In the blink of an eye, Kirby Smart has managed to wake up a sleeping giant. In his second season, he took Georgia to the national championship game, and he’s scorching the recruiting trail while building another title contender in the middle of his third season.
Smart, a former Nick Saban assistant, learned a lot at Alabama and his Bulldogs appear to be on another collision course with the Crimson Tide. Neither team has been tested yet, but now is when it starts to get interesting for Georgia.
The Bulldogs walked over Austin Peay, South Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt while posting an average winning margin of 29.8 points, with no game closer than 14 points, and trailing for a total of 15 seconds all season. Up next is a trip to Baton Rouge, followed by games against Florida, Kentucky and Auburn.
Smart’s team will face adversity at some point in Southeastern Conference play, and that point should come Saturday at Louisiana State. The Tigers have been tested — beating Miami and Auburn away from home before a 27-19 loss at Florida last week — and the experience of being in three street fights should work to their advantage.
The home field is another huge plus for LSU, which has the defense and running attack to hang tough in a crazed atmosphere. But do the Tigers have the quarterback capable of taking down the nation’s No. 2 team? Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, a 54-percent passer for the season, hit on only 19 of 34 throws and was intercepted twice against the Gators. Burrow, who has just six touchdown passes in six games, will be under pressure and forced to make big plays against Georgia’s fast and physical defense.
Burrow is no Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs have either the best or second-best quarterback depth chart in college football. It’s tough to top Alabama, but Fromm (72.8 percent completions, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions) has title-game experience and freshman backup Justin Fields could be the next Cam Newton. Georgia also has a ridiculous abundance of talent at the running back and wideout positions.
In the two toughest road starts during his brief career, Fromm went 1-1 last year, winning a 20-19 thriller at Notre Dame and taking a lopsided 40-17 loss at Auburn.
Georgia-LSU shapes up similarly to the Ohio State-Penn State matchup two weeks ago. As home ‘dogs, the Nittany Lions got out to an early lead and dictated the game until a fourth-quarter collapse. The Bulldogs probably will escape this test, but it’s not going to be easy, so I’ll side with the Tigers getting 7½ points.
Seven more plays for Saturday:
* Wisconsin (plus-10) over MICHIGAN:
This line has ballooned from 7 to 10 mostly because of the Badgers’ injuries on defense. An underachieving Wisconsin offense will need to do more. Lefty quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who surprisingly torched Miami for four touchdown passes in the Orange Bowl, has only seven TD throws in five games this season. Jonathan Taylor delivered as predicted last week, rushing for 221 yards and three scores on 24 carries. But a one-dimensional attack is not going to get it done against a Michigan defense that ranks No. 1 in the nation by allowing 231 yards per game. Shea Patterson is getting more comfortable in a new offense and passed for a season-high 282 yards in the Wolverines’ win over Maryland. Jim Harbaugh tends to be a conservative play-caller in big games, and he will likely lean on his defense to win this. The Badgers do not seem to match up, but they thrive in the underdog role and have not lost by more than seven points in their past 33 Big Ten road games.
* Colorado (plus-7) over USC:
Trojans coach Clay Helton is 18-0 at the Coliseum, surviving several close calls along the way. Two years ago, Steven Montez was a freshman making his third start in a 21-17 loss at USC. The 6-foot-5 Montez is now a rising NFL prospect with 20 starts under his belt and a 5-0 record this season. Montez leads the nation in completion percentage (75.2), and the Trojans are starting a freshman QB. Helton should be in for another close call at the Coliseum.
* Other plays: ILLINOIS (plus-10½) over Purdue; IOWA STATE (plus-6½) over West Virginia; NORTHWESTERN (-3) over Nebraska; KANSAS STATE (plus-7) over Oklahoma State; Hawaii (plus-11) over BRIGHAM YOUNG.
Last week: 7-1 against the spread