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This might stun starry-eyed middle-schoolers and high school players, who are otherwise oblivious to ancient history before 2006 in the SEC. But even the football Godzillas of this conference and, it follows, the globe, aren’t that far removed from humility (and Shreveport).
Before the last five seasons under Nick Saban, Alabama had an 11-year stretch (1997-2007) when it reached double digits in wins only three times, suffered through four losing seasons, four non-bowl years, lost to Auburn six straight years, went to the Music City Bowl twice and even was subjected to the Independence Bowl . . . three times! There’s your, “Roll Tide.”
Florida fans would like to forget the Ron Zook era of relative torment, sandwiched between Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
Auburn just fired a coach, Gene Chizik, who won a national championship two years ago.
LSU: You say Saban and Les Miles. I raise you Mike Archer, Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo.
It happened before, it can happened again. It happened to Georgia. Mark Richt won two SEC championships in his first five seasons (2002 and 2005). He is still waiting for a third.
So before anybody makes any grand declarations about what Georgia’s return to national relevancy this season means for the future of the Bulldogs’ program, place a ping-pong ball on the kitchen table, open the window and try to give assurances that it won’t roll off the edge at some point.
However, Georgia’s ascent this season — and actually it’s climb since the 0-2 start of 2011 — has significance. Credit to Richt, his staff and all associated with the Georgia program, because a team doesn’t go 21-1 in a stretch of regular season games, even it managed to avoid Alabama or LSU, without doing a lot of things right. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 3 in the BCS. They are back in the SEC title game again, facing No. 2 Alabama in Saturday’s SEC championship. The winner faces No. 1 for the national title.
It’s this simple: Georgia has an opportunity to affirm itself as a member of the SEC’s elite, and ranking among the SEC elite is synonymous with the national elite. Imagine how this feels for Richt, after seeing his program seemingly erode over several months, going 7-9 in consecutive SEC seasons, losing to the likes of Kentucky, Mississippi State, Colorado and Central Florida.
“It’s what you always hope for,” Richt said Sunday of the team’s position this week. “It’s what you want. We know pre‑season rankings are for the fans. Where you’re ranked at the end of the year is the most important. [But] it’s not about me. It’s about Georgia. It’s about this program, this team, these young men, this coaching staff. I don’t worry too much about all the personal stuff. But it is great to be in this position at this point. You fight like mad every year to get your team in this position.”
Georgia was in the SEC title game a year ago against then-No. 1 LSU, but there’s a greater sense of excitement and confidence in Athens now. The Dogs ranked only 14th in the BCS before last year’s SEC game. National title hopes were smothered in Week 1 (loss to Boise State). Respectability hopes were stomped on in Week 2 (loss to South Carolina).
If Richt wants to play the no-respect card with his players this week, it’s available. Most of the national commentary has focused on the potential of an Alabama-Notre Dame final. But that was expected. One doesn’t eclipse Alabama until one beats Alabama.
Even while acknowledging that Georgia and Alabama mirror each other in several areas this year, Richt said: “One thing they’ve done is they’ve been national champions and we’ve not. They’ve been SEC champions and we’ve not, during the time-frame of these kids’ careers.”
They are the measuring sticks all go by. Richt has won his share of games since 2006 but his accomplishments have paled compared to Saban, Miles and Meyer. Saban is 39-9 (.812) in the SEC with one conference and two BCS titles. Miles is 40-10 (.800) with two SEC and one BCS championship. In Meyer’s last five seasons at Florida (2006-10), he went 31-9 (.775) in the SEC, with two conference and two crystal trophies.
Georgia is back on the doorstep to both. The climb has been impressive.
– By Jeff Schultz
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