ATHENS — Count ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit in the “see it to believe it” camp when it comes to measuring Kirby Smart and Georgia against Alabama.
“As we sit here right now …. Bama, LSU (are) just a little bit ahead of Georgia as we get ready for getting into the summer months,” Herbstreit said during a recent interview with On3.
Herbstreit’s offseason proclamation stands out from many others who have already anointed Georgia their preseason No. 1, but there are questions about the Bulldogs.
Smart said himself he was eager to see how this particular Bulldogs’ team works in the offseason with a new leadership nucleus in place.
It’s a fair question -- albeit one that many Georgia fans do not want to hear -- when one considers that two of the four players who have been arrested in driving-related incidents this offseason are team captains.
Smart also shared how, earlier this spring, he had to call two of his best defensive players into a meeting because he didn’t feel they were bringing the same intensity and hunger as they were the year before at that time.
The Bulldogs also lost 10 players to the NFL Draft, including game-changing defensive front players Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smart has said UGA will have to approach things differently with its defense front because he said he’s not sure the Bulldogs have any “trainwreckers” or “havoc makers.”
There is also question about how quickly and efficiently Georgia will get returning leading tackler Smael Mondon back from a lower body injury, and none of the Bulldogs’ returning quarterbacks have been tested under fire.
“They’ve lost so much, the culmination of the last two years,” Herbstreit said. “It’s just a reality when you win that many championships back to back, which we haven’t seen in so long.”
History is also not on Georgia’s side.
No team has three-peated since Minnesota in 1934-1935-1936, much less one from a team that has lost a record-24 NFL picks in two seasons including eight first-round selections.
“It’s not just a class from two years ago with Nakobe Dean and all of those (other) guys who were first round, five first-rounders that year,” Herbstreit said. “But then a lot of those guys who stepped in last year had a chip on their shoulder and they were anxious to prove to people that we can still play defense even though we lost those guys.
“Now, some of those guys are gone as well, and Stetson Bennett’s not there.”
Herbstreit is one of the best in the business at reading the field, and his game analysis is as accurate as it is entertaining.
But surely he has also noted Alabama is without its two best players from a year ago, too, with quarterback Bryce Young and outside linebacker Will Anderson moved on to the NFL.
Alabama has also lost two or more games in three of the past four years for the first time in his Tuscaloosa tenure.
Herbstreit however, implies that Saban has come back from massive reloads before ... while UGA’s team chemistry and leadership is in question.
Saban is a proven commodity, many of the Bulldogs’ players stepping into key roles are not.
“(Saban) has got the same energy he’s had since 2009 when he won his first title against Texas,” Herbstreit said. “He’s got great players like he had in ‘09, maybe better. He’s got a team that’s going to be upset, with a chip on their shoulder. As we sit here, May 31, it’s hard for me to not lean towards Alabama in the SEC.”
“(Alabama) would be a team I would not want to question.”
But apparently Georgia is when it comes to Herbstreit’s expert analysis.
Herbstreit, however, does not doubt Smart’s ability to get his team ready to play.
“To his credit, he found a way to get 18- to 22-year-old kids to buy into, ‘they doubt you, they don’t believe you,’ when they were a defending champ, (and) you know everyone believed in them.
“He’ll find a way this year to get his team mad at the world…. He’ll have a team, as always, the way they recruit, but will it come together to make a run to get all the way to the end? The chemistry has to come together, which they’ve had for two straight years.
“And also, can Beck be that guy? We know about his talent.”
Georgia, at the very least appears to have the most conducive regular-season schedule to post an undefeated mark.
Herbstreit said he’d re-evaluate in August, by which time more will be known about this Georgia team and its leadership.
As for Alabama, count Herbstreit among the many who are not ready to pass the torch to Smart and his Georgia football program.
He’ll have to see it to believe it.