Smart says Georgia 'built to be here for a long time'

Smart says Georgia 'built to be here for a long time'

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart steps to the podium to speak during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA - Before last season, the two most recent college football national champions from the Southeastern Conference not named Alabama were Auburn in 2010 and LSU in 2019.

Auburn went 3-9 two seasons after reaching the sport's summit, while LSU has struggled to an 11-12 record the past two seasons.

The reigning national champion now is Georgia, and Bulldogs seventh-year coach Kirby Smart made it crystal clear Wednesday that his program isn't about to stumble down those same paths - even after losing a record 15 players to the NFL draft.

"We didn't build this program on hoping for one-year wonders or hoping for one opportunity," Smart said as the SEC media days continued inside the College Football Hall of Fame. "We built the program to be sustained. You sustain it by what you do every single day.

"This program was built to be here for a long time."

Georgia has hardly shown one-hit wonder tendencies under Smart, having compiled a 58-10 record since his 8-5 debut season in 2016 with four trips to the SEC title game and two ventures to the title contest of the four-team playoff. The 33-18 victory over Alabama in January's CFP championship game ended a 41-year title drought for the program and a seven-game losing streak against the vaunted Crimson Tide, which resulted in a deserving parade in Athens.

But then the page apparently turned quickly.

"I turned it the Wednesday morning when we were back in class," redshirt sophomore center Sedrick Van Pran said. "I don't even remember what class it was. It was maybe 30 hours for me. It was over, and the feeling didn't last much longer after we got off the plane. It was understood that we had to focus on this season."

Said senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith: "It was about 24 hours for me. We went from the game to being back in Athens making sure our class schedules were right."

Quarterback Stetson Bennett admitted it wasn't quite as imminent for him, adding that he was able to enjoy celebrating that Monday evening in Indianapolis through the parade five days later.

Despite the heavy personnel losses, Georgia returns plenty of familiar faces at running back and receiver to accompany Bennett, and the quartet of Brock Bowers, Oscar Delp, Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington could give the Bulldogs the deepest and most talented tight end room the sport has ever known.

The return of Smith, defensive tackle Jalen Carter and CFP title game hero Keelee Ringo at cornerback gives co-defensive coordinators Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann a great retooling foundation as well, and then there is the overall attitude itself.

While Alabama and Ohio State might get a little more preseason attention in upcoming weeks, the Bulldogs hardly sound like a team ready to step back.

"Complacency does not concern me in the least," Smart said. "To be complacent, you have to have done something and achieved something. The men on this team this season have not done that. They have not. We had 15 players who have now gone to the NFL. They're gone.

"We have some returning players, but they're hungry as ever."

Or as Smith added, "What we did last year is last year. We have to be where our feet are today."

Cocktail conversation

Smart and Georgia players have been asked to weigh in from time to time on whether their rivalry showdown against Florida should remain in Jacksonville or move to the two campuses.

On Wednesday, it was first-year Florida coach Billy Napier and his players who were asked about the topic.

"I want to experience the game first, right?" Napier said. "I would like to see that game in Jacksonville and experience that game before I have an opinion on that. There's a lot of credibility to both.

"The home-and-home obviously would be fantastic, but there's also some tradition there. There's a rivalry there."

Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson was on the short end of last season's 34-7 thumping but said, "I think Jacksonville is great. You get to play in an NFL stadium."

Bulldogs bites

Georgia's opener Sept. 3 against Oregon in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was announced Wednesday as a sellout. Smart said that there are 95 players on his roster with NIL deals. Georgia's national championship display in the Hall of Fame includes a No. 84 jersey worn by former North Murray High receiver Ladd McConkey.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com