UGA’s players; its staff; and its fans (making the multi-hour drive to Memphis and spending their money) - few of them will be looking at this game quite the same way I do.
I’m watching this game only for what it means for next season. I know that’s not an original thought heading into a non-playoff or non-BCS bowl. But right this second isn’t the time to be a prisoner of the moment with regard to wins and losses. Georgia will either beat TCU on Friday or will lose to the Horned Frogs. Either way it will figure in a very small way toward the future of this program.
That was the case the last time we were all here, too. A bruised UGA program just after a coaching overhaul (this time assistant coaches) came to Memphis waiting on a major recruiting class to come in and make or break Mark Richt’s career in Athens. It was the winter of 2010... the winter of discontent.
That 10-6 loss to UCF gave way to the program winning 22 of its next 28 games and back-to-back SEC East titles.
We can’t say there is nearly as much discontent right now. We also can’t say for certain UGA all be in Atlanta these next two Decembers.
But Kirby Smart and his band of assistant coaches are doing all they can do to get there… with players who are not quite here yet, or are very young. Recruiting is going at a pace that’s distancing themselves from their SEC East brethren. They are keeping pace in that department with the likes of Ohio State and Alabama - the Dawgs could beat them both out.
And the future of this team is its youth - those already in silver britches and those on the way to wear them. When I asked about Kirby focusing on his freshman class this season he said that he had multiple meetings with the freshmen.
He pointed out that was pretty strange for him. That it wasn’t something that happened in his time at Alabama.
“We had the older guys to teach them,” he said.
The older guys in Athens right now are Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick, both players Kirby praised for developing their leadership over the fall. Those two are sophomores.
“This bowl experience has been very good for our younger players. They have been able to grow up. That’s been very important for our 20 freshmen. Our youth is playing. You want to grow those guys,” he said.
So it probably was key that Kirby spend so much time with that bunch. They are UGA’s future. They are Kirby’s future.
Now, this game isn’t totally unimportant. This is Kirby’s first bowl game, and that has to matter to some degree. And it’s Jacob Eason’s first, but not Nick Chubb's or Sony Michel’s, so there’s that dynamic as well.
“We want to win,” Smart said Thursday. “The one thing I remember from my bowl games is if we won or lost.”
They’ll remember it, but they'll remember what comes next even more.