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The Bulldogs are back!

By Walter Geiger I have consciously refrained from writing about UGA football this year because, after the fast start, I did not want to jinx them. Now, after close observation of the 13-2 season that ended in overtime in the national title game, I can tell you for certain that the Bulldogs are back. Under former coach Mark Richt, the Dogs teased. They were up and down. Richt never put a premium on recruiting linemen, particularly offensive lineman, and, as a result, his teams could be counted on to wet the bed against an inferior opponent at least once a year. Going into big games, I just assumed Richt’s teams would lose and was happily surprised if we did not. Richt has been thoroughly exorcized from the program now and, after its second season under new coach Kirby Smart, that program is ascendant. I have never heard Smart in a broadcast interview in which he was not hoarse from screaming at his charges. He is demanding. He pays attention to detail. He expects peak performance and lets his players know about it when he doesn’t get it. Just as you secretly admired that one teacher that demanded – and got – your best effort in the classroom, Smart’s players love him. As the team was in the tunnel and about to take the field before the title game, star running back and soon-to-be millionaire Nick Chubb told Smart, ‘I’ll go anywhere with you and I’ll follow you anywhere. I’ll fight for you because I believe in you.’ Smart was moved to tears. It did not take me long to get over the loss to Alabama. The Dogs were playing with house money. The rebuild of the program under Smart is way ahead of schedule. At the start of the year, no one could have imagined the season of success that just ended: a win at Notre Dame, an SEC East title, an SEC title and an epic, double overtime CFP playoff win in the most dramatic Rose Bowl game ever played. The Dogs outscored their opponents 531-246 over the course of the season and soundly embarrassed age-old rivals Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 121-14. Smart has ignited a fan base that was largely apathetic under Richt. Georgia fans outnumbered Irish fans at South Bend, deeply embarrassing the leadership and alumni of that proud football program. Dog fans took over the Rose Bowl as well. Some say 70% of the fans in that historic venue wore the Red & Black. Recruiting, the lifeblood of any program, is off the leash. Smart had the third ranked class in the country last year. So far, the 2018 class is ranked #1. Seven five star recruits signed with SEC schools last month during the first ever early signing period. Six of those signed with Georgia, along with 12 four stars and five three stars. In the final, Alabama wore down UGA’s offensive and defensive lines and shredded its secondary late in the contest. Among its 20 early signees, the Dogs inked five offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and three defensive backs. It is in good shape with the top two defensive back recruits in the country and could sign both early next month. Among Smart’s December signees were the top rated quarterback, running back, guard and outside linebacker in the country. Richt often had top recruiting classes but he and his staff rarely fully developed that talent. Smart is another animal altogether. He gets the best from his guys. Jake Fromm, whom Richt did not even want, had perhaps the best season by a true freshman quarterback in the history of college football and is the odds on favorite in Vegas to win the Heisman Trophy next year. The Bulldogs and the Dawgnation are back baby. Be prepared to hear me and a whole lot of other people barking about it. The sleeping giant has awakened!

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