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Last Year’s Georgia Football Team Was Legendary; This Year’s Could Be, Too

Let’s get this out of the way from the jump: There will never be another Georgia football season quite like the last one. There was something about the surprise and newness of the Dawgs’ 2017 success that made it so special. Week by week, we all grew a bit more confident that the team could go all the way, and save a busted coverage in overtime of the national championship game, it did. Yes, Georgia fell short at the end, but it was still the most amazing season I’ve ever experienced as a fan of any team, and it probably always will be.

But now that we know we can reach the pinnacle, there’s a new challenge: sustained success and meeting expectations. The expectation for the 2018 season is to roll through a weak SEC East on the way to another trip to the SEC Championship. After that, maybe we can beat Alabama and get back into the College Football Playoff, and maybe we win two more games to claim the national title. Maybe

That’s a lofty goal, for sure, but our goals could be loftier still. Although Georgia enters the season ranked third in the Associated Press poll, I haven’t spoken to a fan this offseason who’s said we can and should win the national title. A season of success and the promise of future success has instilled some semblance of reason within this fanbase. Most fans I’ve spoken with see 2019 as the year. In 2019, almost every player on the roster will have been recruited by Kirby Smart, and it will likely be the most talented group of players to ever wear a pair of silver britches. So fans, perhaps rightfully, have labeled 2018 a transitional season, the year before the year.

But I say to hell with that (and to hell with Georgia Tech). If we think we’re one of the best college football programs in the country—and, by God, we are—we’d better start acting like it. It’s time to stop looking toward the future and to start living in the present.

In other words, let’s just do it and be legends.

We are smack at the beginning of what could—should—be the greatest period in program history, a time when the team has the chance to accomplish things it’s never done before or only done rarely. And with that comes a major opportunity for legend-making. I know this is a football column, but new men’s basketball coach Tom Crean said something prescient earlier this year about the potential of the basketball program that applies to football as well: “There’s plenty of room for statues around this campus.”

Smart is already well on his way to legendary status. If he can finish the job and bring a national title back to Athens, he’ll be cast in bronze on Lumpkin Street alongside Vince Dooley.

Jake Fromm’s story so far is legendary in its own right. He went the Tom Brady route, stepping in for an injured star and never relinquishing the job because he was just too good. Even his backup, five-star freshman Justin Fields, could become a legend this year, working as a change of pace like Tim Tebow during his freshman year at Florida. (Or D.J. Shockley behind David Greene, if you’d rather not compare a Bulldog to a Gator.)

Once again, this team has one of the most talented groups of running backs in college football—even after heralded freshman Zamir White tore his ACL in practice—but they’re swimming in the wake of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the greatest rushing tandem in college football history. This season is an opportunity for D’Andre Swift and company to forge their own path and be remembered for their own accomplishments. Ditto all the new players on defense who have the tall task of playing to a level set by arguably the best defensive unit in school history.

So, don’t think of this as the year before the year. It’s just the year—like every year should be until proven otherwise. Because when you’re as talented as these Dawgs, the time to strike is always right now.

Georgia’s 2018 Schedule

Sept. 1: Austin Peay

A 3:30 p.m. kickoff against an FCS opponent will be a relaxing, stress-free way to open the 2018 season. (ESPN)

Sept. 8: at South Carolina

The Gamecocks have the best chance of any SEC East team to unseat Georgia at the top of the division. Georgia should win fairly easily, but Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking, and things could get hairy if the Dawgs don’t have their minds right. (3:30 p.m., ESPN)

Sept. 15: Middle Tennessee

Another early-season cupcake. Middle Tennessee will be a tougher out than Austin Peay, but that ain’t saying much. (7:15 p.m., ESPN2)

Sept. 22: at Missouri

Led by Heisman contender Drew Lock, the Tigers’ offense lit up Georgia last season in Athens, and could do it again this year. This game could be a shootout—and potential upset—if the new-look defense isn’t settled by Week 4. (Time and network TBA)

Sept. 29: Tennessee

Georgia’s 41-0 beatdown of the Vols last year wasn’t an aberration—it’s the new normal. What’s the over/under on Phil Fulmer firing Jeremy Pruitt so he can take over as head coach? Three seasons? (Time and network TBA)

Oct. 6: Vanderbilt

After a slip-up in 2016—Smart’s first year as head coach—order has been restored in the Georgia-Vandy series. With the way Smart has the program trending, it’ll be quite some time before the ’Dores can challenge the Dawgs again. (Time and network TBA)

Oct. 13: at LSU

LSU has one of the toughest schedules in college football, and Ed Orgeron could be run out of town before Georgia comes to Baton Rouge. If he isn’t, it might mean LSU is pretty good, which could spell trouble for Georgia. If he is, it might mean the Tigers are circling the wagons, which could also spell trouble for Georgia. Either way, this is a tricky game. (Time and network TBA)

Oct. 27: Florida (at Jacksonville)

Maybe Dan Mullen can work his magic and turn Florida back into an SEC contender. But he ain’t gonna do it this year. Smart and the Dawgs will give him a baptism by fire in his first World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. (3:30 p.m., CBS)

Nov. 3: at Kentucky

Sandwiched between the WLOCP and the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, this is a trap game if I’ve ever seen one. Georgia’s performance in Lexington will tell us a lot about the team’s mental fortitude heading into the final stretch of the regular season. (Time and network TBA)

Nov. 10: Auburn

It’ll be a rubber match at Sanford Stadium, the third game in the span of a year between the Dawgs and Tigers. On top of that, it’s easily the toughest game—and Georgia’s most likely loss—on the schedule. This one could determine Georgia’s SEC East fate, if it hasn’t already wrapped up the division by this point. Any way you shake it, this is the most important game of the regular season. (Time and network TBA)

Nov. 17: UMass

More like U ass, amirite? (Time and network TBA)

Nov. 24: Georgia Tech

The Dawgs and Jackets have traded wins for the last five seasons, but this is the year that changes, and Georgia reclaims its dominant in-state status and puts everything in its right place. (Time and network TBA)