Rankings prove Georgia has lost benefit of doubt

Georgia's Mark Richt doesn't have to wonder what it's going to take to pass Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson: win.

Georgia's Mark Richt doesn't have to wonder what it's going to take to pass Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson: win. (AJC photo)

(Last update: 2:10 p.m.)

In two weeks, this becomes less about perception than reality.

Games start, the season unfolds, myths get busted, the guy on the bar stool who never said a word before suddenly says I told you so, a Big 12 coach locks a player in the broom closet and eventually we get to January and scream about the BCS. It’s college football’s circle of life.

But for now, it is about perceptions, and this much has become clear: Pollsters believe Georgia Tech has passed Georgia on the football field.

This is what consecutive years of failed expectations and a five-loss season will do to a program.

When last season ended in Shreveport, the Bulldogs were not ranked in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 1996. That also left them behind the Jackets (13th) for the first time since 2000.

When this season begins, Georgia will trail Tech in the preseason polls for the first time since 2001, which is the year Mark Richt was hired. The AP’s preseason rankings were released Saturday. They’re similar to the coaches’ poll that came out two weeks ago, which had Tech ranked 17th and Georgia 21st. The gap in the AP poll is a bit wider: The Jackets are 16th and the Dogs are No. 23.

It’s worth nothing that the AP is no longer part of the BCS formula, having pulled out after the 2004 season because of the illogical selection process, to say nothing of the fact orchestrating a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game and rendering all other bowls relatively insignificant is just a bad idea. But the AP still is the most watched preseason and in-season poll, and it fuels what many previously believed:

Georgia has lost the benefit of the doubt.

This bit of reality won’t go over well in Athens. Richt inherited a program that hadn’t won an SEC championship since 1982. He proceeded to win two in his first five seasons. Then Georgia finished strong in 2007 to end the year at No. 2. Such cachet tends to carry over in polls from year to year.

But a preseason No. 1 ranking in 2008 turned out to be only a gateway to lopsided losses to Alabama and Florida, and a home upset by Georgia Tech (in coach Paul Johnson’s first season). Then came last year’s tumble to 8-5. Richt began to feel some heat for really the first time in his tenure. The Dogs now are at a prove-it stage. At Tech, most assume the arrow is pointed up. In Georgia, few are assuming anything.

The Jackets are 20-7 in Johnson’s first two seasons and went 11-3 with an ACC championship last season. They lost four stars (Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett) to the NFL draft. But perceptions remain that they’re better than Georgia. Why?

“We won more games than they did last year,” Johnson logically concluded Saturday morning, when asked about the recent coaches’ poll.

Asked if he cared about perceptions, he gave the expected response: “Not really. I just worry about what I perceive and what actually happens. I’m more worried about what happens at the end of the year. Being ranked before somebody at the beginning might be nice, but I’d rather be ranked in front of them at the end.”

Since the non-ranking in 2001, the Dogs have ranked No. 8, 11, 3, 13, 15, 13, 1 and 13 in the preseason under Richt. At 23, they’re now closer to the “others receiving votes” category with Connecticut, Temple and Middle Tennessee State.

“I am thankful we are ranked,” Richt said Saturday when asked about the AP poll. He added, “I hope we play well enough to move up. That’s the plan.”

That’s the way to play this. Richt raised the expectation level at Georgia. This shows how missteps in consecutive seasons can significantly alter public opinion. Georgia finished out of the rankings four consecutive seasons (1993-96), but when it finished 10th in 1997, the Dogs suddenly were back in the preseason rankings in 1998 (19th) for the first time in five years.

It figured there would be a hangover after last season. The preseason rankings might be cause for debate, but that’s what rankings are all about. There’s no reason for Georgia to scream. In two weeks, the games start, and the Dogs will have a chance to change perceptions.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

688 comments Add your comment

uga409

August 21st, 2010
11:13 am

First first?

Bill

August 21st, 2010
11:13 am

big sweat

August 21st, 2010
11:14 am

schultz you are an idiot

Greg Dog

August 21st, 2010
11:14 am

Actually, Athlon is the most accurate, and has Georgia at #14. Phil Steele is also accurate, and has Georgia at #18.

Both prove Georgia is still considered one of the best teams in the country.

Pre-season rankings form people who have no accurate track record are meaningless (ESPN/SI/etc.)

GWJ

August 21st, 2010
11:15 am

9 wins out of last 10 meetings vs Tech. Sure, UGA needs to “prove” itself this year. In fact, you need to “prove” yourself every year. I don’t think anyone is in a panic because Tech starts the year a few spots ahead of Georgia in preseason polls. Of course, it will be decided on the field.

Tanner

August 21st, 2010
11:15 am

Jeff-

One poll ranked Georgia pre-seaosn #3. That proves Georgia’s better than Tech.

Yes Man

August 21st, 2010
11:16 am

Somebody needs to inform Urban Meyer Georgia is not good anymore, so he’ll stop wasting his bye week on Georgia so often.

Really

August 21st, 2010
11:17 am

Maybe Ga. should be given rings if they beat the Tech mites and finish higher in the polls.I am sorry that’s what the Tech mites wound do if they finished higher than the Dawgs.

dog this

August 21st, 2010
11:18 am

5 star players equals 5 losses, what did you goobers expect

mdr

August 21st, 2010
11:18 am

I think that the 8-0 start you’re predicting for Teck will be more like 6-2. I expect UGA to be 7-1 heading into Jax. I don’t personally care if they are ranked ahead of us in the preseason polls. Preseason polls are completely meaningless. Especially the AP which doesn’t count for anything anyway.

Hurry Down

August 21st, 2010
11:18 am

HILASRIOUS, MARK RICHT ALWAYS FOLLOWS A BAD SEAOSN WITH A TOP 3 FINISH IN THE POLLS THE NEXT YEAR. SEE 2002 & 2007.

dog this

August 21st, 2010
11:20 am

no bama no lsu and still no respect..mouthing off about GT…jealous and sad, GT got rings because they tied coastal division for 1st place in 08 and won acc in 09, J E A L O U S not our problem

Greg Dog

August 21st, 2010
11:20 am

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:21 am

Big Sweat: I’m in idiot? Wow, great debating skills. How long did it take you to come up with that one?

Georgia fan in doubt

August 21st, 2010
11:21 am

I think Mark Richt has something to prove. As a coach, he is just not that impressive. The direction of the Georgia FB program proves that.

Both Meyer and Saban was hired after Richt and have surpassed him. Watch out for Auburn. They will be the next to mave past ole Mark.

As long as winning is not that important and fitting Mark’s mold of a player is most critical, winning big will never happen.

CMR has something to prove for sure.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:23 am

Tanner — Only referring to coaches’ and AP poll, which are ones most looked at. But curious, who has now Georgia 3?

Angie Daddy 2

August 21st, 2010
11:24 am

Just proves to delusional dawg fans that Mark Richt has wasted talent at UGA and will never bring home the MNC. Mark Richts Boys Home Club of the South are in its waning days at UGA.

big sweat

August 21st, 2010
11:25 am

well i had a bourbon. sorry, jeff don’t be so touchy.

GW

August 21st, 2010
11:26 am

Worst UGA team in 9 years beat best Tech team in 19 years on Tech’s home field. Only difference heading into 2010 is that Tech returns its QB, thus the perception in the polls.

Joey

August 21st, 2010
11:26 am

Since 1950, the AP got the #1 team right 12 times.

They got it wrong 80& of the time.

Thier inaccuracy is the reaosn they are not a part of the BCS rankings formula anymore.

ATLIEN DAWG

August 21st, 2010
11:27 am

Man we are spoiled brats here. Some states have several Div.1 Teams and they cant make a poll if they grew there on forest. So lets have some State pride when both of them climb the ACC and the SEC

Enon

August 21st, 2010
11:28 am

When pre-season rankings actually add something to the win or loss column – like a handicap or something – then I’ll start caring.

Not Disappointed

August 21st, 2010
11:29 am

Jeff, Reba will be disappointed with you assetment. So sad for her. I guess, I can live with it!

Also, I do like the rankings for both teams. There isn’t much expected out of UGA, so they can shine and do the “In your face” at the end of the year. Tech may be pretty good as well. As usual, “We shall see.”

Tanner

August 21st, 2010
11:30 am

Jeff-

Scout, ran by Fox Sports, has Georgia pre-seaosn #3, here’s the link. Proves they’re top 3 team in the nation.

http://cfn.scout.com/2/990840.html

UGA04

August 21st, 2010
11:30 am

This all the makings of an unspeakable human tragedy.

Angie Daddy 2

August 21st, 2010
11:30 am

Next time when the weather is bad CMR should have his players lifting weights instead of his players playing Rubber Ducky at the pool.

Steve

August 21st, 2010
11:31 am

I don’t think you’re an idiot Jeff. Up here in Chicago for the Braves/Cubs. Great win yesterday! Go Braves and Go Dawgs!

Chris

August 21st, 2010
11:32 am

The only way that perception plays a role in this debate is the “perception” that you can be a mediocre team and roll through the ACC. UNC is constantly one of the most overrated teams in America, and Clemson just lost a lot with Ford, Spiller, and Palmer on offense.

The biggest problem that I forsee with Tech is do you really expect that they will ever be able to win a bowl game? In 2 years it has become obvious that if you give a team a month to prepare, they can stop the triple option offense. Hence the 17 points in 2 bowl games.

Bulldog

August 21st, 2010
11:32 am

I’m tired of excuses and delusional fans. If Richt loses more than 3 games this year, it’s time for the program to head in a new direction.

Steve

August 21st, 2010
11:33 am

Collegefootballnews.com had UGA #3. Way too high coming from a UGA fan. They could end up there though!

josh

August 21st, 2010
11:37 am

Agree that the Dawgs have lost the benefit of the doubt, 3-5 years ago we probably would have been ranked higher in the same situation because of our annual top 10 finishes.
But I dont see how you can draw the conclusion that voters perceive tech’s program as better than UGA’s. The rankings are based completely on last season’s record, returning starters, schedule, etc.. Those are the variables that determine a team’s ranking. It really doesnt have anything to do with whether they think Tech is on its way up and UGA is on its way down-just that they think this year tech has a better chance to end up higher in the polls. I think most voters and even tech fans would agree that UGA is the stronger overall program right now, just havent done anything with the players on their roster right now to warrant a ranking for THIS season higher than 21.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:38 am

Big Sweat — wow, bourbon for breakfast? Did u pour it on the corn flakes? (breakfast of champions)

Larry

August 21st, 2010
11:38 am

Jeff,

It is the Associated “Press,” and everyone knows that member of the “Press” are usually non athletic, liberal art majors that base their judgment on what others say and read, not from real first hand knowledge.

Remember, it was the AP who voted a 2 loss (yes, 2 losses if you take away the infamous 5th down)Colorado team National Champs over the undefeated Georgia Tech team in 1990 even after Tech slaughtered Nebraska in their bowl game because Colorado received more “press” throughout the season.

Nothing the “press” opines or votes on do I take too seriously…I’ll go with those who actually have worn a jockstrap, not a pocket protector! :-)

Tim

August 21st, 2010
11:39 am

Preseason polls are stupid, but they do provide good discussions.

As a UGA fan, I have no problem with where we are ranked. After a horrible season last year, and a lot of question marks to start the season, it seems fair. If we make it through Ark and SC with wins, I could easily see us shoot up the polls, and possibly leap GT. At the end of the day, only 1 poll matters, and it’s the last one. The best way to change perception… WIN!!!

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:39 am

Joey — AP pulled out of the BCS. The BCS did not kick out the AP.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:39 am

Enon — Agree completely. But they’re fun to look at, and debate.

P. Bull Terrier

August 21st, 2010
11:40 am

Being ranked #23 after the disappointing season UGA had last year and starting an untested QB really says UGA still gets the benefit of doubt.

The frustrating thing is how much of a mess the whole college football ranking system has become. The fact is, no one really has much of a clue how good UGA, Tech or any other team will be this year, but the pre-season rankings will have a strong impact each team’s chances of finishing the season ranked in the Top #1. Even if UGA plays better than the biggest Dawg fan could imagine, there are too many teams with weak schedules in between #23 and #1 for UGA to have much of a shot at a national championship.

Bulldog fans need to root for Tech and Alabama most of the season. UGA’s only shot will be if they beat an undefeated Tech the last week of the regular season and an undefeated Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

trey

August 21st, 2010
11:41 am

Jeff you must be behind on your VW payment so you have to create a blog that will get a million hits from the UGA fans sniping at the Bugs over rankings in order to generate some additional revenue for you.

The reason UGA ranked low in the polls last year at the end was due to how many losses they had.

The reason UGA is ranked low in the polls to start the season off is because they have a Freshman untested QB, a true freshman QB behind him, a Jr QB behind him who has pitiful accuracy, and a brand new defensive scheme. The defense is a big question mark as a result and the offense, in spite of their overall experience, is still an unsure bunch due to the QB.

And lastly, everybody — except for a few blind kool aide drinkers — know that BooBoo should’ve been fired last year too. So in totality, when you look as his goofy offensive schemes coupled with the untested QB, the whole offensive unit is a question mark.

But I think your idea of pitting UGA against the Bugs by trying to claim the program is on the slide and that the taliban program is on the rise, is the better approach since that generates many more blog hits.

SatchelBuzz

August 21st, 2010
11:41 am

Yes!,…..deal with it nadlickers. Pay back is coming,…..and deep down,..you know it. Great day to a ‘Jacket.

THWG!!

Ed

August 21st, 2010
11:41 am

I don’t know if the rankings are fair, but agree that UGA has lost the benefit of the doubt. 2.5 of the past 3 seasons have been mediocre. If not for a red-hot second half of the ‘07 season, Richt’s hot seat status heading into ‘10 would not even be open to debate.

I agree with Bulldog and am also tired of excuses and delusional fans. Richt hasn’t shown much as a coach since the ‘05 SEC Championship game. Starting with the Sugar Bowl against W. Va., Georgia has been a different team – soft, sloppy, uninspired and undisciplined. If things don’t improve this year, then send Richt packing. There are lots of hungry assistants who will be mediocre for much less money.

Stu

August 21st, 2010
11:41 am

This was Cynthia Tucker quality and insight.

Common Sense

August 21st, 2010
11:41 am

Yes Man

August 21st, 2010
11:42 am

Forbes thinks Georgia’s better than Tech as far as revenue goes, stadium size says Georgia’s better, recruiting says Georgia’s better, players drafted by the NFL says Georgia’s better. One on one head to head record against Richt at 8-1 Georgia says Georgia’s better, Many ways to measure “better”, all these measures prove Georgia’s better than Tech from perception standpoint.

Doug

August 21st, 2010
11:42 am

UGA might very well be the surprise team of the year in the SEC. As mentioned if they get by USC and Arkansas they could be undefeated going to Jacksonville. That’s also assuming they get by my Vols, who for some reason the Dawgs haven’t shown up for recently.
Even if they lose to the Gators they could still win the East as unlike UF, UT and USC they don’t play Alabama. I don’t think the Gators can beat UA in Tuscaloosa, so UGA starts the season almost with a 1 game lead in the East.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:42 am

Tanner — Interesting, I hadn’t seen that one. If everything goes right — solid OL, significant defensive improvement, fewer turnovers and penalties, solid QB play by Aaron Murray — it’s definitely possible, especially with easier schedule this year.

ClinchPanther

August 21st, 2010
11:42 am

Logically? U R dummer than Paul, Jeff. Bees lost to the dawgs last year.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:43 am

Thanks for love, Stevie. Chicago — great town. Wrigley — great ballpark.

11-0-1 1990 National Champs

August 21st, 2010
11:43 am

I’d like to see thUGA beat Kentucky this year.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2010
11:44 am

Larry — “Damn liberals!” (How’s that?)

11-0-1 1990 National Champs

August 21st, 2010
11:44 am

I know it’s too much to ask for thUGA to beat Florida.