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UGA is favored to win the SEC East for a third-straight year.

Former UGA great doesn’t see ‘realistic threat’ to Bulldogs in SEC East

Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.

One of the prominent discussions among college football fans during the offseason has involved expectations for the SEC East.

Georgia has won the division two-straight years with ease. Yet there’s been some chatter that the task of accomplishing that feat again for a third-consecutive season could be made more difficult due to the improvements some of UGA’s SEC East rivals — primarily Florida, which begins the season N0. 8 in the Associated Press’ Preseason Top 25.

Gators coach Dan Mullen certainly seems to be a believer in his team’s chances. However, he also acknowledges that taking the next step as a program will be challenging.

“I don’t think people expected a whole lot out of the team last year,” Mullen told the Orlando Sentinel. “To go from being down to having a pretty good year is big, but to go from 10 wins to 11 shows consistency in winning and getting ready to compete for championships at a consistent level. That’s a lot harder than having one great season. I think a lot of our guys, it’s critical that they understand how hard they have to work. If you’re not getting better, you’re not gonna expect to see better results.”

Former UGA All-American Jon Stinchcomb is skeptical of Florida’s ability to take that next step. Stinchcomb said — as part of DawgNation’s Own the East season preview series (linked above) — that he doesn’t see a “realistic threat” to the Bulldogs in the division this season, including Florida.

Stinchcomb’s opinion was arguably validated by the Gators season-opening 24-20 win vs. Miami Saturday night.

Florida managed to sack Hurricanes quarterback Jarren Williams 10 times, but Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks — who had two interceptions — wasn’t sharp.

After the game, Mullen took some responsibility for some of Franks’ struggles.

You know, the last interception, he gets hit and, you know, I’m trying to think that shows what we’re trying to do, putting the game in his hands,” Mullen said. “I thought we had something there — we didn’t — he gets hit trying to throw it away. That’s on me.”

Of course, early-season outcomes are often misleading. And it’s certainly possible that Florida will be a better team by the time it plays UGA in Jacksonville in November.

However, most UGA fans didn’t need to see a shaky performance from Florida against Miami to doubt the Gators’ ability to threaten the Bulldogs.

UGA used a second-half surge to coast to a 19-point victory against Florida last season, and won 42-7 vs. the Gators in 2017. Plenty of Bulldogs fans expect more of the same this season.

In fact, UGA has won all its division games the last two seasons by two touchdowns or more — a level of success that could potentially spoil some fans.

Regardless of whether Florida — or any other division rival — improves enough to truly put a scare in UGA, Stinchcomb, who was a member of the first UGA team to win the SEC East in 2002, believes that Bulldogs fans should  appreciate the division wins.

“We talked in 2002 about having to break through a ‘glass ceiling’ because Georgia hadn’t won the SEC since Herschel was playing,” Stinchcomb said. “Now it’s a perennial occurrence because the bar has been raised.”

It’s true that fan expectations have evolved. When Stinchcomb’s 2002 team broke a 20-year drought by winning an SEC championship it was viewed as a phenomenal accomplishment. Yet many fans are restless for more than just a trip to Atlanta and a conference title this season.

Stinchcomb credits UGA coach Kirby Smart’s success through three seasons as the reason.

“When Coach Richt was fired, Coach Smart comes in,” Stinchcomb said. “We were talking about how 10 wins isn’t enough, ‘we want more,’ and and Smart has brought more.”

Of course, Smart would say there’s still more to UGA he wants to bring — including a national championship. That’s the motivation behind the “Do More” motto that has been an ever-present staple of Smart’s language through the preseason.

Yet the likely first step for UGA on the quest to “do more” this season will also include doing what the Bulldogs have already done: finding a way to beat Florida and the rest of its SEC East foes once again.

Previous Own the East season preview stories:

Heisman candidates Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift could be UGA championship catalyst