Georgia football tries to move on knowing another title opportunity is not guaranteed
The Bulldogs wish they could guarantee a return to the College Football Playoff, but they cannot
ATLANTA -- J.R. Reed displayed a championship ring so big it needed its own zip code.
"I really like it. It shines bright," said the Georgia defensive back while showing around his SEC title game rock at the conference's media days.
"[But] it's going to be bigger than this, I know."
The next stop -- national championship bling -- is a noble goal. But it remains more of a wish than a promise at this point.
You see, it still hurts. Bad. Georgia's players and coach Kirby Smart did their best to keep a brave face Tuesday during their turn in the SEC Media Days car wash.
Georgia is only six months and change from having its heart ripped out on national television. You have to remember. The Dawgs sure do.
Alabama backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa launched a perfect 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass in double overtime to beat Georgia.
The result went so much further. Georgia led 13-0 at halftime, 20-7 halfway through the third quarter. Tua's legend -- and an offseason of speculation about his starting status -- began that night. So did Smart's trip back to the dry erase board to try again.
"Everybody wants to talk about that question," Georgia's coach said of the final play. "It's not like I have nightmares about it. I think we grow from that. The entire season was a learning experience, a confidence builder."
That's one way to look at it. Here's another: Getting back to the College Football Playoff anytime soon is no guarantee -- for anyone.
Sure, the Dawgs ought to be a prohibitive favorite in the SEC East, setting up Nick-vs-Kirby II in the SEC Championship Game.
But even that's a risky projection. Georgia has lost six players from a defense that held opponents to 16.4 points per game last year. Two guys named Sony Michel and Nick Chubb have moved on.
Try reminding any Georgia fan of this: Alabama in 2017 won its fourth title since 2009. Georgia still hasn't won one since 1980.
We'll get 'em next time?
"It's definitely a lot easier for players than fans," Reed said. "I feel like fans get too hung up."
Another reminder that nothing is assured: Oklahoma's mild-mannered Lincoln Riley -- a coach with what-ifs of his own in a CFP semifinal loss to Georgia -- seemed to hammer that home earlier this month.
"If you throw Georgia in the Big 12 every year," Riley said on Sirius XM, "there is no way they are a top five defense in the country."
Still another reminder to maybe stuff talk about ring size for now.
"People ask me every day, 'Are you guys going back [to the playoff]? Are you guys going back?' defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. "Of course, the answer would be, 'Yes.' … We [aren't] going anywhere, just cleaning some things up in the office and in the shop. We're going to get this thing clicking on all cylinders."
But as good as the Dawgs were last season, an SEC championship wasn't enough. Not when it came in only Smart's second season. Not when the natty was Georgia's to have and to hold … until it wasn't. Not when the Dawgs were playing 70 miles from campus in their home state.
Not when Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss on the previous play. On that play, Ledbetter can be seen helping take down Tagovailoa with linebacker Davin Bellamy.
On the next snap, Ledbetter is stoned in his pass rush by Alabama guard Ross Pierschbacher. Reed was playing safety on the other side of the field from where DeVonta Smith caught the game-winning pass.
A few seconds later, game over. Alabama called the game-winning play Jill Y Seattle. Stunned, Georgia called it a night. They've had half a year to think about the implications.
"This is kind of a weird answer, but it's a little dangerous," Ledbetter said. "That thought of complacency starts to come in there. You've got to kind of push it out. You can't live in the past."
A lot of this is a function of youth. The players have their whole lives ahead of them. Their world is Short Attention Span Theater anyway. That's why there is Snapchat. It's meant to captivate the mind for a few seconds.
"After that it was, 'What's next?'" Reed said. "It took me probably that night to get over it."
"We don't have time in our business," Smart added. "After the game, we're on the road recruiting in somebody's home trying to convince them to come. I'm not thinking about that."
There's a lot more to measure than ring sizes. How about the number of broken hearts? Georgia fans will never forget.
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