Georgia’s ascent to SEC title game is positive sign for future

Mark Richt has Georgia back in the SEC title game for the first time since 2005.

Mark Richt has Georgia back in SEC title game for first time since 2005. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

In Mark Richt’s first five seasons at Georgia, the Bulldogs played in three SEC championship games. In the next five, they played in zero. So this somewhat qualifies as a welcome back to relevancy.

But does the euphoria of playing in the conference title game against LSU on Saturday project to long-term significance?

If Georgia’s 10-game winning streak wasn’t the mere residue of a soft schedule, if Richt once again truly is in command of this program, if the relative off-the-field peace – let’s put Isaiah Crowell aside for a moment – isn’t some aberration, then the Dogs can celebrate much more than a division title.

Georgia may suddenly find itself in a position to flip the power structure in the conference.

That’s not to suggest LSU or Alabama may implode any time soon. (They won’t.) But given the Dogs’ youth and ascent, the maturity and resiliency following the 0-2 start, returning talent, and an expected impact on recruiting, completing for SEC titles may be the norm again. And competing for SEC titles means relevancy on the national landscape, as well.

Athletic director Greg McGarity isn’t that far removed from having to ponder making a coaching change after this season. So he has been careful not to be overly effusive in praise or make grand proclamations in recent weeks. But he didn’t hesitate when asked about the future.

“The potential is there for us to build on what we’ve established this year,” he said. “Things are definitely going in the direction we want them to be going in. But you can never stop having a sense of urgency.

Isaiah Crowell (center), the subject of rumors the past few days, is scheduled to suit up, but Richt wouldn't address the status of his running backs. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Isaiah Crowell (center), the subject of rumors in recent days, will suit up, but Richt wouldn't address status of his running backs. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

“I think we’ve seen in this conference that you can turn things around quickly. That’s evidenced by what Steve [Spurrier] did at Florida. It’s evidenced by what [Nick] Saban has done at Alabama, and what he and [Les] Miles did at LSU. The difficult thing is staying competitive. If your recruiting falls off or you have [coaching] turnover, you can fall behind in a hurry. Look at what happened at LSU before Nick got there. Look at Tennessee now.”

The Dogs don’t need to upset LSU in the Georgia Dome to validate their season. But not getting blown out would help. And they have a legitimate shot to win this. Aaron Murray is playing that well. So are his receivers. So is the defense.

The biggest problem is the running game in general and Crowell in particular. He has been a cyber-rumor with ears in the past few days. Pick one: He malingered at practice; he feuded with teammates; he quit; he got suspended. The only certainty is that his health (lately his ankle) has been an issue all season.

Crowell was at the Dome with his teammates Friday. He is on the “dress-out” list. Richt again declined to comment on the status of any of his running backs. But McGarity chuckled when asked about the suspension rumor, saying he knows nothing of it and commenting, “I’d know, wouldn’t I?”

If the situation is weighing on Richt, he hid it well. He seemed at peace. He referenced his 100th career win at Tennessee, the comeback against Florida, the wins over Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. It was a news conference of reflection for Richt, which is unusual for him during the season.

“We’ve had a lot of really special times with this team this year,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it maybe as much as any season that I’ve coached.”

He referenced the 0-2 start, the 6-7 record in 2010 and “all of the things I knew were swirling around, which I’m sure intensified. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, but I knew it was out there.”

When a national writer asked Richt if he felt vindicated, he responded: “This year in particular I’ve been very thankful for everything that’s happened. I’m thankful for a group of men who bought in back in January and went through all the things you have to go through to create team atmosphere and chemistry.”

It got them to the title game. It could get them to more in the future.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

608 comments Add your comment

OkieDawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:10 pm

I’m honored.

Gdawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:15 pm

erk

December 2nd, 2011
5:19 pm

Bill Stanfill

December 2nd, 2011
5:19 pm

Crowell is a mystery to me.

But the Dawgs need him badly if they’re going to have a chance to win tomorrow.

chilidawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:22 pm

Hopefully, just getting to the dome will not be enough to satisfy CMR and the dawgs. Play this game to win it, not just to make it look respectable.

GTBob

December 2nd, 2011
5:23 pm

It is a positive sign. For the SEC west. It means that they don’t have to worry about competition from that side of the conference for a while.

CROWELLISACANCER

December 2nd, 2011
5:26 pm

Crowell better get his attitude in check!!! Stop the DIVA BS AND RUN THE Freakin’ ball!!! He can’t do that go back to Columbus and work at McDonald’S!!!

RiffRaff

December 2nd, 2011
5:30 pm

Nobody in the media is giving the Dawgs a chance. Can’t wait to screw up the BCS Saturday afternoon. Go Dawgs!

Spanky

December 2nd, 2011
5:31 pm

Oh hi there, Bob! SEC West the best, huh? They’re not nearly as good as the ACC, are they?!…are they?! LMAO!!! …time to duck back into your gopher hole!

Kirk

December 2nd, 2011
5:31 pm

I want a good game out of the Dawgs. Maybe not a win, but a good game.

Hoopster

December 2nd, 2011
5:32 pm

Not really. It’s a sign that the schedule was the weakest on that side of the conference. Beatdown coming!

Dirty Dawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:32 pm

GTBob….get another life!

Felix the cat

December 2nd, 2011
5:34 pm

Its the Bayou Beatdown Countdown Go Dawgs! Sic em! Woof Woof!

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

December 2nd, 2011
5:36 pm

Crowell will quit in the 1st QTR when LSU hits him hard. Perhaps next year UGA will have to play someone in the SEC with a decent team then again look at the East and tell us that might be! UGA best hope the Bama game is washed out due to A&M. Enjoy the east side dogs for you want no part of the West. LSU 35 UGA 13

DA'RICK

December 2nd, 2011
5:36 pm

Can I play in the championship game too?

dawgster

December 2nd, 2011
5:37 pm

@GTBob…I really don’t get you..Is that all you can do is bring hate and insults to the table…Do you ever wonder or look in the mirror and ask why no one on here respects anything you say…I understnad you dislike of the dawg, but even alot of tech fans have been respectful about our team…Not sure whay you have such an interest in them other than you have suffered losses to this dawg team 10 out of the last 11 years…

Have you ever tried to be civil and have meaningful discussions or are you just to childish…?

Areukidding???

December 2nd, 2011
5:37 pm

Jeff, you and the rest of the so called sportswriters crack me up…at the beginning of the year you were writing that Rev Richt had to go because the team started 0-2…then one player gets a DUI and the Ganja Gang gets doped up and the good Rev decides to suspend them conveniently after the Fla game and again all of you gripe about whether he has control of this team. Just like the first time around for the Rev he won SEC championships because the conference was crap and didn’t have coaches against him like Meyer, Saban, Spurrier, etc. He got lucky again this year with the weak sisters of the East and now they are a proclaimed a national powerhouse…what a joke! Nobody outside of the SEC thinks the Ugag program is nothing more than a recruiting juggernaut that underachieves with their coaching year in and year out…but keep up the good work kissing tail of the Nation so they can come back again next year crowing for no reason once again! What a joke!

Baker

December 2nd, 2011
5:38 pm

Sign this Marshall kid (I think that’s his name) and if Crowell wants to fool around then he won’t be running much anymore.

kb

December 2nd, 2011
5:41 pm

GTBOb, suffers from serious Georgia envy. His team sux, his coach can’t recruit(or coach), the talent gap between tech and Georgia is as large as its been in years and there is little hope that its gets any better. Georgia tech= Annapolis South.

Rev Goodlove

December 2nd, 2011
5:42 pm

Guys, you do realize the Crowell is fresh out of high school? We need more than just him, he has almost 900 yards as a freshman in the SEC……. GT BOB, i think you’re really St Simons! Good to have you back you Tech loser! by the way we run this….never mind, you already know I’m sure.

In one day, all you nonbelievers will see what i know.
Dawgs roll,

Terrible Truth

December 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

Hope Paul Johnson looks about a mile to the south and sees what big time college football is all about. ‘Course maybe the All Chumps Conference is about all he can handle.

Cdpridg

December 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

Lets get’em Dawgs….and oh Bobby! Let me give you as a bug man a little history lesson son! UGA is competing for a 13th SEC title…..I think we know a lil something about how to get that done!

chalkdawg4

December 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

Dawgs shock the world. Isaih has his Herschel moment. Aaron Murray goes to the top for the Heisman watch next year. Jarvis Jones 3 sacks. Yeah I can dream. Just glad to be here and have a chance. Wonder where Spurrier played golf today. Go Dawgs!!!!

GTBob

December 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

Do you ever wonder or look in the mirror and ask why no one on here respects anything you say

Nah, i’m well aware that dog fans don’t like me because I consistently knock them off of their delusional pedestal.

JB

December 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

WE GOTTA block better than we have all year. Watching our backs hit a stone wall against Tech’s defensive front in the first half gives me pause. These guys ain’t Tech.

DawgDays

December 2nd, 2011
5:44 pm

Bill Stanfill, there’s not much mystery to Crowell, it appears he is a prima donna, that doesn’t want to work hard and maximize is God given talents. And thats a shame. I hope he can come around as much as the next Dawg, but if he can’t, the Coach needs to kick the Energy vampire off the bus! We dont need this kind of distraction on the team, and especially the week before the SEC championship. I for one believe that Richt’s house cleaning and team unity is the main reason for the turnaround, it hasnt been a talent issue.

Well Ah?

December 2nd, 2011
5:45 pm

Everyone has excuses, we win 10 in a row and it’s because the scheduled is weak. Bama loses at home and they deserve another shot to lose because they are the best team in the nation? GT hires Paul Johnson and the tech gets a win over a bad Ga defense. Then we beat tech every year since……………

JB

December 2nd, 2011
5:45 pm

The sooner you guys leave GTBob alone, the sooner he goes away. His high is response from Dawg fans. That what womanless people do.

GTBob

December 2nd, 2011
5:46 pm

I think we know a lil something about how to get that done!

Going for your 13th in what 80 years? Impressive.

Well Ah?

December 2nd, 2011
5:47 pm

I knew it, GT Bob is St Simons, he isn’t dead, he’s alive and bitter as ever.

Yo Bob, if we lose every game every year and only beat tech i can live with that.
You guys got smashed at home in front of your 20 thousand fans……..
I love it!
you guys should discontinue your football program

Coach Paul Johnson

December 2nd, 2011
5:49 pm

You got me guys, I’m Gt Bob, my triple floption will work next year…….

GTBob

December 2nd, 2011
5:49 pm

Have you ever tried to be civil and have meaningful discussions or are you just to childish…?

Believe it or not, I did try to once. It doesn’t really work on these blogs so I went with plan B.

No Sec championship...no problem

December 2nd, 2011
5:50 pm

Triple Floption……I’m sorry but that is funny….

Dawgs are ready…..

CATDOG

December 2nd, 2011
5:53 pm

to be honest i think the AJC staff might be behins GT Bob and St simons. We all know they are Tech followers not Dawgs!
they jumped ship at 0-2 not they are on the fence because we are playing LSU.
you picked your side,
watch as we show our naked A$$E$ in the dome!
LSU is not ready for what is coming at them!

Cdpridg

December 2nd, 2011
5:53 pm

GT bob….bout the way your bug team gets knocked off year after year in Nov….u son are the epitome of a dumb bug fan….coming to a gun fight with your little pee shooter…you sir are a fan of a prgram that has not been relevant for more than 1 year at a time in 60yrs. No fans of any fanbase can talk smack to Dawg fans….we own all you chumps! Fla fans….yeah over the last 20yrs can hear a little smack but we owned the lizards at such a rate that they even still trail by 9 games or so. I do give you a little kudos for stepping up to big brother only to get smacked back in place time and time again!

BG

December 2nd, 2011
5:54 pm

The future is very bright for UGA. GO DAWGS! Upset the Tigers, BCS AND ESPN Saturday.

KOOL

December 2nd, 2011
5:54 pm

old dawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:55 pm

I Crowell will not see a single snap, and this will be his last game as Bulldog, unless he transfers to Miss St.

OkieDawg

December 2nd, 2011
5:57 pm

Hey GTBob, Any truth to the rumor GT has applied for admission into the FCS(1-AA)? CPJ thought his funny little offense and lack of talent would be a better fit in 1-AA. And the GT admin thought that the little BDS @ Grant Field would be more in line with a 1-AA school. I wonder, if GT moved to 1-AA, would they still be on PROBATION?

Mike

December 2nd, 2011
5:58 pm

Good column, Jeff. This team has a lot of youth, and McGarity is right on about how quickly things can turn south. I think Richt’s issues began with the coaching turnover, especially on the defense and offensive line. That appears to be fixed now. I think Richt also had a couple of recruiting classes that ended up with bad apples in them. The players that have been dismissed over the last year or so point to that.

This “Dream Team” appears to be the real deal though. Crowell’s issues aside, there is a lot of youth on this team and definitely promise for the future. If they can continue the momentum, and hopefully keep Grantham at DC for longer than just next year, they will indeed be set up for another good run under Richt.

Cdpridg

December 2nd, 2011
5:58 pm

GT bob…such a clown…only 2 schools have more than 13…bama and UT with 14. You really want to continue as a bug man?? I am going to embarass you worse than your team on the field every Nov on the field

Go Tech!

December 2nd, 2011
5:59 pm

It is just a matter of time before we will be hearing about the next mass arrest of bulldog players hooligans or academic fraud or a host of NCAA violations.

GTBob

December 2nd, 2011
5:59 pm

No fans of any fanbase can talk smack to Dawg fans….we own all you chumps!

Believe me. With everything that goes on with the UGA football program, and the fan base that always thinks UGA is the best team in the country, it’s a lot easier to talk smack then you would think.

Yellow Fuzz

December 2nd, 2011
5:59 pm

Good luck to the georgia players and coaches.

ViningDawg

December 2nd, 2011
6:01 pm

You heard it here first… Dawns win, but neither offense scores a TD. Go Boykin and Rambo!
(So Crowell quitting as the hitting starts up will not matter)

Ha!

December 2nd, 2011
6:02 pm

“It was a news conference of reflection for Richt, which is unusual for him during the season.”

If only the season actually ended today…

Eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die.

GATA

December 2nd, 2011
6:03 pm

Heard an interview on Jim Rome today with Bama’s Trent Richardson. Didn’t know it but he has 2 kids, fathered the oldest one when he was 16. Comes from a rough town; nobody gets out and goes to college. Odds stacked against him. He has taken this opportunity to work his a$$ off, possibly win the Heisman and another NC, and go into the NFL. He says he works hard for his kids. Sounds like he “gets it” and is making the most of it. I hate Bama but I respect what he is doing. Hopefully the light will come on with Crowell and he will see the opportunity he has right now and give it his best shot, not just for UGA’s sake, but for his own.

Hater

December 2nd, 2011
6:03 pm

I can’t see UGA winning without a +3 turnover margin, perfect special teams, and 150+ yards rushing. Murray is awesome, but he will be unable to carry us. Of course anything can happen in college football. Go Dawgs.

Monkey Says

December 2nd, 2011
6:04 pm

Okay…all of you fellow apes…post your predicted final score.

UGA losing 3 offensive linemen, with very little depth does not pose well.

Losing 3 key defensive players with the option for 2 or 3 more to leave early, add in the players who will transfer out, flunk out, quit, and injury will mean that UGA is not as deep as most think and playing freshman is never a great answer for the most part, with a few exceptions.

LSU 44 UGA 13.

Go Tech!

December 2nd, 2011
6:04 pm

We know how this will turn out. Mass arrests of hooligan bulldog players, academic fraud, coaching shenanigans, and numerous NCAA violations will be forthcoming; business as usual when you are talking about Georgia athletics.