No. 1 again: Georgia dons blinders, begins chase for historic three-peat


Kirby Smart left January travel itineraries and references to the Southeastern Conference championship game out of his motivational material as Georgia pursues history in 2023.

National champions in 2021 and 2022, the Bulldogs are No. 1 in preseason polls and ready for the gates to open on the 2023 season surrounded by expectations rooted in trophies.

While Smart is largely responsible for the results driving the public to view Georgia as a standing favorite yet again, he’s asking players to forget 29 wins in the past 30 games, ignore the fact no SEC team has a win over the Bulldogs in the regular season since 2020 and close your eyes when passing those twin College Football Playoff national titles permanently displayed.

Smart’s approach is to call on players and coaches to think beyond results and embrace selflessness. Previous accolades allow enthusiasm and ego to focus only on wins and accomplishments.

“That’s not what we do at Georgia. That’s not what we bring into our place. That’s not what we bring into the culture we want to have. We want selfless people who love football, and that’s what we build around,” Smart said.

He’s gone to significant lengths to gain team-wide buy-in to focus forward, lock in on what’s next and never mind the many mirrors. Smart introduced players — scores of them having never seen Michael Jordan play — to the 1990s Chicago Bulls to brand the concept of sustained focus. He went a step further with an expansive six-week lesson on the New Zealand All-Blacks, recognized for longevity and success.

Winning is a secondary goal for now to beating complacency.

“We’ve tried to change it up. This year we studied the New Zealand All-Blacks, most successful sports team in the history of really teams, over 100 years they’ve had the highest winning percentage,” Smart said. “We took a deep dive. We took a six weeks. We took a title and a mantra from them and studied those things for six weeks because we don’t want complacency. They’ve done it better than anybody else, and we use that.”

Rankings might draw an eye roll from Smart, but recruiting analysts concur Georgia again has the prime incoming class in college football. And the Bulldogs might need it.

They need to replace quarterback Stetson Bennett, defensive tackle Jalen Carter, offensive tackle Broderick Jones, linebacker Nolan Smith, cornerback Kelee Ringo, running back Kenny McIntosh, tight end Darnell Washington and eight others who were drafted after winning the national title in January.

But opponents should be cautioned against a victory lap. The 2021 national championship team got there only after Georgia swiftly replaced 15 draft picks including five 2020 first-rounders.

There are 14 players on the coaches’ All-SEC preseason team and four, including Heisman Trophy candidate tight end Brock Bowers, were named AP Preseason All-Americans.

Smart loves recognition for his players. But with a locker room that includes juniors and seniors that won at least one national championship, he’s not pausing for any preseason ovations.

“I hope they all wanna eat off the floor,” Smart said, “or we are going to be in trouble.

“We had somebody speak to the team, and they said, ‘There’s two times you eat off the floor. Either the floor is really clean, or you’re really hungry,’ and we’re hoping were hungry as hell.”

–Field Level Media

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