Kirby Smart knows college football is going to be a different beast this coming season. With an expanded SEC and a 12-team College Football Playoff, he expects this season to be as competitive as ever.

One of the more interesting side effects of an expanded playoff field will be the importance of conference championship games. The four highest-ranked conference champions earn a first-round bye, providing teams an extra week of rest.

But there is a drawback of potentially losing an extra home game. The first round of the College Football Playoffs will be played on campuses, where as the quarterfinals will be at bowl venues.

For example, had there been a 12-team College Football Playoff last season, Georgia would’ve hosted Ole Miss in a first-round game at Sanford Stadium.

“I think these conference championship games are going to be really critical. Because there are going to be teams that are playing that are already in win or lose,” Smart said in an interview with Paul Finebaum. “And there is going to be a team maybe playing their way in with how they play. It’s going to make things very interesting. Do people start holding people out for byes and home games in the playoffs?”

This will be the first season where there are not divisions in the SEC. The Bulldogs will no longer have to win the SEC East, but instead be one of the top two teams in the conference based on record.

That could be tricky this season, as the Bulldogs have SEC road games against Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs also host rivals Tennessee and Auburn in Sanford Stadium.

While Smart is mindful of a more difficult schedule, he’s not all that worried about the SEC championship game. If Georgia gets there, he knows his team will be ready for the opportunity.

The game means too much to the program.

“Too much pride in winning an SEC championship. Too hard to come by,” Smart said. “We’ve had two national championships but we’ve also had two SEC championships. So we’ve had equal numbers of those. That’s hard to do. It’s hard to win an SEC championship. I know at our place we take a lot of pride in that. We want to win a championship.”

The new playoff format should help Georgia moving forward. The Bulldogs missed the College Football Playoff last season because of a loss in the SEC championship game to Alabama. The Bulldogs similarly were knocked out of playoff contention in 2018 and 2019 after losing in the SEC championship game.

Moving forward, the game will likely be the difference between a bye week and potentially a home playoff game.

There is some worry about the wear-and-tear impact of added games, as no one yet knows how the extended season will impact players. But you can bet Smart and Georgia will handle it as well as anyone.

“Coaches are already talking about it across the country,” Smart said. “Are you gonna practice different? It’s going to be a longer season. Are you gonna hold back more?”