Beating Alabama may not 'define' Georgia, but Kirby Smart knows it must happen soon

HOOVER, Ala. -- Kirby Smart has nothing but time in his great pursuit of the Great Saban. Georgia's coach is 43. Nick Saban is 67. Do the math on an already intense rivalry between student and teacher.

Nothing also happens to match the number of wins Smart has against his old boss.

Two mighty swings at Alabama have resulted in two agonizing losses for Georgia's coach over the last two seasons.

"That is not going to define us," Smart said Tuesday at the 2019 SEC Media Days.

Maybe not right now, but it will soon if the Bulldogs don't start asserting themselves against the Crimson Tide. Georgia under Smart is going to have to deliver. That's why Georgia's native son left Saban's side for the perfect job at the perfect time.

Now Smart is left with sort of a mini-crisis in Year 4. The Dawgs are riding a two-game losing streak to finish 2018. After the loss to Bama in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia was pushed around by Texas in the Sugar Bowl.

"Hey, we're not who we think we are if [we] go out and play that way," Smart said.

Georgia must play three more months and get back to another supposed meeting with Alabama. The teams are once again favored to win their divisions. If they don't play for the SEC title, they could meet up again in the College Football Playoff.  

Whatever the case, their head-to-head meetings are far from over. Long-term there seemingly are two ways to go about this for Georgia: Saban retires on top on his own terms or someone in the SEC steps up to finally start beating Alabama.

That, of course, has not happened yet.

"If he loses three games in a year -- twice in a row -- he'll be finished," Steve Spurrier said of Saban. "He's not losing three this year, though."

Not anytime soon, it would seem. The assumption is these modern Alabama-Georgia matchups could morph into some kind of Bo-Woody, Michigan-Ohio State 10-Year War type of thing.

But that was a bitter, drawn-out personal battle that ended 5-5 between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler from 1969-78.

Saban would be 77 if he and the rivalry with Smart lasted 10 years. So much for having nothing but time.

For now, if you need to be reminded, Georgia has blown multiple significant leads, losing in (a) overtime in the 2018 CFP National Championship and (b) in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.

"We've just got to get over the hump," Smart said. "Bottom line, it's real simple. You've got to finish what you start. The game is played for four quarters and overtime sometimes. … I've got a lot of respect for their program, but also I've got a lot of respect for ours and where we've come.

"To be honest, I'm not going to define our season by Alabama. I'm going to define our season by how we play, but we all know they've been king of the SEC for a while."

The worst loss of Saban's Alabama career was to Clemson in January. That will be addressed Wednesday when Alabama runs through the car wash.

Smart's turn to spin his team's shortcomings came Tuesday.

"We want to stare the other team down across from us and say, 'We're going to right here and we're going to stop you,'" Smart said.

Leave it to the Head  Ball Coach to provide perspective. Spurrier was lingering around the SEC Media Days waiting for a press conference including himself, Herschel Walker and Archie Manning.

"These coaches that say, 'Give us two or three years when we get our own players and change the culture,' that's a bunch of B.S." Spurrier said, not speaking about Smart or Kirby.

He did point out that Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer all won championships in their second seasons. Smart is going into Year 4 with no Alabama wins but with the program still trending upward.

What Smart is experiencing is what every SEC team has experienced in the last decade -- the conference's cement ceiling that is Alabama.

If anyone at Georgia needs to be reminded of the latest Alabama loss, the Dawgs blew leads of 21-7 and 28-14 on Dec. 1, 2018, in losing to backup quarterback Jalen Hurts.

"Usually after that game there is an extension of time," Smart said. "Those types of games you want a game the next week. You want a game the next day. You want to play and get your players back out there. We didn't have that luxury."

Georgia is loaded again -- with an asterisk. Quarterback Jake Fromm and defensive back J.R. Reed came to their media day appearances sporting swagger by sporting shades, but those didn't hide that asterisk. If Georgia is going to make the big move this year, it will do it without an experienced wide receiver. Jeremiah Holloman was kicked off the team last month after he was the subject of an assault investigation.

That left Tyler Simmons (nine catches last season) as the Dawgs' leading returning receiver. Half of Smart admits that his depth is severely impacted. The other half believes Fromm can put up 40-50 points per game "regardless of who is receiver."

"I don't think it changes anything," Smart added. "One of the biggest question marks coming into the season was going to be receiver. I think it's more glaring now because one of the guys with a lot of touches is now gone."

Whether that defines Georgia in 2019 remains to be seen. What is for sure is that Alabama remains, always, lurking in the Dawgs rear view.  

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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