ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart isn’t counting his chickens yet, but soon after the Bulldogs complete their likely championship run he’ll be counting his money.
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When it comes to rising stock, few in the coaching profession equal Smart, who figures to hit the jackpot in his contract negotiations at the end of this season.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (12-0) play at 4 p.m. on Saturday against Alabama (11-1) in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and are a touchdown favorite to win.
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The Georgia football team’s 45-0 win over Georgia Tech was as impressive as expected, the Yellow Jackets offering little more resistance than a bug on a windshield.
But what’s really raising Smart’s stock are the coaching hires around the SEC, as they are setting a new market standard.
One year after sending USC a thank-you card for JT Daniels, who helped Smart and the Bulldogs finish 2020 in the Top 10, the Bulldogs’ head coach might be sending another note to the USC athletic department appreciative of them setting the bar high in the coaching market.
The Trojans have reportedly cut a deal with former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley that will pay him $110 million over 10 years, in addition to buying him a $6 million home and other perks.
Brock Bowers: The freshman tight end had three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns and has emerged among the favorites for the FWAA Freshman of the Year Award. Trevor Lawrence won the first on, Memphis RB Kenny Gainwell the second one, and Alabama’s Will Anderson was last year’s winner. Bowers is the sole shining star in UGA’s limited pass game, taking short passes for long gains, and providing the sort of blocking Smart looks for out of his receivers.
Ladd McConkey: McConkey has gone from not being able to get on the field last season and redshirting, to emerging as the top pass-catching receiver. McConkey looked good replacing Kearis Jackson on punt returns when Jackson took a hit to the rib and asked out of the Georgia Tech game. McConkey has great quickness in the open field and looks sure-handed catching passes and punts.
Stetson Bennett: Smart likes to talk about Bennett proving people wrong knowing fully well it starts with him. Smart had Jamie Newman, JT Daniels, D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck ahead of Bennett on the depth chart over the past two years. Now that Bennett is in place, it’s his job to lose, and that seems unlikely with Smart stumping for him to win the Burlsworth walk-on award.. Bennett was 14-of-20 passing for 255 yards and 4 TDs against Georgia Tech. Bennett looked comfortable taking his time to pick out receivers.
Kenny McIntosh: McIntosh ripped off a 59-yard run, giving him the longest run from scrimmage two of the past three seasons despite his extremely limited workload. McIntosh also continues to look good catching passes. At some point, McIntosh’s workload figures to increase.
Nakobe Dean: Dean, who had 6 tackles and 3 QB hurries to lead the Georgia defense on Saturday, was asked about Jordan Davis’ Heisman Trophy campaign. In truth, Dean is just as deserving of that sort of recognition, and would likely be getting a bigger publicity push from Georgia if he was a senior.
Dan Lanning: Three cheers for the third year of defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who was named one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top college football assistant coach. Lanning’s defense — he calls the plays, but Smart and Will Muschamp are involved — leads the nation in scoring defense and total defense.
Jamon Dumas-Johnson: Who is this kid? Every time he gets on the field, he makes plays. Dumas-Johnson made four tackles and had a sack against Georgia Tech. One of the downsides of UGA’s closed practice policy is not getting to see a player like this develop.
Todd Monken: It’s fair to say Monken is as deserving, if not more so, of Broyles Award recognition when one considers the hand he has been deal. Smart has talked about the revolving door at receiver — the top three pass catchers didn’t have a catch last season! But on top of it Monken has to take the RB rotation Dell McGee gives him, and play the quarterback the head coach ultimately chooses, which can and has changed from time to time. Monken, with his brilliant schemes and play calling, has made it look easier than it is.
Daijun Edwards: It was great to see Edwards break off a 23-yard run and get 6 carries. Georgia fans should hope this talented young back returns to the program in what could once again be a crowded backfield if Zamir White chooses to stay another season.
Broderick Jones: Smart paid Jones the ultimate compliment when he said he wasn’t worried about the left tackle position, when asked if Jamaree Salyer might still be out. Jones is showing everyone why he was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school, starting to reach his appreciable ceiling.
JT Daniels: Daniels didn’t do much but hand off on his series against Georgia Tech. Hard to improve your stock without real game reps.
Adonai Mitchell: Mitchell was only targeted twice, but he dropped a pass and gained only 9 yards on his other opportunity. Not much work to go around in the UGA receiving corps, so Monken tries to spread it out — seven receivers with one catch, two with two and Bowers with three.
Quay Walker: Walker has had a great season and looks every bit the part of future NFL linebacker. But it appeared to be an “ouch” moment when the Georgia Tech tight end ran by him for a 40-yard reception.