ATHENS – Kirby Smart may have woken up in a new world Wednesday morning, but the man who leads the Georgia football program was doing his best to manage it.
A night earlier, Georgia was ranked the No. 1 team in the country by the committee that will in five weeks choose the playoff teams. It was a great honor, and Smart did what a coach normally does this early in the process: Downplayed it.
“Like we say all the time, it really means nothing right now,” Smart said. “It’s really nothing more than a distraction more than anything. And our kids realize that. They acknowledge that, and they understand that’s the way of the world, that’s the system we live in.
“It’s built to generate ratings and generate publicity for our sport. But our focus and attention is on South Carolina.”
Smart was speaking on the SEC coaches teleconference, during which he spent most of the time talking about the playoff ranking. It was the first time Georgia, since the rankings began in 2014, were ever No. 1 – or even in the top eight.
The ranking is another reflection of the praise and attention bestowed on Georgia (8-0) after its dominant start to the season. That’s something Smart said he and the coaches address with the players, including Sunday and Monday, and as they “see the need” throughout the season. The focus, Smart emphasized, remains on South Carolina.
“I keep repeating that, but I guess nobody believes us,” Smart said. “That maybe we’re just saying that and we all sit around and just pat ourselves on the back. That’s not what’s going on here. Our kids have been made aware, (and) it’s been a common theme for us throughout the year, that they’re smiling in your face. And that’s what people do.”
Of course, Georgia beat out Alabama for the No. 1 ranking. The Crimson Tide, the four-time national champions with Smart as their defensive coordinator from 2007-15, came in at No. 2 despite being ahead of the Bulldogs in the Associated Press and coaches polls.
So Smart was asked how he thought Nick Saban would use being No. 2 in the rankings. Smart chuckled slightly during his answer.
“I know him well. But to say how he’ll use it, I don’t really care to go about that,” Smart said. “I’ve got enough concerns going on over here, and managing my team. That’s where my focus is. I can’t comment on anything with him.”