This is new for everyone on Georgia’s roster.
The Bulldogs have climbed to No. 4 for the first time since the 2012 season. They are 6-0 for the first time since 2005, which is also the last time the program won an SEC championship. With an undefeated season to date that has featured five blowouts, Georgia has received mostly positive reviews through the first half of the 2017 campaign.
With that in mind, the Bulldogs, new to this kind of praise, are in uncharted territory. And head coach Kirby Smart hopes to guard against the issues that can arise when players begin feeling pretty good about themselves.
Smart likened the season to a footrace. While Georgia is out to a good start, it won’t mean anything if the next six games don’t go the same way.
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“You address it with the kids,” Smart said. “We don’t talk about what we’re ranked. We didn’t talk about what we were ranked last week. There’s really no difference because none of it matters. All we talk about is a race. The race is after the 50-meter mark and that’s where the race is. I don’t know one person that ever talked about (Justin) Gatlin being ahead of (Usain) Bolt at the 50-meter mark. Nobody cared. They only care about where you finish and they only care about what you do next. That’s our objective, to do what’s next.”
That message has seemed to resonate with this group of Bulldogs. And since the second game against Notre Dame, there hasn’t been an outing that would lead anyone to think differently.
Following that 20-19 victory over the Fighting Irish, Georgia has posted an average margin of victory of 32 points in its past four games. There was never much doubt about the outcome at any point of those games either.
“We don't really listen to all the hype and outside noise, we just focus on each other and everything that we do day-in and day-out,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “When things like that come, you always hear types of things like that, but we're just keeping our heads level.”
With Georgia’s season going the way it has, and with Missouri off to a 1-4 start, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have pegged the Bulldogs a 30-point favorite for Saturday’s game. ESPN’s Mike Golic Jr. is buying the Georgia hype and said on SportsCenter that he considers Smart his mid-season coach of the year.
Those sort of things could affect the mental makeup of a lot of teams, especially those that have players who haven’t been in this position before.
“To keep that out of mind, you just focus on the goals that you set before the season and the different things that we want to accomplish, whether it’s personal or team goals,” defensive back Aaron Davis said. “As long as we stay focused on those then we can keep our mind off rankings and things like that.”
While Georgia hasn’t been 6-0 since 2005, it does have the advantage of fielding an experienced roster. The Bulldogs returned 10 starters on defense with a lot of experienced contributors in the backfield and at receiver.
The offensive line has improved and Georgia’s rushing attack is churning out a nationally 11th-best 268.3 yards per game.
Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy believes having that kind of veteran presence has allowed for Georgia to maintain its production without buying into its own press clippings.
“It’s teaching kids how to practice every day, not to take teams lightly, and not to look at the TV when they say we’re No. 4,” Bellamy said. “Having an older team helps block out the outside noise that comes with having an undefeated season so far.”