Georgia has placed itself among the nation’s elite.
At 7-0 entering the bye week, the Bulldogs have had only one game decided by fewer than 21 points. As it has turned out, Georgia’s 20-19 win over Notre Dame has become a signature victory, considering the Fighting Irish have climbed to No. 13 in The Associated Press poll.
As for the Bulldogs, they’re sitting at No. 3. This is the highest the program has been ranked since entering the 2012 SEC championship game against Alabama.
Receiving this kind of attention has its blessings and drawbacks. For a program like Georgia, being recognized as one of the best teams in the nation brings more national attention. Recruits take notice of the acclaim and the Georgia coaching staff can capitalize on the momentum.
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On the other hand, the Georgia coaches are wary of players believing they don’t need to work as hard when ranked this high. The general thought is this can lead to complacency, which can lead to an unexpected loss.
That has been a focus for head coach Kirby Smart since his team started rising through the AP top 10.
“Our past success or wins will not determine what happens in the future,” Smart said. “The only thing that will determine the future is how we work and how we prepare. As long as these kids buy into that and they don’t get tired of that message, and they don’t start believing all of (the media’s) messages, then I think they’ll be OK. But it’s really important they understand they are going to get everybody’s best shot.”
In the next few weeks, Georgia will have a chance to earn a No. 1 ranking for the first time since the 2008 preseason. Of course, that would depend on No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Penn State losing. The Crimson Tide’s best chances of going down would seemingly be to LSU or Auburn, although neither would be expected.
The Nittany Lions are set for consecutive games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, all of which are ranked in the AP top 25.
Georgia, of course, has games rivalry games against Florida, South Carolina and Auburn in consecutive weeks following Saturday’s bye. And as everyone knows, anything can happen when rivals meet. Georgia concludes its regular season against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, which won’t be easy games that late in the season either.
CBSSports.com college football analyst Barrett Sallee was one of the few predicting a big season for Georgia from the start. Sallee even included Georgia in his preseason picks for the four-team College Football Playoff.
Sallee believes Georgia is definitely in the same realm as Alabama and that the Bulldogs have a better resume to date thanks to wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State. He thinks it is plausible the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs could play for the No. 1 ranking and top seed of the College Football Playoff in the SEC championship game.
“Alabama and Georgia are playing championship caliber football,” Sallee said. “The only team that’s a massive threat on their schedules is Auburn, if Auburn gets right.”
Throughout its history, Georgia hasn’t had many No. 1 opportunities. Since the inception of the AP poll, the Bulldogs have only been No. 1 15 times.
The first time was in 1942, when Georgia was atop the poll from Nov. 2-16. The Bulldogs didn’t become No. 1 again until 1980, when they topped the AP poll on Nov. 10 and spent the remainder of the year there. In 1982, Georgia ranked No. 1 from Nov. 8-Dec. 6 but fell to No. 4 after its Sugar Bowl, and national championship, loss to Penn State.
Georgia then became the No. 1 team again in the AP’s preseason 2008 poll. The Bulldogs didn’t stay at No. 1 for long, with USC leap-frogging the Bulldogs after the first week of games.
While Georgia is only two spots away at the moment, it still seems like a long way to go to get there given Alabama’s dominance and how Penn State has looked.
But wherever Georgia is ranked won’t matter if it drops a game. While this discussion is fodder for the fans and media alike, the coaching staff prefers for the players to avoid this sort of thing.
“We got to get better in the off week to get where we want to go,” Smart said.