ATHENS, Ga. -- If you want to make Kirby Smart uncomfortable, ask him whether Georgia can sustain its 7-0 start.
In the bowels of Georgia's football facility this week, the Bulldogs' coach wanted little to do with talk of a quick turnaround or national coach of the year mention.
"I didn't think a lot of teams were going to be better than us," Smart said. "I thought we had good enough players to play with [our opponents]. In our league, historically, we're going to play three or four close games.
"We can't find a way to mess one up."
To this point in the season, Georgia has played few close games and hasn't messed any of them up.
The promise of Smart as a head coach -- once Nick Saban's top lieutenant as defensive coordinator -- has been realized in a season and a half. In fact, a man with four championship rings is part of a trend in his second year as a head coach: Two-year turnarounds have become increasingly commonplace.
Some observers have UCF's Scott Frost halfway to his alma mater at Nebraska halfway through a 6-0 season. Similar praise is being lavished upon Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech. After winning 10 games in his first year, the Hokies, 6-1, are poised for a return trip to the ACC title game.
Florida's Jim McElwain won a pair of SEC East titles in his first two season (to what are still mixed reviews). Jim Harbaugh won 20 games in his first two seasons, . (Recently, those hopes have been dimmed.)
Iowa State's 5-2 start is its best in 25 years. In his second season, coach Matt Campbell has beaten Oklahoma and has the Cyclones tied for the second in the Big 12. Iowa State could be tied for the league lead and control its Big 12 destiny with a win this week at home against No. 4 TCU. How unlikely is all this? The Iowa State administration bet a lot it wouldn't happen. Campbell will pick up a $500,000 bonus -- one-third of his salary -- for winning a sixth game this season.
Here, in the middle of the Dawgs' best start since 2005, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity was asked what kind of bonus Smart would get for beating Florida this week.
"Get to Atlanta," McGarity said smiling, referring to an SEC Championship Game-or-bust mentality.
We can thank the likes of Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer for even making second-year success a talking point. Each won a national championship in their second season at their first major stop -- Stoops at Oklahoma in 2000, Tressel at Ohio State in 2002, Meyer at Florida in 2006, and even Gene Chizik at Auburn in 2010.
That sort of rapid success put "win now" in a whole new context.
"The world has changed," McGarity said. "Everything is so immediate. There is no patience."
When no one was watching, two years became the pivot point for head coaches. Not necessarily a deadline to win but an evaluation milestone. "If Stoops, Tressel and Meyer did it," the thinking goes, "why can't my coach?"
Athletic directors all over the country are looking for the next incarnations of Stoops, Tressel and Meyer. You might have noticed there aren't many of them. Chizik was fired two seasons after that championship.
Along with Smart, Frost is that latest hot, young coach whose career is a rocket to Mars. In his first season in 2015, the Knights went from 0-12 to 6-7. The 5 ½-game improvement tied for the best FBS turnaround last season. The former Nebraska quarterback has the rugged good looks, resume and promise to make any fan base swoon. Cameras caught the 42-year-old former national championship Husker quarterback running the option in practice last week prior to the Navy game.
Hired by Chip Kelly at Oregon in 2009, Frost eventually coordinated Oregon's offense under Mark Helfrich in the last BCS Championship Game four years ago. He came to UCF having coached a Heisman winner (Marcus Mariota) and loaded with Kelly's influence and swagger. Frost told me last year his presence at UCF was responsible for the school landing a new Nike apparel deal. Frost is close to Nike CEO Phil Knight.
"Not to take anything away from Nick Saban," Frost said, "but when you have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every year and you can put them through a process, you've got a great chance. When Chip started to do what he was doing at Oregon, we had a huge advantage because no one had ever seen it before. It's to the point now that a lot of people are running versions of what we do. I still believe in Chip's scheme and Oregon's scheme."
No surprise, then, that UCF currently is No. 1 in scoring offense and No. 1 among Group of Five schools in total offense. Kelly and Frost met each other in 2009 by chance while recruiting at Booker T. Washington High School in Miami.
"He's got a great way of presenting things; there's a lot of Coach [Tom] Osborne in him," Kelly told Yahoo Sports. "He doesn't get rattled. He's been there and done that. He's got an intensity to him, but he's calculated and smart and not out of his mind."
Also like Smart, Barry Odom was a successful defensive coordinator. Like Smart, Odom became a first-time head coach at an SEC school. Unlike Smart, Odom may not make it to a third season at Missouri. This trend cuts both ways. Odom, a former linebacker at his alma mater, is 6-13 in his second campaign. This is still the SEC that tends to eat it's own. Playing for an AD who didn't hire him (Jim Sterk) and with a new $98 million football facility going up, it has been speculated Odom might be two and skidoo at his alma mater.
Georgia Southern couldn't even wait that long. It fired second-year coach Tyson Summers on Sunday, halfway through his second season. Short of scandal, firing any coach after 18 games is questionable at best and ridiculous at worst. But this is the knee-jerk world we live in.
"That first year, he had to get used to us," McGarity said of Smart. "We had to get used to him. You can't assume anything. That first year, you're trying to figure out what makes people tick."
The second year, Smart has delivered. The only question now is if a national title is still to come.
- If UCF thinks it can retain Frost with a "Football Excellence Fund" of $1.5 million, it is kidding itself. Expect Frost's name to surface at Tennessee as well. With Nebraska obviously in the picture, that will ratchet up the bidding process. There is no war chest large enough that can overcome the chance to coach for a Big Ten or SEC title.
- The next person to write, mention or even think Jon-Gruden-to-Tennessee, please just stop. I was convinced years ago that Gruden loves to hear his name attached to jobs he'll never take. Plus, has anyone noticed Gruden hasn't recruited in 26 years?
- Florida's Jim McElwain isn't going anywhere based on the Gators' on-field play, although a slappy media hack made it sound like a good idea recently. McElwain most likely would have to take a pay cut to leave. He'd make Florida fire him (though certainly not this year) than give up any part of the $4.4 million salary.
- Any school interested in Iowa State's Campbell would have to consider his $8.8 million buyout.
"You go to class, you go to restaurants now and [you have] everybody telling you how great you are," Kiffin told reporters. "It's hard at any age not to listen to that, especially at their young age."
But as long as Kiffin is at FAU, everybody is going to pay attention, especially after the Owls ran up 804 total yards against the Mean Green.
So, we texted Lane to get his thoughts about an actual conference title. No surprise, he replied.
"That miles away," he said. "Our goal is to go 1-0 every week in conference so we can continue to control our own destiny. Our players have done that so far and need to Saturday on the road against a team that beat us 52-3 last year."
That would be at defending Conference USA champion Western Kentucky.
One of the great mysteries of the season is Boise quarterback Montell Cozart. In March, he was a media intern at the Big 12 basketball tournament having already announced he was transferring from Kansas.
Remember, we're talking about a guy who couldn't get on the field consistently for moribund Kansas because of erratic play and injuries. Now, he's the secret weapon for the offensively challenged Broncos, backing up two-time all-Mountain West quarterback Brett Rypien.
Cozart is sort of a designated running quarterback in the end zone but has also lined up at tailback. The Kansas City native already has tied his career high for touchdown passes (seven). The Broncos need Cozart. The once-powerful Broncos are 112th offensively, but Cozart leads the team in total offense and has accounted for more than a third of the team's yards.