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The most wonderful time of the year

Our youngest, Livia Lanier, is now a freshman at UGA. She called one day last week to let us know she had gotten her football tickets for all the home games in Athens this fall. She was excited and with good reason. Kirby Smart has exorcised all that remained from the Mark Richt era of underachievement. We need look no farther than last season when Smart took his team to the national title game in a year most of the pundits thought he would go 8-3 or something like that. Along the way, Georgia beat Notre Dame at South Bend and outscored traditional rivals South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech 145-24. Georgia was one play away from a national title when Alabama pulled off a miracle play at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. I have still not looked at a replay of that game and I will not. I have watched the Dogs’ Rose Bowl victory over Oklahoma multiple times. Most agree the 54-48 win in double overtime was the most exciting Rose Bowl ever played. It was definitely the most exciting Georgia win I have ever watched. So, what has changed in Athens since Smart arrived? The entire program has been revamped. Conditioning is prioritized. Nutrition is prioritized. Players work. There are no visits to the pool and no back flips off the high dive. Football practice is for football and that is how it should be – how it should have been all along. Long ago, somebody said, ‘Football is not so much about the Xs and Os. It is about the Jimmies and Joes.’ Whomever that was had it right. Smart is a relentless recruiter and he has built a staff of coaches who can get the best from the players on campus and match up with anyone in getting only the best of talent to Athens. Richt did a good job of recruiting skill players but not so well in recruiting linemen, particularly offensive lineman. Those he did recruit seemed to always have shoulder injuries. This fall, the Dogs are two deep with beasts on the offensive line and that is where games are won – in the trenches. Smart and his staff use GPS to track players during practice. Last week, Ben Cleveland, a 6-6, 340 pound offensive lineman, was clocked running 19 mph. That defines beast mode. How has the roster changed? In the 2012 SEC title game, Georgia took Alabama to the wire before losing 32-28. Due to injuries, recruiting misses and other factors including laziness, Richt had 59 scholarship players on his roster for that game. The cap is 85. Going into this fall, Smart has 60 players who were four or five star recruits coming out of high school. I just don’t see the Dogs losing a regular season game this fall. No one on the schedule can match up in talent. Sure, there can be off days, so road trips to Missouri or LSU could be problematic. Still, the SEC East crown is Georgia’s to seize. Then will come a likely rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game. That’s when the real fight will begin. Fall is in the air. College football starts this week. Hunting season gets underway with opening day for doves this weekend. Shockingly, the Braves are in contention as September draws nigh. The Atlanta United are the best team in MLS and all sorts of high school teams are competing. With all due respect to Santa, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Don’t miss it!

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