Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)
Mackenzie Miles

Kirby Smart brings historically high expectations to Georgia football, small margin for error

ATHENS — Coaches will tell you there are always things to work on and there’s no such thing as a perfect preseason.

But the 2021 Bulldogs are off to a tough start in fall camp with key injuries at center as well as the receiving corps and secondary.

Coach Kirby Smart has spoiled Georgia fans with four straight Top 7 finishes — only the second time in history UGA has been so dominant over such a stretch.

Along with that, Smart has brought the highest expectations in program history with an unprecedented four-straight preseason Top 5 rankings.

That’s why the “normal” bumps, bruises and handful of injuries that most every program endures is more scrutinized at Georgia.

Specifically, the uncertainty surrounding injuries to Jalen Kimber and Jermaine Burton are most concerning.

Both are projected starters expected to play key roles in positions of great need, having already dealt with heavy attrition.

UGA is down four cornerbacks and seven defensive backs in the past year on account of NFL attrition and transfers, while five receivers have transferred out in the past year.

The center position is also a red flag. It has yet to be determined how capable second-year player Sedrick Van Pran is of handing the duties should the cast on Warren Ericson’s hand prevent him from performing his center duties.

Smart has brought great talent to Georgia and built an accomplished coaching staff, so the program is better equipped to handle turnover than most.

But the Bulldogs are competing at such an elite level — only Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma can rival the annual expectations — that being a little off could mean falling short of goals.

No doubt, Georgia opens the season against preseason No. 2 Clemson at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

For perspective on UGA’s high expections:

• Georgia hasn’t had four-straight finishes in the Top 7 since (1980-1983), with the incomparable all-time great Herschel Walker providing the power from 1980-82.

• Former UGA coach and AD Vince Dooley posted seven top 10 finishes in his 25 years as head coach, but only four outside of the three years Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to domination (1980-82).

• After Dooley’s retirement from the sideline following the 1988 season, Georgia posted just one Top 10 finish (1992) until Mark Richt became head coach in 2001.

• None of Dooley’s teams ranked in the Top 5 of the preseason Top 25. Only four were preseason Top 10 (1967, 1969, 1981, 1982).

• Richt posted four-straight Top 10 finishes from 2002-2005, and again in 2007 (No. 2), 2012 (No. 5) and 2014 (No. 9).

• Prior to Smart, Georgia was a preseason Top 5 team a TOTAL of three times — in 2004 and 2008.

NextWATCH: Georgia football could make critics eat their words in 2021
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