ATHENS — Kirby Smart, at 43 years old, is still young enough to remember what it was like to take the field in marquee environments as a Georgia football player.
That’s one reason why the Bulldogs head coach has turned athletic director Greg McGarity loose to schedule as aggressively as possible into the future. It’s led to future home-and-homes with the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Texas and UCLA.
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But there’s more to Smart’s method of madness. Smart, in his fourth year leading the program, looks into the future and sees a college football world where playing more elite competitions will make the risk worth the potential rewards.
“To get in the playoffs as the future goes, I don’t know if they’ll ever expand it, but I do think you will need a quality schedule to do that,” Smart said. “I think there will be two-loss (playoff) teams in the future; if they’ve got a really tough schedule they’ll be able to make it.”
Smart — along with many other college football analysts — believed last season’s two-loss Georgia team had a pretty good case even with a relatively weak non-conference slate that was anchored down by annual in-state scheduling albatross Georgia Tech.
Smart also knows the great players are drawn to play against great competition.
“If you’re going to recruit the finest players in the country out of your own state, and across the country, because our academic institution is so highly thought of, if I want to have the best players, I want to play the best teams,” Smart said. “They come to college to play big games. They don’t come to college, I would never name anybody, but they don’t want to play the little sisters of the poor. They want to play the best teams, so we want to go schedule the best teams.”
Georgia announced Tuesday a home-and-home with Florida State for the 2027-2028 seasons, but Smart said he’d schedule more sooner if he could.
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The Bulldogs are currently working fervently to find a major Power 5 opponent for a potential home-and-home in 2021 and 2023, but that’s easier said than done with the complexity of programs’ scheduling models.
“Unfortunately, you can’t schedule these games but seven to 10 years out and that’s so frustrating to me, because I can’t think seven to 10 years out, I’m trying think about tomorrow, and this year,” Smart said. “You’re having to schedule years in advance but we thought three Power-Five opponents – non conference – would not be groundbreaking, but it would be a new thing. I’m not afraid of that.
“You look at the NFL, I know those are different players, but they play 16 games in a season that are all good. There’s no cupcake in the NFL. They play back to back to back quality opponents.”
Smart said he wants to deliver the same quality product to Georgia football fans who, already, punt away a quality home game in Athens every other year to play Florida in Jacksonville.
“We want our fan base to get potentially what might be seven consecutive home games, non-conference, Power-5 opponents and we’re trying to get that lined up for them and play some good rivalries,” Smart said. “I think it’s going to help us in recruiting, I always do, and I like to play in Atlanta, too.”
Georgia opens what could be a reloading season in 2020 against Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and future games with Oregon (2022) and Clemson (2024) are also scheduled to be played in Atlanta.
“We’re not running from Power-5s; we think that’s going to be the lay of the land,” Smart said. “The fan, what they’re asking for and what they’re paying for tickets, they want to see those kinds of games. The SEC is brutal. I don’t think anyone would argue that. It’s the toughest league week in and week out, now you’re going to add three games on top of that.
“I think with 85 scholarships, if that remains, you can put a quality team together and play those kinds of teams.”
Smart also indicated that non-conference games in November are of great importance, as well, bringing the tradition of playing Georgia Tech the final game of the season into question.
“They’ve proven that later games in the year have more impact on who make the playoffs,” Smart said, “so if you can get a Power 5 team late in your schedule, I’m talking the last three or four weeks, you’ve got a chance to spike and send yourself into that conversation.”