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Kirby Smart better against top coaches than national media seems to think
Kirby Smart is by no means a perfect coach. He’s made his fair share of mistakes, such as the fake punt call against Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.
The criticisms of the Georgia offense under Smart have certainly been fair. Add in the struggles against Alabama and you can see why Smart has his detractors.
In that way, he’s somewhat like Russell Westbrook. His deficiencies often get talked about more often than what he does well. Like Westbrook, Smart does a lot of things really well.
It’s why he came in as the No. 7 coach in CBS Sports’ latest coaching rankings. And yet, that still feels a little low.
“We’re starting to see our voters reach the point where Kirby needs to show them more,” Tom Fornelli wrote. “He advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship in his second season with the Bulldogs and has recruited at an elite level. But the program has stalled a bit in recent seasons and failed to win the SEC East in 2020.
Nick Saban was the obvious No. 1. Dabo Swinney’s multiple national titles put him in the No. 2 spot. But it’s that next tier where you could make a case Smart has an argument over some of his contemporaries.
Lincoln Riley came in at No. 3. Ryan Day was No. 4. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame checked in at No. 5. Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M slotted in at No. 6.
All four of those names all have either multiple playoff appearances or a national title in Fisher’s case.
But that same group of coaches also have a losing record against the coaches ranked ahead of them. Riley is 0-1 against Saban. Day is 1-2 against Alabama and Clemson
Kelly is 1-4 against those ranked higher than him, while Fisher is 5-9, though 0-4 at Texas A&M.
Against Riley, Day, Kelly and Fisher, the four coaches ranked ahead of Smart, the Georgia coach is 4-0. If Georgia can beat Clemson this year, he moves to 5-0 against the five coaches directly ahead of him in the rankings.
The only blemish on Smart’s record is going 0-3 against Saban. The Alabama head coach is 13-2 against the next six coaches in CBS’ rankings.
Related: UGA apparently still has something to prove vs. Clemson
Perhaps Smart’s record goes to show just how razor-thin the margins are at the top of the college football world. Smart was No. 6 in CBS’ rankings last season. Fisher came in at No. 7. Texas A&M went 9-1 in 2020, with a win over Florida. Georgia went 8-2 with a loss to Florida being the only real difference between the two teams.
Outside of Fisher and Texas A&M, Riley, Day and Kelly don’t have the task of facing an Alabama team and Saban before getting to the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Ohio State have clearly been head and shoulders better than their respective conferences. But that hasn’t translated into similar success in the College Football Playoff to this point.
Riley is 0-3 in College Football Playoff games, while Ohio State is 1-2 under Day.
Kelly is undoubtedly in a tougher job at Notre Dame and he deserves to be commended for where he’s gotten that program. But when matching up with the big boys, Notre Dame is not quite on the same level as Georgia and the other elite programs.
Smart is no longer the shiny new coach, as he’s entering his sixth season at Georgia. The 52-14 record he’s compiled is nice, but until he wins a championship — or at least returns to the College Football Playoff — it’s hard to see him climbing in the rankings.
The 2021 season presents as good a chance as any for Smart to do so. Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M will all be breaking in new starting quarterbacks. Clemson will have DJ Uiagalelei, who has two career starts to his name.
Georgia brings back JT Daniels, who showed real promise in the final four games of the 2021 season.