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Despite loss, Georgia should feel good about its future

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

ATLANTA -- Before the biggest game of their fledgling careers, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm found receiver Riley Ridley in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and told him his pregame premonition.

"I said, 'Man, I just feel it. I feel like you are going to have a great game,'" Fromm said.

Ridley had the best game of his career -- a team-leading six catches for 82 yards. Though it was not enough to beat Alabama on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, the accelerated maturation of its young players and the tangible experiences they gained this season are evidence of the possibilities that lie ahead for Georgia.

Fromm is a true freshman. Ridley is a sophomore. Their coach, Kirby Smart, just led his team to the national championship game in his second season -- and they were leading 13-0 at halftime before eventually losing 26-23 in overtime.

"Give them credit," Smart said of Alabama, "but I think everybody can see that Georgia's going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Call it a premonition.

It was only one season ago that Georgia finished 8-5. This season, the Bulldogs finished 13-2 with the program's first SEC title since 2005, a Rose Bowl win and a berth to the national title game.

Georgia fans flooded into the stadium just 70 miles from campus on Monday night, giddy with hope as Smart had the program one win away from its first national title since 1980. Now the bar is set -- regardless of whether it's fair or realistic.

"It's a lot of motivation," Sony Michel said. "The standard is set. The guys coming back, I am sure they are going to be hungry, they are going to be willing to work, to do whatever it takes to get back here plus more."

It's the seniors, though -- players like Michel, Nick Chubb and Javon Wims -- who have laid the foundation. As the Bulldogs were getting ready to run out of the tunnel and onto the field, Chubb found Smart and told him, "I will go anywhere with you, and I will follow you anywhere, and I will fight for you because I believe in you."

"That meant more to me than anything," Smart said after the loss.

It was also a reminder of the kind of tangible leadership it takes to propel a team to the highest level. After spending 11 seasons on Nick Saban's staff, Smart understands The Process as well as anyone.

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