Georgia's path to a fourth consecutive journey to the Southeastern Conference championship game involves two simple steps.
Simple. Not easy.
The No. 13 Bulldogs must win the rest of their regular-season games, beginning with Saturday night's visit from Mississippi State. They also need Florida to lose twice, and the No. 6 Gators are showing no signs of complying.
A week after Florida raced past Georgia 44-28 in Jacksonville, the Gators avoided any kind of letdown last Saturday with a 63-35 dismantling of visiting Arkansas, saddling the Bulldogs with another dose of readjusted reality. Florida's closing quartet of Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU are a combined 7-17.
"Every kid has individual motivations, and you should have those," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday afternoon on a Zoom call. "Ultimately, you have to put the team above yourself. The ultimate goal for the team is to finish strong. We only control how we play.
"We do not control other teams."
Georgia's chief goal now is turning its 4-2 record into an 8-2 mark that is certain to yield a fourth straight New Year's Six bowl invitation. The Bulldogs do not control their SEC East destiny for the first time since Smart's inaugural season in Athens in 2016, so this is a new experience for every Georgia player except fifth-year seniors such as right guard Ben Cleveland and defensive end Julian Rochester.
"We just have to go hard and prove it as a player and as a team," senior defensive end Malik Herring said. "You try to get better at your technique and try to push everybody to get better, so it's really just doing that and no slacking. We don't want to get embarrassed on TV or anything.
"Nobody wants to get embarrassed, so we just have to go hard."
The Bulldogs had last week's game at Missouri get postponed due to COVID outbreaks within the Tigers program, and Mississippi State had to postpone Saturday's home game against Auburn for the same reason. MSU first-year coach Mike Leach was asked Monday whether he would have enough players to take to Sanford Stadium and said, "I hope so. I hope so."
Smart said Georgia's quarterback competition will continue throughout practice this week, with redshirt junior starter Stetson Bennett remaining "dinged up" with the AC sprain he sustained in Jacksonville.
Georgia's game Saturday will be its first inside Sanford Stadium since the 44-21 thumping of Tennessee on Oct. 10.
"It will be nice," Cleveland said. "It's always nice getting to play in front of the home crowd. It has been a while."
Said Smart: "The motivating factor for our team is to win the game against Mississippi State."
Georgia's game next Saturday night at South Carolina will not pit Smart against Will Muschamp but Smart versus interim coach Mike Bobo following Muschamp's firing on Sunday. Smart, Muschamp and Bobo were members of Georgia's 1994 team.
"It's a part of our business," Smart said. "They both know that and understand that. I respect both of them as coaches and as friends. They know as well as I do that when you get into this profession, there is a possibility that this happens."
Odds and ends
The Georgia-South Carolina game will kick off at 7:30 on the SEC Network. Smart said that sophomore safety Lewis Cine is out of concussion protocol and should be cleared to play this week.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.