HOOVER, Ala. -- Kirby Smart didn't say it at the SEC Media Days on Tuesday morning, but was definitely thinking it.

Georgia is a College Football Playoff contender.

At least, that should be the expectation in Year 2 of his stint as the lead Bulldog. He walked right up to that fence without actually saying it.

"I think understanding expectations is a powerful synergy that exists between a player and a coach," he said. "There's no question in my mind the area is significantly heightened after you have been through a season together. You know, the expectations are conveyed and understood much easier after season one."

The pieces are there for Georgia to walk through the open window in the SEC East and into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship Game the first weekend of December with a chance to play its way onto the sport's biggest stage.

The perceived problem plaguing the Bulldogs is just that -- perception. 

Reality is that the wide receiving corps is loaded with talent and versatility. 

Riley Ridley proved that he has deep threat ability in spurts last season, including a 47-yard go-ahead touchdown reception in the waning moments against Tennessee. That was quickly negated by the "Dobbs Nail Boot" game-winning Hail Mary from the Vols. Terry Godwin is an ultra-versatile threat who can stretch the field and make defenders miss on quick screens. Javon Wims showed flashes late last season including a 90-yard performance against Kentucky. Tight end Isaac Nauta had 39 catches as a true freshman learning the ropes; he's a mismatch up the seam no matter who's covering him.

What's more, running back Sony Michel should be an even bigger threat as a receiver.

"It gives us a little bit more of a dual-threat," Smart said. "It gives us a guy with the ball in his hand who can make people miss. I felt like, in the bowl game, we were struggling offensively until Sony got a touch and made some guys miss. That sparked the offense. We've got to find guys who can provide that spark."

When you toss in the proven ability of senior running back Nick Chubb to be a force between the tackles, there are enough options on this team to create an inferno.

It does hinge on the offensive line, though. 

The Bulldogs gave up 24 sacks last season, and Chubb and Michel were routinely hit or forced to change direction behind the line of scrimmage. Fixing that has been one of Georgia's primary goals in the offseason, and Smart is comfortable with the progress.

"We do have to be more physical up front, and I thought we did a good job taking steps toward that during the spring," Smart said. "Not necessarily in the spring game, because that wasn't meant to be a running adventure. We wanted to throw it around. But we're going to have to be able to run the ball. It's real simple."

After those two issues, Georgia is set. 

Quarterback Jacob Eason was solid as a true freshman who earned the starting job in Week 2, tossing 16 touchdowns and eight picks while learning on the fly against some of the most physical defenses in the country. For reference, former Bulldog and current Detroit Lions signal caller Matthew Stafford threw seven touchdowns and 13 picks as a true freshman in 2006. 

Now that he's entrenched on the field, the last piece of the puzzle was solidifying his role as the leader of the team.

"I definitely saw Eason progress even during last season," said linebacker Roquon Smith. "In the spring, I didn't participate. But watching from afar, he gained a lot. He's going to be awesome this year."

Why not Georgia? Why not now? 

There's no good answer to either question in a division that was won by a Florida team with enough quarterback problems to fill a swamp the last two seasons.

Georgia has the quarterback, versatility on offense, and a veteran defense led by Smith, fellow linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy and monster lineman Trent Thompson. 

It's difficult to be a first-time head coach in the SEC, and Smart found that out the hard way in 2016. But Smart was hired to build a behemoth in Athens, and the material is in place. He was hired to do something more than be consistently adequate -- a trait that got Mark Richt fired after the 2015 season. 

This team can do that, and it's time for the outside world to expect it.

After all, it's the reason Richt is now coaching at Miami and Smart left Tuscaloosa, Alabama.