HOOVER, Ala. — Kirby Smart has grown into one of the senior members of the SEC coaching fraternity, building Georgia football into a superpower in the process.
Veteran college football journalist and television analyst Tony Barnhart — aka, Mr. College Football — has taken note and shared his insights with DawgNation from the SEC Media Days this week.
Barnhart, a former Georgia beat writer himself, is as interested as anyone in the Bulldogs’ opening game at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 against Clemson in Charlotte, N.C.
“I think the Clemson game is huge, (because) if Georgia can find a way to beat Clemson, the schedule sets up really nicely for them,” Barnhart said. “You’ve obviously got to play Florida in Jacksonville and you’ve got to go to Auburn, I understand that, but if you beat Clemson you’re in really great shape.
“If you lose to Clemson, then all of your margin for error is gone, and you’ve got to run the table and probably beat Alabama in Atlanta. So I think there’s a lot riding on the Clemson game.”
Smart, entering his sixth year as the Bulldogs’ head coach — only Nick Saban (15th year) and Mark Stoops (9th season) have been at SEC schools longer — appears sharper than ever.
“You watch coaches evolve and watch them learn — new coaches don’t really know what they don’t know, and Kirby was no different,” Barnhart said. “It has been fun watching Kirby mature as a head coach.
“He had done the right apprenticeship before he came back to Georgia as the head coach. There’s no question he’s a better head coach today than when he started.”
Thus, Barnhart said, the Bulldogs’ program is as healthy as ever.
“Georgia football is in a really good place right now because several things have happened,” Barnhart said. “They are recruiting at a very, very high level, a championship level.
“Number two, I believe they just moved into a new $80 million football facility which will only enhance recruiting and show the commitment Georgia has,” he said. “A coach told me a long time ago, that a head coach’s job is to put his team in a position to win, if you do that on a consistent basis you will win your fair share, and I think that’s where Georgia is.
“I think Georgia is in a really good place right now, and this team is as talented as any I have seen in a really long time.”