ATLANTA – Roquan Smith sat at his locker, his head down, speaking slowly. The star Georgia linebacker has been an upbeat leader for his team all year, and he tried to be again, talking about what must have been the most difficult loss of his college career.
But Smith’s frustration was obvious.
“It sucks. Knowing everything you’ve been through, and how close the game was. It was moments away from just being ours, and that play,” Smith said. “It sucks not sending these seniors out on top. There’s not much we can do to change that.”
The question now is whether Smith will be leaving with those seniors. The answer will not have long to wait.
The deadline to declare for the draft is Jan. 15. Smith is one of a handful of underclassmen who are thought to be mulling it over, and if he declares, he is a likely first-round pick.
“I haven’t thought about anything like that, and it’s not about me right now,” Smith said after the game on Monday. “It’s more so about these guys and everything they’ve been through.”
Junior cornerback Deandre Baker was also mum when asked about it after the championship game.
“I haven’t talked to coach [Kirby] Smart or anything about that,” Baker said.
Center Lamont Gaillard and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson are both juniors who also have not announced whether they will return.
Meanwhile, a decision could come quickly from sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason on whether he will transfer. The starting quarterback when this season began, Eason got hurt in the opener and then could only watch as Jake Fromm ran away with the job and nearly won a national championship. Five-star recruit Justin Fields also has signed to play for the Bulldogs.
Eason politely declined to comment on his decision when asked on Monday. Classes already have started at UGA. Eason would have to sit out a season if he transferred to another FBS school.
There also will be news on the coaching front, and it will be quick.
Smart now has the ability to hire a 10th full-time assistant coach, thanks to NCAA legislation. He might already have someone lined up, and if so could announce that as soon as Tuesday. Smart has not indicated what role he envisions for the next assistant.
He has confirmed that the new outside linebackers coach will be Dan Lanning, who had coached at Memphis the past couple of years. Lanning will replace Kevin Sherrer, who is leaving to become the defensive coordinator at Tennessee.
This all makes for a frenetic next few days. But it legitimately seemed far from the mind of Smith in the immediate aftermath of such a devastating loss.
“It sucks. Everything we’ve been through and just not being able to finish,” Smith said. “It sucks. I don’t know what to say about it. It sucks.”