Ivan Maisel does a great job of capturing the moment of what Georgia’s 2017 season means to us and how the expectations for Smart and the program will soon change.
If Georgia wins the Rose Bowl, Georgia has won nothing. The Bulldogs have just stayed alive to win the national title.
Now, if Georgia beats Clemson or Alabama and wins the College Football Playoff National Championship, their fans will be ecstatic. I get that. The Bulldogs haven’t won a national championship since 1980.
Moreover, the title game is back in Atlanta, and if you don’t think that’s an advantage for the Dawgs, ask LSU what it meant to play for its 2003 and 2007 BCS titles in New Orleans.
But with that national championship, with that moment when Smart again holds a trophy aloft in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, comes a whole new set of emotions. With success comes the weight of expectations. Boosters don’t celebrate as wildly. Success becomes the floor instead of the ceiling.
“I’ve never really thought of it that way,” Smart said, laughing. “It’s kind of depressing the way you describe it. There’s nowhere to go but down.”
The funny thing is that Kirby Smart’s been there, done that.
We spoke in the minutes before the ESPN College Football Awards Show recently. Smart and the other head coaches in the College Football Playoff — Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma, Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson — walked into a conference room, where a buffet of spring rolls, chicken tenders, shrimp satay and hamburger sliders awaited them.
“We’re not at the monster stage yet,” Smart said of Georgia. “We’re still at the early stage, but you’re right.”
He looked across the room and waved toward Saban, for whom he worked at LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama.
“I’ve been through it before, in Tuscaloosa,” Smart said. “It’s like, I feel sorry for him. What he’s done can never be repeated.”
Maybe that’s one more thing Saban deserves credit for. Yes, he’s well paid for the effort, but it’s got to be tough mentally when you get to the top of the mountain… and stay there.
I’m sure we won’t mind if Kirby has to put up with that one day soon, though.