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October 9, 2021 Auburn, Alabama - Georgia head coach Kirby Smart thanks to fans as he leaves after Georgia defeat Auburn in an NCAA college football game at JordanÐHare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama on Saturday, October 9, 2021. Georgia won 34-10 over Auburn. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Kirby Smart: No. 1 ranking ‘not a burden,’ reveals Georgia outlook from college football’s top spot

ATHENS — It was another day at the office for Kirby Smart in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Monday even if the rest of the world was looking at his Georgia football program in a different light.

Smart’s Bulldogs opened the week No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the 2008 preseason poll and the first time in-season since the 1982 Bulldogs led by Herschel Walker.

“It’s just a number, right?” Smart said at his press conference on Monday when the team’s No. 1 ranking was the No. 1 question asked. “I don’t see a plateau. The goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season, you always know that.

But to have an opportunity to do that, you have to be in the final four, and that’s the most critical part.”

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs look to take another step toward securing one of the four bids in the College Football Playoff when they play host to No. 11 Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (TV: CBS).

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The SEC East Division lead and the ability to control their path to an SEC Championship Game appearance will be on the line when Georgia (6-0, 4-0 SEC) clashes with the Wildcats (6-0, 4-0).

Kentucky is what the Bulldogs’ focus is on — not the No. 1 ranking.

“We won’t get caught up in that — we’ll let you guys write about it,” Smart said. “That’s not a burden we carry. The burden we carry is how we play.”

Georgia has been the most dominant team in the nation even before Alabama’s 41-38 stumble at Texas A&M last Saturday night opened the door for the Bulldogs to assume the top spot in the poll.

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The Georgia defense ranks No. 1 in scoring defense (5.5 points per game), total defense (201.2 yards per game) pass efficiency defense (85.22) and is fourth in rushing defense (64.2 yards per game).

Smart made it clear there is plenty of work to do in the practices this week, which will remain closed off to the media, the better to keep hidden injured player statuses.

In the meantime, the storylines for the game will build. Kentucky is off to its first 6-0 start since 1950, and the Wildcats feature the SEC’s top rusher in Chris Rodriquez (128 yards per game).

ESPN College GameDay and SEC Nation will be in Athens to heighten and hype the pregame festivities and shower the Athens community with attention.

Smart, however, will maintain his tunnel vision.

“The focus is on us like it always is,” Smart said. “It’s about what we do, and it will always be about what do. It has nothing to do with the outside world, the noise or the rankings.

“(Players) are going to hear it, regardless, (but) it’s what you control your thoughts on and what you put your priorities into,” he said. “I’m very honest with our team, and the way they handled things to this point. They’ve handled practice well, and they’ve handled leadership well.”

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ABOUT 2008

Mark Richt’s 2008 Georgia football team handled the preseason No. 1 ranking fine, they just didn’t win impressively enough to keep it.

To be fair, the Bulldogs held a slim edge in the voting from the start, garnering 22 first-place votes to Ohio State’s 21.

Quarterback Matt Stafford handed off to Knowshon Moreno and passed to then-freshman A.J. Green in a 45-21 season-opening win over Georgia Southern that apparently wasn’t impressive enough for the Bulldogs to stay at No. 1.

USC, then coached by Pete Carroll, jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 on the heels of a 52-7 road win at Virginia.

Georgia won its next two games but was unable to reclaim the No. 1 spot, ultimately losing to Alabama on Sept.26 by a 41-30 count at home.

ABOUT 1982

The 1982 Georgia Bulldogs jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 in the Nov. 8 poll after beating Florida by a 44-0 count.

Pitt, the previous No. 1 team, had lost on Nov. 6 to Notre Dame 31-16. SMU, which was No. 2, beat Rice 41-14.

Georgia stayed at No. 1 through the end of the 1982 season, beating Auburn (19-14) and Georgia Tech (38-18) to close out the regular-season campaign.

Those Bulldogs finished No. 4 after losing to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, 27-23.

ABOUT 2017

Georgia was ranked No. 1 in 2017, but that was by the College Football Playoff Committee, and it lasted two weeks.

Those Bulldogs opened the season 9-0 and were No. 1 in the Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 CFP rankings before a 40-17 road loss at Auburn dropped them to No. 7.

Georgia climbed back up to No. 3 in the CFP rankings and beat No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl (54-48, 2OT) before falling to Alabama in the CFP Championship Game (26-23, OT).