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Tuesday January 31st, 2023 5:49PM

No. 1 Georgia eyes perfect season with tightly bonded team

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia added another title to its growing collection, yet there wasn't a whole lot of reason to celebrate.

The Bulldogs, you see, are chasing the loftiest of goals.

Perfection.

Having locked up another trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game as the top dog in the Eastern Division, No. 1 Georgia (10-0) quickly moved on Monday.

“I didn't really celebrate too much,” receiver Kearis Jackson said. “I know we have bigger goals ahead of us.”

It’s a rather lengthy list, for sure.

The Bulldogs are positioned to make a run at their first SEC title since 2017. They certainly have their sights on a return for the College Football Playoff as the top seed, which would undoubtedly be rewarded with a short trip to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl semifinal. And, of course, they want to become the first team since Alabama in 2011-12 to repeat as national champion.

Last year's title team had a blemish on its record — an upset loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. In fact, only two teams in Georgia's modern football history have made it through a season unscathed.

The 1946 Bulldogs went 11-0, tied for the SEC title, won the Sugar Bowl, but only finished third in The Associated Press rankings behind Notre Dame and Army, who played to a scoreless tie in what was billed as the “Game of the Century.”

The 1980 Georgia squad, led by freshman star Herschel Walker, finished 12-0 and, until last season, was the only team in the school's storied history to win a consensus national title.

Can this team complete what is undoubtedly a more difficult undefeated journey, with the longer schedule and additional gauntlet of a conference championship game and four-team playoff to get through?

“That would be great,” Jackson said, his face lighting up. “I've never been a part of an undefeated season, besides like rec league or something like that. I'm sure it would be very difficult and very special, but I think this team is special enough to accomplish a goal like that.”

Without question, these Bulldogs are instilled with a passion and desire that often slips away from a reigning champion.

There's a reason they say it's harder to remain on the mountaintop than it is to get there.

“The pitfall of every profession, of everything people do in society, is being able to repeat habits," coach Kirby Smart said. “Can you do what you do better than the people in your profession on a daily basis and not get bored with monotony. It’s hard to sustain anything in life, in your career, whatever it is.”

Smart's job was made a bit easier, in a way, by losing a record 15 players in the NFL draft. Many of the players on this roster are getting their first crack at a starring role.

But there's also something more innate going on, a hunger that never ceases even as the Bulldogs have every reason to stumble over their already impressive accomplishments.

“Sometimes people get comfortable.,” Smart said. “When you get comfortable, you’re not always at your best. We’re trying our best to be at our best. That’s our job.”

Don't overlook the culture that Smart has built in Athens, which makes the sum of the roster greater than it's individual parts.

“We say we’re at our best when the worst happens," the coach explained. “It’s hard to be connected when a guy misses you for a touchdown pass and you don’t pout about it. A guy fumbles, a guy throws an interception, a guy gives up a huge pass interference. Where’s your connection now when it’s needed most?”

No worries there. Smart is hard-pressed to recall another group of players who were so invested in each other.

“That's the muscle that we like to say is the strongest muscle on our team," he said. "If you've got it, why not use it?”

___

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

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