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Steve Colquitt/UGAAA
Kirby Smart is 32-10 in his first three seasons at Georgia.

National analysts differ on if Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a top-10 college football coach

It’s been well established that Kirby Smart is a very good college football coach for Georgia football. The Bulldogs are 32-10 under Smart and have quickly become one of college football’s elite programs. But how does Smart stack up against the rest of the nation’s college football coaches?

Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of The Athletic both released their rankings of the top 25 college football coaches in the country. They both had Alabama’s Nick Saban at No. 1 and Dabo Swinney as a very close second. But the two did have a difference in opinion of where Smart ranks compared to his counterparts.

Mandel ranked Smart sixth among all college football coaches. Interestingly the two coaches ranked directly ahead of Smart by Mandel are Brian Kelly of Notre Dame and Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma. Georgia beat both of those teams in the 2017 season, as the Bulldogs beat Notre Dame 20-19 in what was Jake Fromm’s first career start. Georgia then beat Riley’s team 54-48 in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national title game.

Feldman had Smart lower, as he ranked Smart as the 12th best coach in college football. On Feldman’s list, he was behind guys like James Franklin, Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh.

Feldman did acknowledge that Smart is poised to move up his list, should Georgia have a strong 2019 season.

“Smart’s built a recruiting machine in Athens, and he seems primed to move up this list quite a bit. After opening with an 8-5 (4-4 SEC) season, they’ve since dominated the SEC East and are 14-2 in league play the last two years,” Feldman wrote. “They also came within a sniff of the national title a year ago. His team has given Bama fits the past two years but also has been blown out by three touchdowns against Auburn and LSU.”

The No. 12 spot is probably a little too low for Smart, but Feldman does make a point in that Georgia has had a 20-point loss in each of Smart’s three seasons at Georgia. That doesn’t happen to Riley, Saban — the national championship game notwithstanding — or Swinney.

Conversely, Smart has elevated Georgia in his first three seasons at the school. He’s won the SEC East the past two seasons and nearly won a national title in 2017. Smart is also perhaps the best recruiter in the country, as the Bulldogs are the only team in the country to sign three consecutive top three recruiting classes.

And to Feldman’s point, Smart has Georgia in position to have another strong season in 2019. The Bulldogs bring back the likes Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift and perhaps the best offensive line in all of football. Georgia’s defense is loaded with former 5-star talents, including edge rusher Nolan Smith. He was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle.

Smart will also get a chance to pick up wins over two more top-10 coaches in 2019, as Georgia is set to play Notre Dame again, as well as Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M. Georgia does get both opponents at home, as UGA plays Notre Dame on Sept. 21 and Texas A&M on Nov. 23 in Athens. The Bulldogs will also be the favorites to meet Alabama once again in the SEC championship game.

Smart is certainly a top-10 coach, and having him on the fringes of the top-5, like Mandel does, feels fair. Another strong season — IE College Football Playoff run — could vault him into the clear No. 3 coach in the country behind Swinney and Saban.

Georgia begins its season on Aug. 31, when the Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt.

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