ATHENS — Kirby Smart wasn’t wrong when he was sizing up the number of national championships he’s won compared to the number of SEC championships he has been a part of.
With his time at Alabama and Georgia, Smart has won five national championships. He’s also won six SEC championships as well. Twice in his coaching career, he’s won a national title without winning the SEC, something that happened last year for the Bulldogs
“It’s tough to win an SEC championship. I’ve been part of this league for a long time,” Smart said. “I have almost as many national championships as I do SEC championships. They’re really hard to come by. We’re focused on LSU.”
Smart’s current players can vouch for that. Veteran safety Chris Smith has been a part of four SEC East-winning teams. But he still doesn’t know what it is like to celebrate at the end of said game, as the Bulldogs lost in 2018, 2019 and 2021.
For all that Georgia has accomplished with Smith on the roster, an SEC championship has been elusive. And that fact is why, even with a College Football Playoff berth likely already in the bag, Georgia is eager to go out and do something it has not yet accomplished.
“I’ve played in this game three times and haven’t been able to win so hopefully fourth times a charm,” Smith said. “We are going to put in the work and execute the game plan as best as possible to be out there and go out there and get a win.”
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Unlike past versions of this game, Georgia is a significant favorite in this game. The Bulldogs are a 17.5-point favorite against the Tigers and that number could grow if LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels is limited by an ankle injury he picked up against Texas A&M this past week.
For the second-straight season, Georgia enters this game with a 12-0 record. But this LSU team isn’t playing for a playoff spot like 2021 Alabama was. The Alabama team Georgia saw in 2018 entered the game unbeaten as did LSU in 2019.
Where this Georgia team ranks in comparison to those teams is up for debate. But this LSU team that Georgia will see on Saturday is easily the least impressive SEC West winner that Georgia has matched up with for an SEC championship game.
At times this year, we can say that Georgia has played down to its level of competition. That much was obvious against Georgia Tech, as it was in wins over Missouri and Kentucky this season.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that Georgia has played at its best in wins over Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee. LSU is much closer to that second group of teams than the first set.
The Bulldogs laying an egg against LSU would be surprising this week given the stage of this game and the public comments made by players.
“We won a national championship. We won the east, but I haven’t won an SEC Championship yet,” Warren McClendon said. “It is very important to me. It is very important for this team.”
Around the Georgia facility, numbers of the years Georgia has been to the College Football Playoff sit on the walls for all to see as they walk by. Players, whether it be McClendon or wide receiver Kearis Jackson, have referenced the fact that they want to add more to the walls.
Winning on Saturday against LSU would do that for this group. It would also help separate the accomplishments of the 2022 Georgia football team from that of the 2021 National Championship team.
Few would say this team was as talented as last season’s, what with the 2021 Bulldogs having 15 NFL draft picks on that team. But this team continues to find ways to win, often doing so in ways last season’s team wasn’t challenged.
“It’s more about checking a box. It’s not about last year’s team or a comparison,” Smart said. “It’s about that next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever. It’s an SEC Championship. You don’t belittle those. Those are hard to come by. They’re what you do what you do for.”
LSU won’t just roll over, especially coming off the 38-23 loss to Texas A&M last week. Despite that result, there is still plenty of talent on this team to possibly upset Georgia. It’s hard to take a team that has freshman Harold Perkins lightly given his excellent play this season.
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