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Kirby Smart and Georgia went 11-1 this season.

Does Georgia football have to beat LSU for 2019 to be a successful season?

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Does Georgia football have to beat LSU for 2019 to be a successful season?

Fair or not, Georgia came into the 2019 season with championship or bust expectations. The Bulldogs returned one of the top offensive lines, a veteran quarterback in Jake Fromm, a dynamic running back in D’Andre Swift and a defense brimming with young talent.

Sure, the Bulldogs may not have been the favorites or the most dominant team on paper. But for a program that hasn’t won a national title since 1980, few seasons had begun with as much hype and promise.

Now as we reach the conclusion, it’s worth looking back at what Georgia has done to this point and what it can do in the potential games ahead to deem this season a successful one.

But you should know before answering that Georgia head coach Kirby Smart doesn’t factor in the wins and losses when determining how successful a season was.

“I judge it on what you get out of the team and what you’re able to accomplish,” Smart said. “I’m really proud of what our team has done so far.”

To this point, the Bulldogs have already accomplished quite a bit. They won the SEC East for a third-consecutive season. It is just the fourth time since the SEC split into divisions back in 1992 that a team had won its division in three-consecutive seasons.

The Bulldogs were able to beat rivals Florida and Auburn as well as earn a marquee non-conference win over Notre Dame. All three of those teams are ranked in the top-15 of the College Football Playoff rankings. Only LSU and Ohio State accomplished a similar feat this season.

And the defense — which took a step back in 2018 — carried the team this year. The Bulldogs rank second in the country in rush defense, second in points allowed per game and surrendered just a single rushing touchdown on the season. The unit looked like one of the Alabama defense’s Smart used to coordinate.

“We’re all having fun,” defensive back Eric Stokes said. “You can see it in the locker room after every game. We’re having fun, turning on music. There’s just love here. And we love playing here right now.”

Most importantly, Georgia is still controlling its College Football Playoff fate. Should the Bulldogs win on Saturday, they would almost certainly be in the College Football Playoff. Fellow one-loss teams like Utah, Baylor and Oklahoma do not have that same luxury.

“Anytime you’re still playing for a championship, I’d say it’s a successful season,” senior tight end Eli Wolff.

But to get to this point, it hasn’t always been easy or fun to watch. The offensive line hasn’t lived up to their sky-expectations. The passing game struggled mightily, due in part to the departure of Fromm’s top-5 pass catchers from a season ago.

And there was the unfathomable loss to a South Carolina team that went 4-8. If Georgia were to lose on Saturday, the reason it would likely miss the College Football Playoff isn’t because of a defeat to LSU. It would be due to the fact that it has that awful 20-17 home-loss on its resume.

Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the season though is that it seemed clear Georgia wasn’t quite on the same level of Ohio State, Clemson and LSU. Yes, all three of those teams went unbeaten in the regular season, but it’s the way those teams looked throughout the year that might give some Georgia fans pause when wondering if the Bulldogs are among the elite teams.

The Bulldogs struggled against the likes of South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas A&M. A week after losing to Georgia by a score of 19-13, the Aggies were steamrolled by LSU, 50-7.

Other than the Georgia Tech game, at no point did Georgia look that dominant. Or like Ohio State did against Michigan. Or Clemson against the entire ACC.

Would beating LSU on Saturday definitively make 2019 —Smart’s fourth season at the helm — a surefire success? To many, probably not. Smart was brought here to win national championships. The Mark Richt comparisons are going to continue to exist for Smart and the program until it wins a national title.

In the movie Friday Night Lights, Billy Bob Thronton’s character explains, “There ain’t much difference between winning and losing. Just how the outside world treats you.”

If the Bulldogs win on Saturday it will be celebrated as a landmark win and that Smart has a turned Georgia into an elite program. A loss, and well the 1980 jokes continue into another year. More questions arise about the direction of the offense and Smart’s ability as a coach.

Winning the SEC is a goal for the Georgia football program every year. But doing it again on Saturday isn’t going to singularly determine whether 2019 was a success or failure. There’s a lot more that goes into answering that question than just one game against the No. 2 team in the country.

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