Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Matt Barrett writes: It seems that over the past week I’ve started seeing a return of the meme among national sportswriters about Mark Richt still not being completely off the hot seat along with questions being raised about whether Isaiah Crowell’s arrest is an indication that discipline is one of the head coach’s major weaknesses. I don’t get it. He kicked his top tailback off the team the same day the kid was arrested, without even waiting to see what happened to the charges in court. The other disciplinary problems this spring have mainly been attributable to Georgia having one of the strictest drug test policies in the country. How much tougher can you get? As for the hot seat, Richt won 10 in a row last year and took the SEC East. Bill, what does Richt have to do to put this “hot seat” nonsense to rest?
Basically, in order to shift the perception among the sports media, Richt needs to win a championship — at the very least the SEC and preferably a national title. That would pretty much shut everyone up on the subject.
I think the Crowell arrest provided the main impetus for this latest wave of media skepticism about Richt. It started with Travis Haney of ESPN Insider putting Richt on “the precursor to the hot-seat list,” suggesting “there is a recurring discipline breakdown among Richt’s teams … When Richt has to suspend or dismiss a player, especially a highly touted player such as Crowell, it hurts the program in terms of losing talent as well as in terms of perception. Those dings add up over time for a coach trying to win games in the country’s toughest conference.”
ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff then jumped on the bandwagon, noting that after the Bulldogs ended the season being “blown out” by LSU (does a second-half comeback by the Tigers really constitute a blowout?) and suffering a triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl that “Richt is still feeling some heat in 2012. The 0-2 finish irked fans, and his new contract isn’t exactly comforting, as he was given an extension, but no raise. It hasn’t helped that numerous discipline issues have plagued Richt’s teams over the years, leaving many to wonder just how much control he’s had with his players.” Aschoff concluded that “Until Richt can bring home another SEC title, he’ll continue to feel the heat.”
Also piling on this week was Pete Fiutak of Collegefootballnews.com, who wrote that “the problem with the 2011 season was that it gave the [Georgia] program a false sense of everything being on the right track. Instead, the Bulldogs appear to be further mired in a sort of SEC purgatory that they haven’t been able to get out of for several years, staying one step behind the biggest of the SEC big boys depending on the season, but being just good enough under Mark Richt to make it seem like they’re just one tweak, one good break, one big everything-goes-right season away from finally winning the national title for the first time in over 30 years.” Fiutak pretty accurately summed up the situation: “The talent has been on par with all the other superpower programs in the SEC — and yes, Georgia is a superpower program. The coaching has been fine and the support from the school and fan base have been terrific. But for whatever reason in a league where the difference between being an elite team and winning a national championship is paper thin, there’s something missing.” Richt, he said, “still hasn’t proven he can take the program that one final step further, and while it might seem totally unfair and completely unreasonable to suggest that a guy who has gone 106-38 in 11 years as a coach of an SEC team hasn’t gotten the job done, yeah, compared to Alabama, LSU, Florida and Auburn over the last seven years he hasn’t done enough. In the SEC you’re either a national championship program or you’re not.”
Which pretty much answers your question, Matt.
Sam Jackson writes: I see that Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel is once again saying that Georgia is not a “national power” in college football, unlike Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas and USC. Besides the fact that his inclusion of Miami and Notre Dame on his national power list pretty much shows this guy is stuck in the 1990s, how would you answer this, Bill?
I’m still trying to figure out Mandel’s rather convoluted thinking on this. He says “the goal here is not to rank programs based on winning percentage, national championships, bowl wins or any other quantitative measure, though those things undoubtedly matter.” Rather, he says, being a national power carries “a certain cachet or aura. It’s the way a program is perceived by the public. Let me put it to you this way. Suppose we went to, say, Montana. And suppose we found 100 ‘average’ college football fans (not necessarily message-board crazies, but not twice-a-year viewers, either) and put them in a room. If I held up a Michigan helmet, my guess is all 100 would know exactly what it was. … But if I held up a Georgia ‘G’ helmet, how many of them do you think would be able to identify it off the top of their heads?”
OK, putting aside the question of whether folks in Montana have even the remotest idea of what big-time college football looks like, I’d say Mandel’s criteria is rather … limited. So what is the case for Georgia being a national power? Well, if you have one of the game’s most recognizable mascots who’s been named the nation’s best and plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you consistently rank in the Top 10 nationally in licensed merchandise sales, Forbes magazine ranks you in the Top 10 of college football’s most valuable programs, you’re ranked as the second most profitable college football program after the Texas Longhorns, and ESPN announcers frequently drop into an imitation of your longtime announcer, there’s little doubt you’re a major player on the national stage.
Jackson from Dublin writes: Dear Bill, I love the Junkyard Blawg and read every post when I am on the internet. I am sick and tired of hearing how easy our schedule is! I believe at worst Georgia goes 10-2, and I really hope we can go 12-0. However, I am going with 11-1, with one minor slip-up, and winning the east. However, let’s say that was Kentucky’s schedule … Kentucky would at best go 5-7! … If it really was a cupcake schedule I think every SEC team could be bowl eligible with it. However, UK, Ole Miss, and UT could not reach 6 wins with this schedule! … We can’t help UT, Florida, Auburn and Tech are down. Heck, LSU plays a down Auburn (along with Bama) and Florida team. Are we hearing anything on their conference schedule? The West is just stronger than the East right now. It cycles … a couple of years ago the East was the best, now its the West. Everything in sports cycles. GO DAWGS!!!
The talk about Georgia’s schedule is based mainly on two factors this year: The nonconference schedule is cupcake-heavy, with only Georgia Tech being a major program; and for the second year in a row the Dawgs don’t have to play any of the three toughest programs from the SEC West: Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. But UGA only has control over the nonconference part of the schedule, and it’s in fact not that different from what other SEC programs are doing. Next year, there’ll be one less cupcake, as Clemson comes on. As for the “easy” SEC schedule, as you correctly note, that is cyclical. In 2009 Georgia played Arkansas and LSU (in addition to having Oklahoma State and Arizona State for nonconference games). In 2008, Georgia had both Alabama and LSU. Georgia plays Auburn, Tennessee and Florida every year. Yes, they’re somewhat down right now, but a few years ago so were Alabama and LSU!
Beach Dawg writes: Bill, Always appreciate your candid perspective on all things Dawg. What do you think about Vince’s comments on Crowell? Is he right? I know he’s free to discuss anything he wants, but is it appropriate for him to be making those kind of comments?
For anyone who might have missed it, Beach is referring to Vince Dooley’s comments to the AJC’s Chip Towers that the 2012 Dogs losing Isaiah Crowell “may have been the best thing to happen to them. … It was a bad-apple type thing, if you ask me.” He added that, “Historically when things like this have happened in the past, they tend to have a unifying effect on teams. They go on to have an even better season than they were predicted to have.” While some fans might think former coaches ought to stay out of these things, I believe Dooley has earned the right to say pretty much anything he wants to about the Georgia program. And while in the short term there might be some dissension on the team over how quickly Crowell was dumped, I think in the long run Dooley’s view might prove correct.
Danny Lyon writes: Bill, did you see Every Day Should Be Saturday’s rundown on Your BCS Team as a Drug? I know this sort of thing isn’t politically correct, but I thought most of it was pretty funny. At first, I didn’t get the Georgia entry — “Zero pattern, pretty good but not great, numbing … Xanax. UGA is Xanax” — but then I looked up the drug and saw it’s used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder and works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain. So I guess they’re saying we’re dull.
You think maybe they’re not big fans of Mike Bobo? You’re right, though. It’s a fun piece. I particularly liked the entry for South Carolina: “Gas-huffing. Hard to explain the appeal to non-devotees. Headaches, vomiting, delusions. Users are loyal beyond all reason.” And the one for Ohio State was another highlight: “Weed. Wildly popular. Gets smoked by SEC football players in bowls.” You can check out the rest here, but be aware that the language gets a little PG-13.
I’ll answer more Junkyard Mail next week, so if you have something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics or a question for the Junkyard Blawg, send it to email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg