ATHENS – When the College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday night, Georgia players were dispersed around their end of campus, leaving their facility and heading out for the night. Nobody appeared to be near a TV.
“We were all going our separate ways. I saw it on my phone,” star tailback Nick Chubb said.
And what’d he think? What did the team think?
“Not really any kind of emotion,” Chubb said with a shrug. “We saw it, and that was that.”
Georgia may be the new No. 1 team in the country, but a collective shrug is how coach Kirby Smart hopes his team treats it. Nothing has changed, goes the mantra. There are five weeks to go before it really matters, so just keep doing what got the Bulldogs to this point.
“It’s a big buzz around campus, so you definitely hear about it,” tight end Jackson Harris said. “But for us as a team it’s not something we’re focusing on. To us, it’s just noise that we try to avoid.”
Those are words, however. The first test for how this team is handling all this comes Saturday.
South Carolina brings in a good record (6-2) and owns a win over a ranked team: No. 20 N.C. State in a neutral-site season opener. But the Gamecocks’ 4 SEC wins have come against teams that are a combined 1-14.
Georgia was about a 24-point favorite as of Friday. Now it also has those lofty playoff rankings to serve as a potential distraction.
“We’ve dealt with a lot this year, just coming in 8-0. It’s nothing new,” Chubb said. “We’ve just got to keep our focus and what we have in hand. Just keep the way we’ve been playing and not really think about that.”
This game will mark the return of Will Muschamp, the second-year South Carolina coach who was a safety at Georgia in the 1990s. It will be the sixth time Muschamp has been the head coach against Georgia, but the first four came in Jacksonville, when he was at Florida, and the fifth was last year in Columbia, S.C.
But Muschamp pointed out he already has coached against his alma mater at Sanford Stadium – 22 years ago. His first job was as a graduate assistant at Auburn.
“At the end of the day, you’re loyal to the people writing your checks,” Muschamp said.
And right now that’s South Carolina, which two years ago had Smart on its radar. That played a role in Georgia power brokers in deciding to cut ties with Mark Richt, worried about letting Smart get away.
Now here is Smart, leading a Georgia team that can go 9-0 for the first time since 1982.
Georgia senior linebacker Davin Bellamy was asked, after the shellacking of Florida, whether this was the best team he had ever played on.
“I love my Chamblee team to death, but we weren’t this good,” Bellamy said of his high school team. “Never really been a part of a team like this.”