming a national champion in Baton Rouge and restoring the pride that can be only gained from the Bayou Bengals being a winner.
“What is unique about LSU is the in-state recruiting,” Kelly explained. “We certainly didn’t have that at Notre Dame. It was much more national. So you’ve got to go into each state and pull out the best players in those states at Notre Dame, whereas you have it right here in the state of Louisiana.
This is the flagship university. Kids want to go to LSU. They grow up wanting to be a Tiger. There’s a bit of an advantage from that perspective right out of the gates when it comes to recruiting.”
What is paramount on the mind of the Georgia Bulldogs is that Alabama handed them their only loss en route winning the 2022 National Championship. Kirby Smart is not overlooking this opportunity. Moreover, the Georgia Bulldogs last won the SEC Championship was 2017.
“There’s such a respect, especially in this part of the country, for the Southeastern Conference, that winning a Southeastern Conference championship is extremely impressive for the quality of football and the number of NFL players that come out of our conference,” Smart said. “I think our players take a lot of pride in that.”