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Kirby Smart embracing SEC East favorite talk for Georgia in 2017

Kirby Smart
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

Even months away from the start of the 2017 season, Georgia already is widely considered to be the favorite to win the SEC East.

And Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart is just fine with those expectations.

Smart said Wednesday on “The Paul Finebaum Show” from the Regions Tradition Pro-Am in Hoover, Alabama that he thinks it’s best to embrace such outlooks.

“At the University of Georgia, that is the expectation. We should be a team that is favored to win the East each year. We should recruit the best players in our state, which is a very productive state, and develop those guys into really good players.”

Last season, Smart’s first at Georgia, the Bulldogs went 8-5, including 4-4 in SEC play. Going into the 2017 season, they return almost all of their defensive starters and the majority of their offensive starters.

RELATED: SEC breakout players for 2017: Get ready to learn these names

“We’re still a young team in my mind,” Smart said. “Because over half of our roster will be freshmen or sophomores. But we’ve got some good football players coming back and I’m excited about our team. So I know the expectations are there; that comes with being the head coach at the University of Georgia.”

Unlike Smart, some coaches try to play down high expectations set upon their teams from outside sources. Tennessee’s Butch Jones, for instance, tried to do as much last May ahead of a season in which the Volunteers were pegged as favorites to win the SEC East. (They went 9-4 and failed to win their division.)

Smart said the competitive nature of the SEC has played a part in Georgia’s inability to get back to the SEC championship game since losing in it to Alabama in 2012.

“I think it’s hard to predict, because there’s a lot of parity and a lot of good football teams,” Smart said. “Week in and week out in our conference, look at Vanderbilt and what they were able to do last year. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Kentucky, Mark (Stoops)’s done a great job up there with their program. It doesn’t matter West or East, you’re in a battle every week. If you can’t sustain that focus with your team, then you’re going to be in trouble. So having a mature team is a big part of having a successful team.”

Smart also told reporters before his teeing off in the pro-am that he liked the leadership of Georgia’s 2017 team, a group that will be led by running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.

RELATED: Booger McFarland lists a few SEC defensive linemen to keep an eye on in 2017

(You can follow Dan Mathews on Twitter @DanMathewsATL)

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