As Year 2 of the Kirby Smart era at Georgia dawned Saturday, Bulldogs fans brought high spirits and high expectations.
In an informal survey taken of fans tailgating before Saturday’s season opener with Appalachian State, some denizens of the Bulldog Nation seemed more than ready to put 2016’s 8-5 season in their collective rear-view and to look ahead to happier days.
In assessing last year, most of the faithful were willing to chalk things up to first-year newness, but many expressed their disappointment in not reaching the Southeastern Conference championship game.
“You can’t win ‘em all,” said Phil Nuckolls, whose family owns Cycle World in Athens. “It was a learning season.”
“It was a first year,” added Nuckolls’ friend Bobby Smith, a 1974 UGA graduate from Lithonia. “I didn’t really have high expectations last year. I was hoping it would be better, but in reality I think it turned out like it should have with a new coaching staff and a new scheme.”
“I was a little disappointed last season — we should win 10 games every year,” said Josh Walker, a senior finance major from Columbus. “It’s not what we were expecting.”
“We did a good job, but there were things we definitely need to work out,” said Wright Queen, a Valdosta State graduate and longtime Georgia fan. “There were a lot of close games, but we’ve worked on some things since then, including special teams, and we’re trying to get faster as a team.
“We were a little disappointed, but (Smart) was a new head coach with Mark Richt’s team and it was tough for him. It was a challenge, but hopefully we’ll overcome all that this season.”
In terms of 2017, fans were adamant they want to see more positive results, although some expectations are still tempered. But winning the SEC East, most fans think, is a reasonable goal.
“I’m pretty sure it will be a better year than last year,” said Smith. “We’ve still got issues with the offensive line and the quarterback still has to step up. If we can win nine games, I’ll be satisfied. But there’s no reason we shouldn’t win the SEC East.”
“My expectations for this year are higher,” said Sherry Graham of Marietta, a 1999 UGA grad. “Of course we want a national championship run and you hope to have a coach that can take you there, but it takes a minute. You’ve got to have the players and the staff you want. I wouldn’t say we’re going all the way this year, but in the next couple of years that would be nice.
“It would be nice to win out in the East … it would be nice to win the East and play Alabama or whoever in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.”
“(Nick) Chubb is back and I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a great season,” said Kristen Reynolds, an Appalachian State graduate whose grandfather, Nat Kinney, played baseball at UGA in the 1940s. “Expectations are higher and (Smart) has had some time here, so we’ll see. I’m excited to see what happens.”
And then there are those who are looking at an even bigger picture — the 2018 season.
“The expectations are higher because (Jacob) Eason is a sophomore and they usually make the bigger jump between freshman and sophomore years, but I think 2018 is going to be our year,” said Atlanta resident Jordan Jones. “We had a top recruiting class coming in and once they get acclimated and are sophomores, I think that’s going to be our year.”