In the first half of last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, Georgia looked like it would knock off powerhouse Alabama and win its first national title since the 1980 season.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Bama came out on top 26-23 thanks to the overtime heroics of true freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa.
The loss was tough to swallow for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who previously served under Nick Saban as Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2008-15. But he took solace in the defeat laying the foundation for future success for his Dawgs.
“In overtime we didn’t finish when we had to and Alabama did,” Smart told reporters after the loss. “Give them credit, but I think everybody can see that Georgia’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
In order to become the “force” that Smart dreams of, Georgia has to find a way to dethrone Alabama in the SEC.
With the talent that Smart has already assembled in his two and a half years on the job, the Bulldogs should have a legitimate shot at accomplishing that this year.
Securing 2018’s #1 recruiting class means that Georgia’s depth chart will be stocked with quality players, something that Alabama has benefited from during most of the Saban era.
That depth will come in handy at quarterback if sophomore Jake Fromm’s non-throwing hand isn’t completely healed before the season starts. If Fromm’s freak injury, which occurred on the Fourth of July, results in him missing any time, the Bulldogs will likely turn to true freshman QB Justin Fields, 247Sports’ #1 overall recruit in the nation.
During Georgia’s annual G-Day Game in April, Fields lived up to the hype with a dominant performance that even impressed Fromm.
“He did great,” Fromm said of Fields, via 247Sports. “He ran around, made a lot of plays. He did really well for his team and I’m excited to see where he’s going.”
As striking as Fields’ play has been, one particular intangible is what really has his coach excited.
“What I like most about him is he has really good demeanor,” Smart observed. “He doesn’t let the hot plays really affect him. He doesn’t let the low plays affect him. He continues to improve.”
As Smart’s young QBs grow, a major factor in their development will be whether or not sophomore RB D’Andre Swift steps up in place of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who were selected in the NFL Draft by the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns, respectively.
Replacing two NFL-caliber players is no easy task. But the Bulldogs’ backfield should be in good hands with Swift leading the way.
During his freshman year, Swift racked up 618 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 81 attempts. At 7.6 yards a clip, he was one of the country’s most explosive running backs. He also steadily contributed in the passing game, recording 17 catches for 153 yards and a score.
If he takes his game to the next level in 2018, Swift could find himself in the middle of the Heisman conversation come November.
That would likely put us on a collision course for another legacy-defining showdown between Smart and his former mentor, Saban.
After Alabama’s championship win over Georgia, Saban improved to 12-0 all-time against his former assistants. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the average score of those games is 38-11 in Saban’s favor. He isn’t just beating his former coaches, he’s embarrassing them.
But when you look at Saban’s loaded coaching tree and his past against them, something stands out: Smart just gave Saban his toughest battle out of any of his past assistants. If anyone is primed to overtake Saban, it’s Smart.
And with the gifted roster that Georgia will be trotting out on the field in 2018, Bama could be handing over the reins to the Bulldogs sooner than later.