SEC Football Report: Smart says Georgia 'not slighted' in first playoff ranking

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart paces the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Georgia has won back-to-back national championships and 25 consecutive games and is ranked atop The Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls.

But the Bulldogs are No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff selection committee poll released Tuesday night.

Ohio State, which like Georgia is 8-0, is No. 1 in the selection committee’s poll.

Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said he didn’t take the committee’s ranking as any type of slight.

“Nah. Not slighted,” Smart said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “It just is what it is.

“We’ve gotten really comfortable with not paying attention to it over the last three, four years.”

The committee’s ranking isn’t a surprise considering Ohio State won at Notre Dame, ranked No. 15 in the poll, and beat No. 11 Penn State at home.

Georgia hasn’t beaten a team currently ranked in any of the polls. The Bulldogs did beat Kentucky 51-13 earlier this season when the Wildcats were ranked No. 20 in the AP poll.

Georgia had been scheduled to play No. 9 Oklahoma this season, but that two-game series was canceled because the Sooners are joining the SEC next season.

The Bulldogs play No. 12 Missouri at home on Saturday, then finish SEC play against No. 10 Ole Miss and at No. 17 Tennessee before playing at Georgia Tech, so they have plenty of opportunities for quality victories.

“It’s always one game at a time,” Smart said when asked about the closing stretch of the regular season. “You know the answer to that. No coach is going to sit here and tell you he’s worried about the future or the upcoming games.

“I’m worried about constant improvement. Getting players back healthy. Trying to get the guys that aren’t playing, back playing and the guys that are playing, better. And you do that one week at a time.”

Six SEC teams are in the committee’s poll, including No. 8 Alabama and No. 14 LSU.

West best

The SEC has played with East and West divisions since 1992 when the University of Arkansas and South Carolina joined the conference to give it 12 members. The division setup continued in 2012 when Missouri and Texas A&M were added to raise the conference total to 14.

But with Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC next season, there no longer will be divisions and the SEC simply will be a 16-team conference.

With divisional play nearing an end — seven East-West matchups remain this season — the West has an all-time record of 300-232-3 against the East in regular-season games.

Alabama leads the West’s advantage in cross-divisional play with a 64-20 record. LSU has a 49-35 record and Auburn is 47-37.

Georgia leads the East against the West with a 58-26 record. Florida is 47-37 going into its game against Arkansas on Saturday.

The Razorbacks are 33-51 against East teams with matchups remaining at Florida and against Missouri.

Turning 72

Alabama Coach Nick Saban celebrated his 72nd birthday Tuesday. Yes, he was born on Halloween at Fairmont, W.Va., in 1951.

“I think the biggest gift he wants is a win this week, we all know that,” Crimson Tide sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe said of Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game. “We all know that in the locker room, but we all [are] definitely going to tell him happy birthday.

“He’s getting old, but still acts young. That’s the funny part. He does everything young. He’s a lot of fun, though.”

Saban doesn’t have time to celebrate his birthday or Halloween during a game week.

“I mean, the game’s the most important thing. That would be an outstanding birthday present if we could play well in this game and so that’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “You know, when your birthday or holidays come up in football season, they’re really not holidays and they’re really not birthdays. You get older, but you don’t really celebrate much.”

Saban is 2-0 in games played on his birthday.

In 1998 when Saban was at Michigan State, the Spartans beat Northwestern 29-5. In 2020, Alabama beat Mississippi State 41-0.

Saban is the second-oldest coach leading an FBS program. The oldest is North Carolina’s Mack Brown, who turned 72 on Aug. 27.

Thorne takes over

After eight games, Auburn finally seems to have found its starting quarterback in junior Payton Thorne.

Thorne, a transfer from Michigan State, has been rotating with sophomore returnee Robby Ashford, but Thorne played 66 of 68 offensive snaps last week against Mississippi State. The job likely is Thorne’s now after he completed 20 of 26 passes for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Tigers’ 27-13 victory over the Bulldogs. He also had eight carries for 38 yards.

“Well, it’s time,” Tigers Coach Hugh Freeze said of settling on a starter. “As I told them, it’s time for us to put up or shut up.

“Figure out, you know, who can run the things we want to run. I thought both showed signs this week, in practice, of improvement.”

When Thorne started and played well early, Freeze stayed with the hot hand.

“He just started hot, and I felt good about our plan,” Freeze said. “We had a little plan for Robby, too, and just never really got to it. But I thought Payton played really well, and it’s really good to see.”

Lane on Jimbo

Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin is piling on Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher going into the Aggies game against the Rebels on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

Fisher has put together some of the nation’s top recruiting classes in his six seasons at Texas A&M, but he has a 44-24 record, including 10-10 in his past 20 games — 5-7 last season and 5-3 this season.

Kiffin said he knows Fisher is under immense pressure to win or be fired even with a contract buyout of more than $75 million, and he couldn’t resist making comments that imply Fisher has underachieved with his highly-touted recruits.

“These guys are absolutely loaded. It’s kind of a mind-blowing collection of talent,” Kiffin said at his Monday news conference. “It really is like an NFL roster.

“Height, weight, speed, explosiveness. Receivers that can score at any time, great running backs. Defense is playing as well as any in the country. The collection of defensive linemen has to be one of the best ever.”

Kiffin’s implication seems to be Fisher can recruit at a high level, but isn’t an elite coach.

Tough schedule

South Carolina has played the nation’s toughest schedule thus far this season according to NCAA ratings.

FBS opponents for the Gamecocks (2-6) have combined for a .750 winning percentage, led by Georgia (8-0), Missouri (7-1), Tennessee (6-2), North Carolina (6-2), Florida (5-3) and Texas A&M (5-3).

South Carolina is taking a break from SEC play on Saturday with a home game against Jacksonville (Ala.) State, but it doesn’t figure to be a guaranteed victory.

Jacksonville State — whose mascot is also the Gamecocks — is 7-2 in its first season as an FBS team and member of Conference USA and has a prominent coach in Rich Rodriguez, who previously coached at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona.

South Carolina finishes the regular season against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Clemson.

Kelly and Rees

LSU Coach Brian Kelly will be facing a former player and assistant coach with him at Notre Dame when the Tigers play Alabama.

Tommy Rees, who played quarterback for the Fighting Irish under Kelly from 2010-13 and was Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach with him from 2017-19 and offensive coordinator from 2020-21, is in his first season at Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

“We’ve got a deep connection relative to a player-coach relationship and respect for him as a coach and what he’s done in this profession at an early age,” Kelly said. “He’s a competitor. He always was as a player. You can see that as a coordinator.”

When Kelly went to LSU last season, Rees stayed at Notre Dame to be the offensive coordinator under Coach Marcus Freeman, who was promoted from defensive coordinator.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban hired Rees to be the Crimson Tide’s play-caller this season.

“They’re going to, more than anything else, utilize their personnel,” Kelly said of what he’s seen from Alabama’s offense. “[Rees will] mold the offense to fit the personnel. That’s what smart coaches do and he’s an outstanding football coach.”

Vs. No. 1

Missouri will try for its first victory over an Associated Press No. 1-ranked team when the Tigers play at Georgia on Saturday.

The Tigers are 0-18 all-time against No. 1 teams, including losses to Georgia the previous two seasons. The Bulldogs beat Missouri 43-6 at home in 2022 and rallied for a 26-22 victory on the road last season.

Bob Holt's SEC Power Rankings

1. Georgia (8-0) — Ready for a challenge from Mizzou

2. Alabama (7-1) — West showdown against LSU

3. Ole Miss (7-1) — Still in the West race

4. LSU (6-2) — Offense staying in high gear

5. Missouri (7-1) — Nine consecutive losses to Georgia

6. Tennessee (6-2) — Playing UConn would be great hoops matchup

7. Florida (5-3) — Looking to keep Arkansas winless in SEC

8. Texas A&M (5-3) — Jimbo sure could use a win at Ole Miss

9. Kentucky (5-3) — Frustrating home loss to Vols

10. Auburn (4-4) — Offense puts up 416 yards on Mississippi State

11. Mississippi State (4-4) — QB Rogers might miss 3rd consecutive game

12. South Carolina (2-6) — Shouldn’t take Jacksonville State lightly

13. Arkansas (2-6) — Hasn’t won in five trips to the Swamp

14. Vanderbilt (2-7) — Has faded since 2-0 start

Player to Watch: LSU QB Jayden Daniels

Daniels will lead the Tigers’ high-powered offense into Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on Alabama. He has completed 163 of 223 passes (73.1%) for 2,573 yards and a nation-leading 25 touchdowns with 3 interceptions this season and rushed 91 times for 521 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Daniels is 1 of 2 FBS players — along with Dan LeFevour, who played at Central Michigan from 2006-09 — to surpass 11,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing in his career. In 51 career games, Daniels has passed for 11,510 yards and rushed for 2,694. LeFevour had 12,905 yards passing and 2,948 rushing in 53 games.

Game of the Week: 13 LSU at 8 Alabama

WHEN: 6:45 p.m. Saturday, CBS

WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

RECORDS: Alabama 7-1, 5-0 SEC; LSU 6-2, 4-1

LINE: Alabama is favored by 3 points

Alabama can take a commanding lead in the SEC West with a victory over LSU and stay in the hunt for a national playoff spot.

The Tigers are looking to beat Alabama in back-to-back games for the first time since 2010 and 2011. LSU’s victory in 2011 was bittersweet because Alabama won a rematch in the Sugar Bowl to take the national title from the No. 1 Tigers.

Alabama might need to put up 40 or more points to win as LSU is averaging 47.4 points and 552.9 yards to lead the nation in both categories.

By the Numbers

33 — SEC-leading sacks by Texas A&M for 204 yards in losses

2013 — Only time Missouri has beaten Georgia, when the Tigers won 41-26 at Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs are 11-1 all-time against Missouri.

61-7 — Nick Saban’s home record as Alabama’s coach

69.6% — Ole Miss on fourth-down conversions. The Rebels have converted 16 of 23 attempts.

25 — Consecutive victories for Georgia since losing to Alabama 41-24 in the 2021 SEC Championship Game

Overheard

“I’ve been waiting for this for four years, since the second I got here. Honestly, since before that I thought that one day I’d play in this game. That’s obviously lofty goals and dreams that I had when I was younger. To come out here and do that, execute like that as a team and get a win against our biggest rival, it’s a huge moment for us.”

Georgia QB Carson Beck after passing for 315 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 43-20 victory over Florida in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

“They’re probably one of the best teams in the country right now. I know they are the best team in the country on offense.”

Alabama Coach Nick Saban on LSU.

“I don’t know if the rally-around-player thing works. It’s part of the profession, and that just goes with it. You’ve just got to go back to work and do the best that you can every week.”

Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin when asked if he believes Texas A&M’s players may rally around embattled Coach Jimbo Fisher.