No. 1 Georgia downplays talk of a three-peat as season begins against UT-Martin

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Kirby Smart shrugs off any talk about making history.

Despite the Georgia coach’s protestations, that storyline is impossible to ignore between the hedges.

The No. 1 Bulldogs, who open the season Saturday against overmatched Tennessee-Martin, have a chance to do something that’s never been accomplished in The Associated Press poll era.

Three straight national championships.

“I just don’t think you can make it about that because the minute you do that, you open yourself to distractions, added pressure,” Smart said. “What if it doesn’t happen? What are you playing for?”

While Smart insists on keeping his team firmly in the moment, he concedes that complacency is always his biggest concern.

The Bulldogs certainly have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves.

Georgia has supplanted Alabama as the nation’s most dominant program, becoming the first school since the Crimson Tide in 2011-12 to win consecutive national titles.

The Bulldogs looked downright unbeatable in their last game, romping past TCU 65-7 on the Hollywood stage to make it two championships in a row.

Georgia has some big shoes to fill, including Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Stetson Bennett and three first-round NFL draft picks.

But Smart, heading into his eighth season as the Bulldogs coach, has constructed a program that simply reloads each year with another batch of five-star recruits.

Even with some significant losses, Georgia landed four players on the AP’s preseason All-America first team, including dynamic tight end Brock Bowers.

UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson is realistic about his team’s chances against college football’s top dog.

The Skyhawks, seeking their third straight Ohio Valley Conference title, have played 27 games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Their only victory came against Memphis in 2012.

“I’m concentrating just on us,” Simpson said. “Obviously, when you turn the tape on and see the amount of talent and high level of schemes and how kids are coached and effort and physicality — yeah, I see it. I’m sure everybody in the country does. Tremendous credit to coach Smart and that program.”

BECK’S TIME

After Bennett’s storybook career in Athens, Carson Beck has some huge shoes to fill at quarterback.

Beck beat out Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton for the starting job, finally earning his chance after waiting patiently on the sideline for three seasons.

Beck isn’t nearly as mobile as Bennett, but the Bulldogs believe his efficiency and familiarity with the system — albeit with a new offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo — will allow for a smooth transition.

“He’s very bright, very intelligent,” Smart said. “He understands situational football. He’s a product of being here three seasons now. He’s been around, so he understands the demands that we put on the quarterback, but he also understands the demands I put on situational football.”

SKYHAWKS NEW SIGNAL CALLER

UT-Martin is also breaking in a new quarterback.

Graduate transfer Kinkead Dent takes over the starting job after playing sparingly during four seasons at Ole Miss.

“It’s his first time getting an opportunity to be the starter,” Simpson said. “It’s a work in progress. If you keep up with us later in the season, you’re gonna see him continue to grow with us.”

CALLING ALL RUNNING BACKS

Georgia has dealt with plenty of injuries at running back, giving Smart cause for concern at a position that demands plenty of depth.

Daijun Edwards has been dealing with a knee injury, Kendall Milton has been slowed by an ailing hamstring, and Branson Robinson was lost for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon.

“We’re looking at everybody at running back,” Smart said. “We’ll try to find the best way possible to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers.”

Andrew Paul, Cash Jones and incoming freshman Roderick Robinson could all get playing time Saturday.

“I feel good about the backs we have,” Smart said. “I’ll feel a lot better if Daijun and Kendall are 100 percent.”

MOURNING SEILER

Georgia’s bulldog mascot always gets plenty of attention, but there will be additional scrutiny when Uga XI takes the field this time.

Sonny Seiler, owner of the famed line of canines whose rumpled faces have represented the football program since the 1950s, died Monday at age 90.

His son Charles Seiler will accompany Uga XI, also known as Boom, to the season opener.

FAVORABLE SCHEDULE

Georgia wound up with a very favorable schedule after the Southeastern Conference ordered the Bulldogs to ditch their planned game against Oklahoma because of realignment.

The Bulldogs begin with four straight home games, a stretch that also includes non-conference contests against Ball State (the replacement for Oklahoma) and UAB.

Georgia’s regular-season slate includes only two teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25: No. 12 Tennessee and No. 22 Ole Miss.

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