Column: Georgia already in rarified territory, with a shot to be the best ever

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Bulldogs are already in rarified territory.

With three more victories, they'll have every right to call themselves the greatest team in college football history.

The top-ranked Bulldogs haven't lost a game in 727 days.

On Saturday, they'll go for their 30th win in a row against Nick Saban and No. 8 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

While coach Kirby Smart insists that his two-time reigning national champs keep their feet planted very firmly in the present, it's impossible not to reflect just a bit on Georgia's stunning perfection over the last two years.

“I definitely do just take some time to just try and sit back and appreciate it,” defensive back Kamari Lassiter said this week. “It’s hard to sometimes just take a second and just slow down when games are coming at you so fast, with practices and all the media and everything flying around.

“But sometimes,” he added, "just being able to sit down and think for myself personally over the last few years that I’ve been able to be a part of a really good program and a program that’s taught me a lot of things, not just about football but about life.”

Georgia is trying to become just the ninth major program in college football history to win as many as 30 consecutive games. It's certainly never been tougher to put together such a run in this era of increased parity, longer seasons, expanded playoffs and supersized conferences, not to mention having to navigate the transfer portal and NIL.

Making the streak even more impressive, Smart's Bulldogs have done it while playing in the SEC — the best conference in the land.

“It’s phenomenal what he’s been able to accomplish at Georgia,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, Smart's former boss and now chief rival. “I mean, to win as many games in a row, win a couple championships, have another chance to do it again a third time, I mean, that’s phenomenal.”

No team in The Associated Press poll era — which dates back to 1936 — has managed to claim three straight national championships. If the Bulldogs can complete the threepeat, they would have a pretty compelling argument that no program has ever done it better.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's marvel at all that has happened since Georgia's last loss — to Alabama, of all teams, in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4, 2021.

Here's a few nuggets about The Streak:

— The Bulldogs have outscored their 29 opponents by a cumulative 1,158 to 432. That's an average margin of more than 25 points per game.

— Georgia has trailed in the fourth quarter only three times, most notably in last season's Peach Bowl semifinal game against Ohio State. The Dawgs rallied from a two-touchdown deficit and survived a last-second field goal attempt to win a 42-41 thriller.

— The only other contest decided by less than a touchdown also came last season, when Georgia bounced back for a 26-22 victory at Missouri. No other win has been closer than a touchdown; in fact, just five had margins in the single digits.

— The Bulldogs are 9-0 against ranked teams, with only two of those wins decided by fewer than 10 points.

“It’s phenomenal however many games — what is it, 29? I don’t even know for sure," Saban marveled. “We've won 19 games in a row here twice. I know how hard that was. It’s hard to sustain.”

Smart's skills in recruiting, player development and motivation are unquestioned, but his greatest trait as a coach — and this is certainly something he learned from his extensive time working at Saban's side — is being able to instill a laser-like focus on what's important that very day, that very hour, that very minute, to his players.

“It's never been about a streak or anything like that,” Lassiter said. “It’s always just been about being in the moment, just trying to win that moment."

Smart gave a hint of that single-mindedness when someone had the nerve to ask about the impact of losing assistant Fran Brown, one of the nation's top recruiters, who just this week was appointed the new head coach at Syracuse.

“We’ve been really focused on Alabama. That’s all we’re really thinking about,” Smart shot back. “Those decisions that you’re talking about, they’re not important. They have no relevance whatsoever to this game. Our focus and energy is on this game.”

Saban surely saw a bit of himself when Smart worked on his staff for more than a decade, moving up to become Alabama's defensive coordinator before he returned to his alma mater as head coach in 2016.

“I kind of knew that he had great leadership qualities,” Saban said. “That’s why we made him coordinator. When he was a coordinator, he did a great job of managing that side of the ball. I knew he’d be an outstanding head coach someday.”

The last school to win as many as 30 games in a row was Miami, which put together a 34-game run from 2000-02. At the top of the heap is Oklahoma, which claimed 47 straight victories from 1953-57.

It's worth noting that the Bulldogs came into the 2021 SEC championship game with a 16-game winning streak, which means they've won 45 of their last 46 games. If not for one bad quarter against the Crimson Tide — who scored 24 points in the second period of their 41-24 triumph — Georgia would've been going for its 47th consecutive victory Saturday.

The Bulldogs could still take down Oklahoma's record, but they'd have to win out this season, put together another 15-0 campaign in 2024 and win their opener in '25.

That sounds like a bit of a reach, but it's really not necessary to stamp this team as the top dog ever.

Three more wins would be enough.

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Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football