Georgia to Be Near Full-Strength for Michigan CFP Game After COVID Issues

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2021

ATHENS, GA  OCTOBER 16:  A Georgia football helmet on the sideline during the college football game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Georgia Bulldogs on October 16th, 2021 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA.  (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart believes the Bulldogs will be close to full strength when they face Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Friday after several players dealt with COVID-19 issues over the past month.

"We increased a lot of things around our building and our awareness of our players and understanding what's going on," he told reporters Wednesday. "They've really adhered to the policies we've asked them to and been able to steer clear for the most part.

"We had a little bout the last couple of weeks, when we lost some guys, but we got most of those guys back. The biggest thing is really being at full strength when you have to be, and that's what we're aiming toward."

The COVID-19 pandemic and omicron variant have hit college football hard, with five bowl games already canceled: the Holiday Bowl (UCLA vs. NC State); Arizona Bowl (Boise State vs. Central Michigan); Military Bowl (Boston College vs. East Carolina); Wasabi Fenway Bowl (Virginia vs. SMU); and Hawai'i Bowl (Hawai'i vs. Memphis).

Two more bowl games had to change their matchups. The Sun Bowl saw Miami withdraw and added Central Michigan to face Washington State. And Texas A&M pulled out of the Gator Bowl, with the game pivoting to replacement Rutgers to take on Wake Forest.

Smart said despite the issues with the pandemic, Georgia's players have still been able to safely attend team dinners and trips to the beach, taking precautions such as avoiding crowds and wearing masks indoors.

"The players have been able to do the outings," he said. "The CFP has made it very safe for them to do that. I think probably the worst thing you could do would be to have these kids come to a hotel and just be in the hotel for four days and not move and not do anything.

"They've made it safe for our players to function, and as a matter of fact, being outside probably helps them more than anything else as long as they're in a safe environment and not around crowds of people they don't know."

Georgia spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the country before losing the SEC Championship Game to Alabama. Both teams are represented in the CFP, with No. 1 Alabama facing No. 4 Cincinnati at AT&T Stadium at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN. 

No. 3 Georgia's matchup with Big Ten champion and No. 2 Michigan will follow at Hard Rock Stadium at 7:30, also on ESPN.

One certainty for the game is Stetson Bennett will make his 10th straight start for the Bulldogs.

"Stetson's our starting quarterback," Smart told reporters. "Again, the JT [Daniels] situation will be, is the situation right [in the game] and is he healthy enough?"