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Georgia Football

What Did UGA Football Learn in 2023 That Kirby Smart Can Use in 2024?

February 7, 2024
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ATHENS - Kirby Smart and UGA football are gearing up for the 2024 season already, but what did we learn in 2023?

What did we learn in 2023? More than anything that it isn’t OK to lose the wrong game. That’s been rare for Kirby and company in the regular season we’ve grown used to in college football. Georgia has only been eliminated from winning it all in the regular season once (2020) before the SEC Championship Game since 2016. 

Now there is seemingly even more value in winning in the SECCG. There’s not much value in playing in the game without winning it, however. But winning it will almost certainly sets the SEC champion up as the overall No. 1 seed in the CFP, and will give that team an automatic bye as a top-four ranked conference champion. 

Perhaps the No. 2 SEC team will always host the No. 12 team, which will be the dregs of college football (Oregon’s destruction of Liberty says hello).

We’ve entered a new time in the SEC and college football. On the whole, having 12 teams rather than four is likely a better outcome - likely, but not always. Consider that there was no reason for another team to be considered in 2020, 2021 or 2022. But there certainly was in 2023, and therein lies the lesson from 2023 - again - don’t lose the wrong game. 

In 2023, we learned the Dawgs could move on from Stetson Bennett and even Todd Monken. We learned that Georgia is really hard to deal with in the regular season. We learned that playing Nick Saban’s Alabama in Atlanta was an uphill climb for Kirby. 

We learned that the Big Ten is overrated. We learned that Missouri has come a long way, and that Florida State isn't close to being there yet. We learned that only Texas enters 2024 with the same coach they had in 2023's CFP. 

2024's transition started with the earthquake that was Nick Saban's departure from Alabama. 

In 2023 we also learned that the best team doesn’t always win it all. We also learned that sometimes although you are clearly one of the top four teams you don’t get invited to the dance because of whatever reason that can be pulled out of the air. 

 

 

In other words each year the rules for getting into the College Football Playoff changes… and that has been unfortunate, but we already knew that. Florida State didn’t, but there continues to be much for the ‘Noles to learn. 

As we move forward, however, there needs to be an acknowledgement that all conferences are not created equally. The ACC and Big 12 champions will not play the same level of game in their title games as the SEC will. Can we really say Michigan played a difficult foe in Iowa (the team that Tennessee skunked 35-0 with its backup quarterback) in the Big Ten championship game?

We can not. 

And yet later this year whoever wins the ACC and Big 12 will mosey on into the quarterfinals… as if they will be a top four team deserving of a bye into New Year’s. 

“Just win all your games” or “Win-the-SECCG-and-its-not-a-problem” guy is going to try to come off the top rope on this point. He’s probably ready to debate you about if a hog dog is a sandwich or not, too. 

Nuance can be challenging for some. 

These things are not the same, and that needs to be said over and over again. The SEC No. 2, say Alabama in 2024, should not be taking a backseat to the winner of the No. 7 Arizona-No. 16 Oklahoma State Big 12 Championship game - but those are the rules right now. 

Consider that in 2021, not only would Pitt have been in the quarterfinals while UGA played in the first round, but Baylor would have as well. Is that what we want? That’s what we are about to get. 



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If it sounds like I am complaining… just know that I am. 

On the field, Georgia is going to open the season as the betting favorite to win it all in 2024. And that’s the correct place for the Dawgs. This is about winning it all in 2024. It is hard to say that a 13-1 season isn’t a success. But Georgia left a national title on the field in Atlanta to Saban and the Tide, and while it is understandable to lose games against good teams… that’s not good enough considering everything that’s being poured into Kirby Smart’s program.

If the standard is the standard - then that means it is the standard all of the time. 

Its been rare that UGA hasn’t played well in big moments, but twice lately the poor performances have come against Nick Saban and Bama in the SECCG. At least part of that is because of how good Nick Saban and Alabama were - and they were quite good. Will that continue?

Nick Saban is gone now, and Georgia - having learned what it did in 2023 - should have its eyes on the prize. Losing to Alabama in T Town or losing in the SECCG won’t stop Georgia this winter - it will just set up the stakes for the CFP. 

That said - Georgia is going to be playing Alabama a lot more often in the future. Playing the Tide three times in a season isn’t going to be unheard of - although it could certainly be rare. Two of the last three times the two teams have played Georgia has been the better team and has lost. 

That’s on Kirby, and he’s going to have to fix that. But he gets to do that without Saban on the other sideline. Kirby has lost 16 games in his coaching career - a third of those have been to Saban. 

He’s going to enter 2024 with a team that’s clearly better than Alabama (Georgia is listed as a 3.5-point favorite at Bama). Saban’s Alabama teams were only favored by fewer than four points at home once since 2008. 

Once. 

That speaks to the program Saban built. It also speaks to the very real threat UGA is to the Tide this season and beyond without Saban against any more. Michigan may have gathered the confetti in January, but they are not in the same category as Bama and the Dawgs, and their mercurial coach has departed, too.

The road is wide open for Georgia in 2024. That’s what I learned 2023. 



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