It’s traditionally the end of the “talking season” when University of Georgia Bulldog radio announcer Jeff Dantzler visits the Milledgeville Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association the Tuesday before football’s opening day.
Duke’s Lounge & Dawg House was the setting for a group of red and black clad alumni eagerly awaiting the opener of top five clubs at Clemson University. Introduced by chapter president Larry Edwards, Dantzler had plenty to say about that matchup, the tenure of head coach Kirby Smart and all that lies ahead for the 2021 Bulldogs in pursuit of another Southeastern Conference (SEC) – and elusive national – championship.
Dantzler, thanking his hosts and remembering how things were handled virtually one year ago, said, “To be back here, it’s an incredible feeling. This personifies the Bulldog faithful and what we are all about.”
Dantzler referred to himself as a bit of a traditionalist who would like to see the SEC reduced back to the 10 teams he remembers growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. He knows that won’t happen, adding that UGA has the right leadership with athletic director Josh Brooks and Smart as both the league and the college playoff seek to expand.
“I think a lot of national pundits don’t take into account the road SEC teams have to go through,” said Dantzler. He said Clemson’s six ACC titles in a row, Ohio State’s four straight in the Big 10 and Oklahoma’s six in the Big 12 put up against Alabama only going to the SEC Championship Game two of the last four years demonstrates the conference’s toughness.
Regardless of the outcome of Georgia-Clemson on Sept. 4, Dantzler wouldn’t mind a rematch during the playoffs.
But the season doesn’t end with Clemson in September. The Bulldogs are hosting a UAB team that won Conference USA in 2020 and returns 17 starters.
More reasons for worry? There’s South Carolina’s 5-5 record against Georgia over the past decade with “hard losses” when the Bulldogs had great teams. Dantzler also feels there will be motivation playing at Vanderbilt after the Commodores backed out of last year’s meeting two times costing the program its Senior Day.
Arkansas, under former UGA offensive line coach Sean Pittman, returns 20 starters, and Dantzler feels it will be rejuvenated. That takes the schedule to Auburn, and Georgia’s riding a 13-3 roll on the Tigers. Dantzler said that’s better than a string of seven losses in eight years (1983-90).
After AU and Kentucky …
“I’m confident we’re going to beat the Gators … Most years, that berth in Atlanta runs through Jacksonville.”
Teams like Arkansas and Missouri are in their second year with a coach, but for Auburn and Tennessee, it’s year one. Dantzler said Tennessee was another series of misery once for Georgia, nine losses in a row in the 1990s. He said that gave the Vols a seven-game lead in the all-time series, but that’s been flipped to plus-2 in Georgia’s favor.
Then, in the series with Georgia Tech, Dantzler said there was a moment of authenticity for Smart’s tenure. He said as a player Smart lost his last game versus the Yellow Jackets on a last-second field goal and then lost his first game as a coach vs. the same program by one.
“It’s funny how things go from that,” said Dantzler. “Nick Chubb and Sony Michel said we aren’t going out like this. When they came back, the credibility that gave Kirby …” Not to mention the 2017 SEC title.
Dantzler said both Kirby and wife Mary Beth Smart, two All-Academic student-athletes at UGA, are where they are always wanted to be.
“He wants to be here like Coach Dooley was, for a long time,” he said. “He has done a lot of altruistic things. They started the spring of his first year the Kirby Smart Family Foundation. For over 70 charities that foundation has raised over $1.3 million.
“All in all, we’re in golden times with Kirby. I know how hungry you are to win the whole thing. We’ve been so close. Maybe this is the year. The good thing is … as long as Kirby’s here, we can have confidence that we are going to be one of the best programs.”