National media puts pressure on Kirby Smart to beat Alabama in 2021 SEC Championship

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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

Kirby Smart has done just about everything right for Georgia in the 2021 season. The Bulldogs went 12-0 thanks to the best defense in the sport and the most potent offense of his tenure at Georgia.

The Bulldogs have been the clear top team in college football this season, holding the No. 1 ranking in every College Football Playoff ranking. Georgia once again came in as the No. 1 team in Tuesday’s rankings.

Related: College Football Playoff rankings Week 14: Georgia holds steady in penultimate rankings

Based on the strength of Georgia’s regular season, many assume the Bulldogs are in the College Football Playoff regardless of what happens.

“Before we fully move on to next Saturday, let’s take a moment to appreciate what Kirby Smart and Georgia just accomplished,” Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic wrote. “It is not easy to go undefeated in this sport, and it’s even harder to do it in the SEC.”

Of course, Georgia has a very big game this weekend. The Bulldogs will take on No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide. The game comes with obvious playoff implications, given Alabama’s less than steady footing entering the game.

The Crimson Tide likely needs this game more within the context of this season, as a loss to the Bulldogs could end its hopes of repeating as national champions.

“If the Bulldogs defeat the Crimson Tide for the first time in Kirby Smart’s tenure, they’ll be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs,” ESPN’s Mark Schlabach wrote. “I’m guessing the Tide would be out with two losses and no conference title, especially after they looked rather ordinary in their last three SEC games, close victories over LSU, Arkansas and Auburn.”

The game though also means a good bit to Smart. He’s 0-3 against Alabama and Nick Saban since taking over Georgia, despite holding halftime leads in all three games.

There’s already a narrative being built about Smart’s inability to this point to beat Alabama. Should the Bulldogs fall again on Saturday — this time they’re favored to win the game — and those saying Smart can’t beat Saban will only get louder.

“If Smart can’t slay the dragon with this team that includes a generational defense and the demonstrable ability to dismantle the opposition with surgical precision, “not winning the big one” will stick to him no matter where he goes from here,” Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports wrote.

Smart downplayed those past games against Alabama earlier this week. He also firmly stated his desire to win this week, even with a playoff spot likely locked up.

And it isn’t so much because it’s Nick Saban on the other sidelines but rather because winning the SEC championship is one of Georgia’s annual goals. Under Smart, Georgia has only done that one time.

“I’ve said all my career that to win SEC championships is almost just as hard, because the years I spent at Alabama you could say that winning the SEC Championship was just as hard as trying to win a National Championship, and it’s one of our goals,” Smart said. “We want to put it on this wall in here, and to do that, you’ve got to win the SEC. That’s what we’re focused on.”

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