Coach Kirby Smart: ‘Natty’ just a matter of time for Georgia

ATHENS — The narrative has been chasing around Kirby Smart like a relentless pass-rusher all summer and it has stayed after him into Week 1 of the season. It’s understandable, then, if Georgia’s football coach has decided now to run right at it.

That was Smart’s approach Tuesday when he was hit up again with the “when are you going to win a natty” question in his post-practice Zoom call with reporters.

“Well, it has to be coming. Right?” Smart said when asked why he feels certain a national championship is coming Georgia’s way. “If it’s not coming, then what are we doing?”

Smart gave a similar answer to a similar question recently to Ryan McGee and Marty Smith on the SEC Network’s Marty & McGee show. The subject will come up again a time or two-dozen between now and Saturday’s season opener against Clemson (7:30 p.m., Channel 2 Action News).

That’s because Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980, or 41 years. The Bulldogs claim two “consensus” national championships, including the 1942 team that went 11-1 and beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Georgia was bestowed non-consensus national titles in 1946 (11-0), 1927 (9-1) and the 1968 (8-1-2).

Since their last one, the Bulldogs played for national championships in 1982 and 2017. Smart led Georgia to the national title game in his second season, only to fall to his former Alabama team in overtime.

Though he stopped short of guaranteeing anything, Smart remains confident the Bulldogs will play for more titles.

“I don’t look at it in perspective of when,” Smart said Tuesday. “I look at in the perspective of what’s important now, what are we doing now? I know the people in this organization, I know the administration, I know the people in this state, I know the people that love Georgia and the energy and enthusiasm they have. So, it’s always long overdue, right?

“I don’t care if you won one three years ago, it’s overdue. For me, that’s the end game, that’s the goal, that’s what you’re always trying to work towards. It doesn’t make it a successful season or a failure if you don’t. I just don’t look at things that way. I don’t let that control my thought process in my life. But I certainly pursue excellence and that’s what excellence is.”

There are others who believe it’s just a matter of time for the Bulldogs. That includes the coach of the team they are playing Saturday.

“Georgia’s a team that’s good enough to win the whole thing,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who has won two of the last four national titles and played in each of the six College Football Playoffs. “Looking at them, it’s easy to see why a lot of people have picked them to win the national championship.”

ESPN GameDay analysts Lee Corso and David Pollack picked the Bulldogs to win the national title during the show’s national broadcast this past Saturday. The AJC’s Mark Bradley also tabbed Georgia to win it all.

The No. 3 Tigers and No. 5-ranked Bulldogs will face off Saturday in Charlotte in the Duke’s Mayo Classic. It’s just the fourth time since 2000 that there has been a Top-5 matchup in a college football season opener.

“So, these are rare, rare, rare moments that you have games like this,” Swinney pointed out Tuesday.

But both coaches point out that neither team will either win or lose a title on Saturday. There will be another 11 regular-season games, at least, if the unrelenting pandemic will allow.

No matter the outcome, the “when’s Georgia gonna win a natty” narrative will likely chase Smart and the Bulldogs into the next week’s game against UAB.

Bring it on, Georgia’s sixth-year coach says.

“Every game is a measuring stick, right?” he said. “You measure yourself every game on how you perform and how you play. It’s no different in this game. I mean, it will be a national measuring stick for everybody else to say ‘Georgia is here’ or ‘Georgia’s gone.’ I acknowledge that; I understand that. But that’s not going to change how we prepare for this game. It’s not going to change how we prepare for the next game. It’s life. It’s what the world is made out of. You’re judged based on your performance right now.”