So, how do the Georgia Bulldogs and their fans bounce back from the debacle in Columbia?
Saturday night, Mark Richt started making his case for shrugging off this disappointment and looking ahead when he said that “whether you lose by 28 or lose in overtime, it counts as one loss.”
True. But sometimes a loss is more than just a loss. This one hurt in a lot more ways than just the won-loss record. Richt’s team looked so bad that even the happy-talk ESPN announcers ripped into them for their disappointing showing in the nationally televised contest. I’ve no idea whether that sort of thing hurts in recruiting, but you’ve got to figure it’s certainly not helpful.
Plus, the manner in which the Dawgs lost and the fact that they once again failed when faced with a ranked opponent has left the UGA fan base pretty demoralized.
That malaise lasting the rest of this season and translating into more empty seats is a distinct possibility.
Richt is right that there are games still to be played and history has shown the Gamecocks are prone to stumble down the stretch. So they certainly could wind up losing two and opening the door for the Dawgs to return to the SEC Championship game if Georgia wins out (though at this point the SEC East playing out exactly the same way as last year seems to defy the odds).
And, of course, that would still be contingent on Georgia beating Florida, which at this juncture looks like a much bigger challenge than was envisioned six weeks ago.
Still, even if the Bulldogs somehow manage to make their way to Atlanta again, the prospect of facing the collegiate buzzsaw known as Alabama brings up visions of last year’s meeting with LSU. There’s a been there, done that feeling to that scenario.
Sure, a season with 10 or 11 wins is definitely preferable to what we went through in 2009-10, but if you’re not realistically playing for a championship, what galvanizes the fan base? What does Georgia have left to play for, if the Gamecocks win out? Finally beating Florida two years in a row for the first time in more than two decades?
It’s not like a win over anyone else on the schedule is going to excite Georgia fans (though losing to one of them probably would mark this as a train wreck of a season in its own right). If Georgia loses to Florida, say, and finishes 10-2, the result would likely be another non-BCS New Year’s Day bowl in Florida. I can hear the collective yawn from the Bulldog Nation now.
But hold on. What if Georgia does regroup, the offensive line improves, Todd Grantham’s defense finally decides to try living up to its offseason hype, and the Dawgs finally blow the Jacksonville jinx to smithereens and beat the Gators? Remember 2007? The Dawgs didn’t make it to the SEC championship, but they finished the season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, got a Sugar Bowl bid and wound up as the No. 2 team in the nation. I remember most Bulldog fans being pretty satisfied with that season. Who doesn’t like a postseason trip to New Orleans?
At least one analyst, CBSsports.com’s Jerry Palm, sees the makings of a similar story this year. Palm has South Carolina winning the SEC East, falling to the Crimson Tide in Atlanta and winding up in that SEC Championship loser’s purgatory known as the Capitol One Bowl.
As for the Dawgs, he sees them beating Florida and finishing the season 11-1. With Alabama playing in the BCS title game, Palm forecasts the Sugar Bowl would take a one-loss Top 10 Georgia team as its SEC replacement to face the Big East champion.
That might sound unfair to Steve Spurrier and Gamecocks fans, but as Palm notes: “Bowls, the BCS games in particular, have a history of passing over teams that lost their league championship game if there is any other decent choice. Bowls fear that those fans, who just traveled to a neutral site game at the beginning of December and went home disappointed, might not venture out in as high of numbers a month later. 11-1 Georgia would qualify as a decent choice. In fact, the Bulldogs might even automatically qualify under BCS rules if they finish in the top 4 of the standings.”
No, it’s not the sort of championship the Bulldog Nation hungers for, but as football seasons go, such an outcome would be not too shabby.
So, yes, as Richt noted, the sun did come up Sunday, the Bulldogs “do still have an awful lot to play for” … and Georgia fans still have a team to cheer on to better days.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg