By JOHN ZENOR
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Kirby Smart talks about Georgia taking “that next step.” Quarterback Jake Fromm wants the Bulldogs “to get over the hump.”
In the Southeastern Conference, that step — or hump — is beating Alabama. Georgia has pushed the Crimson Tide to the brink in a Southeastern Conference championship game and a national championship game the past two seasons, only to lose both times.
It’s close enough to stamp the Bulldogs as national title contenders once again. Despite 24 wins and one SEC title in the past two seasons, the team’s offseason catchphrase says it all: “Do more.”
“We want to do more at the University of Georgia,” Smart said Tuesday at SEC media days. “We’re not complacent in what we’ve done, and we know we need to take that next step.”
While Georgia and Alabama remain the teams to beat in the SEC, there are other teams that showed signs of mounting challenges by the end of last season.
The Bulldogs and Tide both ended with losses, including ’Bama’s 44-16 national title game humbling by Clemson. LSU and Florida both finished on high notes to secure final top 10 rankings with Kentucky not far behind at No. 12. Jimbo Fisher appears to have Texas A&M on the rise also.
No program in the SEC has come closer to catching up with Alabama than Georgia. The Bulldogs lost the national title game two seasons ago on Tua Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass in overtime and blew a two-touchdown lead over the Tide in the SEC title game last December.
“We’re just trying to get over the hump,” Fromm said. “Trying to do more. That’s what our motto has been this offseason. How can we get better at winter workouts? How can we get better during the summer? How can we condition ourselves better, be bigger, faster and stronger? How can we prepare better? We’ll figure it all out a little more during camp and then get ready for the season.”
The Bulldogs lost their final two games, closing with a 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Both coordinators left for other jobs, but Smart brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Other teams that are hoping to take the next step and get over the hump finished stronger.
Florida and Texas A&M ended with four-game winning streaks and lopsided bowl wins under first-year head coaches. LSU won three of its last four, with a 74-72, seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M the only blemish. The Tigers beat UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
Texas A&M faces a schedule that includes defending national champion Clemson, Alabama and Georgia. Fisher was asked if he would find being called a potential spoiler “encouraging or condescending.”
“Condescending. We don’t want to spoil anything,” Fisher said. “We want to take care of our own, and they are great teams. But we expect to play with them and compete with them and win those games. That’s why we’re here. We are not looking to spoil anything.
“We’re looking to win something and go about our business and do the things we have to do. They are great programs, but Texas A&M can be the same way. We have to go play and prove ourselves and do the things we have to do, but I definitely think we’re on that track.”
Meanwhile, Mullen’s Gators routed Michigan in the Peach Bowl, appearing to close the gap with Georgia and Alabama.
“I really don’t worry about the gap too much,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “I focus more on our team and what we need to accomplish to get to that point and win it. That’s one of our goals right now, is to get there and win it and get to the playoffs.”