Kirby Smart has a chance to answer a major question if Georgia football can get an SEC West road win
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Kirby Smart downplays Georgia football SEC West struggles
ATHENS — Kirby Smart has accomplished just about everything a coach can in his first three-plus years on the job. He won the SEC in his second season, as well as a College Football Playoff game. He’s 3-1 against Auburn, Florida and Tennessee, three of Georgia’s biggest conference rivals.
There are only three things Smart is yet to do in his time at Georgia: Win a national championship, beat Alabama and — oddly enough — win a road game against an SEC West opponent. The first two are understandable, as Dabo Swinney is the only coach in the country to accomplish both feats since Smart got things started in 2016. Ed Orgeron could join him should the LSU Tigers win the national title this year.
It’s that third task that Smart can cross off this week, as No. 4 Georgia visits No. 12 Auburn. But in Smart’s three previous tries at winning against an SEC West opponent, it’s not like the Bulldogs have been done in by questionable officiating, or fluky plays. Each of the three previous attempts, Georgia has lost by at least 20 points.
In 2016, Ole Miss rolled up 45 points on Smart and Georgia on its way to a 45-14 win. The following year, Georgia went into Jordan-Hare Stadium as the No. 1 team in the country. The Bulldogs lost 40-17. Last year Georgia went into LSU and the Tigers ran up and down the field on their way to a 36-16 victory.
So are these events all one-offs, or is it indicative of something more significant?
“I would chalk it up to good teams. At the end of the day, it’s good football teams, good football programs,” Smart said. “The atmospheres aren’t really any different than playing on the East. I would say the level of talent and the teams we’ve played have been pretty good. Just haven’t figured out a way to win one. We’ve got to do that.”
Winning on the road in the SEC is never easy. Smart has said it hundreds of times as Georgia’s head coach and he’ll continue to say for as long as he remains in that position. And there’s a reason the SEC West is the best division in all of college football.
But the 2016 Georgia team went 8-5 — compared to Ole Miss’ 5-7 — and beat Auburn at home that season. The Auburn loss in ’17 was Georgia’s only loss prior to falling to Alabama in the national championship game. Last year’s defeat to LSU also proved to be a one-off, as it was Georgia’s only regular-season defeat.
Senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett was asked about the 2017 Auburn game, one in which it seemed like the Georgia offense was just overwhelmed while the defense was worn down by Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
“I just remember it being really loud there, the atmosphere was wild. I know that played a big part in us taking that loss,” Barnett said. “With that said, there were also things we could’ve done better in that game. The atmosphere at Auburn is extremely electric.”
Mark Webb and Monty Rice had another word for the 2017 game: Rough
Just weeks after the 2017 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Georgia beat Auburn by three touchdowns. That results makes Georgia’s inability not just to beat an SEC West foe outside of the state of Georgia all the more curious.
Of the three previous games, only Ole Miss was favored to beat Georgia. This week, the Bulldogs are a 3-point road favorite Auburn. In 2017, Georgia was a 2.5-point favorite before losing by 23 points. And as ESPN’s Chris Fallica points out, top-5 teams favored on the road by a field goal less against teams outside of the top 10 — Auburn is No. 13 in the AP Poll — the favorite is just 2-8.
So history really isn’t on Georgia’s side this weekend.
And if Smart isn’t able to take down Auburn this time, the next SEC West road foe isn’t all that much easier. Georgia’s first SEC game of the 2020 season is a Sept. 19 trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on the Crimson Tide.
Georgia football jumps Alabama in College Football Playoff rankings for week 12
Georgia and Alabama are both 8-1. Alabama’s loss came against the No. 1 team in the country in LSU. Georgia’s loss came against the 4-6 South Carolina Gamecocks. And yet, the College Football Playoff committee sees Georgia as the better team, based on the Week 12 College Football Playoff rankings.
Georgia came in at No. 4, making them the top one-loss team in the country. The top three teams are LSU at No. 1, Ohio State at No. 2 and Clemson at No. 3. Alabama came in at No. 5.
The big mover this week was Minnesota, who jumped from No. 17 to No. 8. Rob Mullens, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee chairman, said the difference was Georgia’s wins over No. 11 Florida and No. 16 Notre Dame. Alabama does not have a win over a ranked team in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Georgia being slotted over Alabama further proves that Georgia does still control its own fate. If it is able to win out, which would include a win over No. 1 LSU, the Bulldogs will be in this year’s College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs have another chance to add to their resume this week, as they play No. 12 Auburn. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS.
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- WATCH: Georgia football dazzles in highlight video, championship moments on offense and defense
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