ATHENS — Kirby Smart is all about winning the next game, but he knows that to keep his Georgia football program atop the college football world his vision must go wider and deeper.

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs must beat No. 4 Ohio State when the teams meet at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to keep this season’s championship quest alive.

But Smart and his staff, in addition to preparing his team for the game, must also manage a fluid Georgia football roster amid these unprecedented times of immediate eligibility for transfers and NIL inducements.

The Bulldogs went 13-0 this season despite losing 15 players to the NFL draft and 13 more in the transfer portal.

And, while UGA didn’t land any transfers last year, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams was a player Georgia pursued in the portal before USC won out, and Stetson Bennett chose to return to the Bulldogs and lead a 13-0 season.

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There were other players Georgia looked at, but Smart has been clear that he will be extremely selective with who he brings into UGA.

“We called and recruited several guys that fit our criteria,” Smart said. “Number one, need. Number two, culture. Number three, we knew something about them out of high school. They’d been on our campus. But we didn’t get any of those guys.

“So it wasn’t a philosophy (not to sign any transfers). It was more of that’s the way it played out.”

The process

“We have a process that we follow, so our process is step by step,” Smart said on Wednesday. “There’s a day in the month of each calendar month that I go through and say, okay, it’s time to do this; it’s time to have this conversation.

“It’s time to gather this information. It’s time to educate our players on this in this process. I think communication is the key on that.”

It’s fair to say Smart has established himself the King of College Football Roster Management after his successful reload after losing 15 players to last year’s NFL draft.

There was no guidebook or experience that could have prepared Smart for this drill, and his ability to handle it better than any other coach in college football has proven to be a separator for Georgia football.

Going Pro

The Bulldogs figure to lose several more players this year, with juniors like Jalen Carter, Broderick Jones, Kelee Ringo and Darnell Washington all projected in the first round by some analysts.

RELATED: Georgia projected to set first-round pace in NFL again

Other UGA underclassmen will also decide if they will turn pro early, while some might contemplate entering the transfer portal.

Smart and his staff, meanwhile, must carefully monitor the roster and be ready to bring in a transfer where there’s an immediate need.

Of course, there’s also early signing day on Dec. 21, leading to a personnel shuffle like never before in the college ranks.

“I think you’re juggling a spreadsheet that I keep, we keep, that has what each guy’s doing and where their eligibility is,” Smart said. “And over here where each guy potentially that could come in. And you’re trying to match inflow and outflow is essentially what you’re trying to do.

“NIL is a part of that, but NIL is not -- it may be dangled as a carrot at some places, but really it’s about do you want to be part of this team?”

Education factor

There’s also the matter of earning a degree, something the following nine players, past and present, will do on Friday:

• OLB Robert Beal

• DB Payton Bowles

• TE Davis Day

• QB Jake Fromm

• OT Warren McClendon

• WR Nathan Priestley

• TE Brett Seither

• S Christopher Smith

• DL Tramel Walthour

Returning players certainly have their sights set on adding championship rings and wisely increasing their NFL value, too.

Georgia All-Americans Jalen Carter and Chris Smith. (AP Photo/Dawgnation)

Player development

“Do you want to grow and get better? Do you want to get a chance to do what Devonte Wyatt did?” Smart said he asked his players, noting how Wyatt went from a third-round talent to a first-round pick last year by returning for the 2021 season.

“Do you want a chance to do what Chris Smith did? Do you want to have a chance to do what Jordan Davis did? Do you want to have a chance to do what Quay Walker did?” he said, noting more Bulldogs’ players that enjoyed tremendous growth and increased value as seniors.

“So there’s great opportunities to move from a late-round draft pick with your grade to an early-round draft pick.”

Smith is one of Smart’s greatest success stories and arguably the most valuable player over the past two years with his momentum-turning plays in key games.

Smith and projected top-five pick Jalen Carter were UGA’s two unanimous All-Americans this season, but more importantly, two of the more clutch players.

It was Smith’s Pick-6 that swung the 2021 opening game with Clemson that launched the national championship season.

Earlier this month, Smith’s alert play to return a blocked field goal 96 yards changed the momentum early in the SEC Championship Game.

Smith will, no doubt, be one of four permanent captains and he improved his strength, speed and draft stock this season.