Kirby Smart knew what it was like to start the season with high expectations as defensive coordinator at Alabama.
Now they are raised this season at Georgia.
The Bulldogs, as expected, were picked to win the SEC East Friday by those who attended the league’s Media Days this week in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs just edged out Florida. Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and the league championship.
Georgia hasn’t won its division since 2012, although it was picked to do so in 2013 and 2015.
Bring it on, Smart essentially said this week.
“For me it’s important that you understand as the head coach of the University of Georgia, I’m proud to be there, but we embrace those as the coaching staff, we embrace those as our players, when you come to the University of Georgia, the expectation is to win championships,” Smart said. “That’s what we expect to do at the University of Georgia, and that’s the standard we’ll be held to.”
The media’s picks in the East after Georgia and Florida were Tennessee in third followed by South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Missouri. Alabama was followed in the West by Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
Alabama and Auburn were the top two vote getters for overall champions followed by Georgia and LSU.
Georgia is coming off a down first season under Smart, going 8-5, but returns 10 defensive starters, star tailback Nick Chubb and talent from the nation’s No. 3 rated recruiting class.
“I’m excited about the players we got returning. We have a lot of competition and a lot of positions, and that fires me up,” Smart said. “And I think competition is what makes your team better and being able to kind of integrate these freshman into things right now is making our total team better, and we’ll continue to do that.
The Bulldogs have fallen short of getting to Atlanta the last two times it was picked to win the division.
In 2015, Florida won the East and Georgia finished tied for second in Mark Richt’s last season in Athens, going 10-3. In 2013, the Bulldogs finished third and went 8-5 while Missouri captured the division title.
Chubb thinks the Bulldogs are capable of making a jump over last season and unseating two-time division champion Florida.
“We hope we’re going to be a better team and everyone’s buying in on the same page and will go out there and play hard,” Chubb said.
Georgia was picked to win the East and did in 2012, losing a classic title game title to Alabama 32-28.
“You know at Georgia we expect to win each and every game we go into,” junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “We don’t really listen to all the hype and what not.”
Florida offensive tackle Martez Ivey expects the Gators to be driven by being overlooked.
“We’ve got to go out to do it three times to earn some respect,” he said this week. “Our goal is to win the East and also to win the SEC as a whole. We don’t listen to what people say but it’s also motivation. People don’t respect Florida so we’ve got to go out there and take their respect. We’ve been to the championshop game two years in a row. We’ve just got to go take it.”
Georgia last won the SEC championship in 2005 when Smart was running backs coach on Mark Richt’s staff.
“We’ve just got to be confident in ourselves,” Smith said, “and come to work each and every day.”
Eastern Division (1st place votes in parenthesis)
Points awarded on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale
Georgia (138) 1,572 points
Florida (96) 1526
Tennessee (3) 998
South Carolina (5) 897
Alabama (225) 1683
Auburn (13) 1329
LSU (4) 1262
Arkansas (1) 796
Texas A&M 722
Mississippi State 633
Ole Miss 379
South Carolina 1