Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
CP Bulldog writes: Bill, I know the party line is that Georgia should be in good shape this season at quarterback with a fifth-year senior, but I’m a little bit concerned because I still think the drop-off from Aaron Murray is gonna be pretty dramatic even if Hutson Mason plays more like he did against Tech than he did against Nebraska. And God forbid anything happens to Hutson, because our backups just don’t look ready for prime time. What’s your take, Bill? On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your confidence level in Mason?
Right now, I’d rate Mason an 8 on your scale, and that’s up a bit from the end of last season primarily because he had a terrific spring in which he worked on his flaws under the more than capable tutelage of Mike Bobo, threw no interceptions in any of the three scrimmages, and looked confident and smooth at G-Day going up against a pretty formidable pass rush from the first-team defense. Talentwise, I don’t think Mason is on the same level as Murray, with his arm strength limiting him somewhat in those downfield throws, but he’s taller than Murray and appears to do a good job of scanning the field and picking a receiver. Granted, Mason had mixed results in the two full games he started last season after Murray got hurt, but I was really encouraged by the way he led the Dogs back from a 20-0 deficit against the Jackets, and I think you have to keep in mind that against Nebraska in the bowl he was limited by injuries to the receiving corps. With the Dogs’ offense fully healthy, I think Mason will be able to better show what he can do. Along those lines, Bulldawg Illustrated reported that Mark Richt told fans at a UGA Day gathering in Savannah this week that Mason “really tightened his grip” on the starting position this spring and added: “There’s not a thing in our system that Aaron Murray did that he won’t be able to do. He’ll be able to run it extremely well and we’re very excited about his leadership ability and how he’ll do for us.” As for the backups, I’ll admit there’s quite a gap between Mason and them, but I thought at G-Day Faton Batau showed a pretty good command of the offense, a surprisingly nice touch on his passes and a mobility that would help make up for a lack of real-game experience. So, no, I’m not too worried about quarterback at this point.
Several readers wanted to continue the discussion of scheduling, both the SEC’s decision to stick with eight conference games and Georgia’s future scheduling in particular. Dan writes: Bill, I would like to see UGA go home and home with Clemson. Good regional rivalry. Growing up when UGA played 10 games, we played Clemson every year. Now we play 12 (and have increased SEC games from seven to eight) and we can’t find room on the schedule to make Clemson a regular foe? I think the UGA fan base is getting tired of paying top dollar to see directional schools (Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Louisiana, etc.). Next year’s schedule may show very low attendance figures.
Yeah, Dan, I think that 2015 home schedule for nonconference games may be a pretty severe test of Greg McGarity’s scheduling philsophy, with its emphasis on cupcake opponents filling the slots other than Georgia Tech. I recognize that one of the problems with upgrading the home schedule by adding non-cupcakes like Clemson is, of course, the necessity of a home-and-home deal, which means the loss of a game in Athens one of those seasons and the resulting in the loss of something like $2.5 million in revenue. But McGarity might end up eventually having to consider that an investment in shoring up overall attendance in an era when it’s generally on a decline. And if Georgia is going to play a power-conference team in addition to Tech, I agree with you completely that Clemson should be high on the list. Even if that isn’t the case, however, at a minimum I’d like to see Georgia continue its recent practice of having a home-and-home series with Clemson on the schedule at least once per decade.
Mark Haynes writes: I am a UGA alum living in Tampa. I log on to the AJC regularly to read UGA sports news and commentary. I always appreciate your wisdom. Thank you! Was reading your article about UGA football scheduling, and I want to share my thoughts. Now that we know it is an 8 game conference schedule plus Georgia Tech for us satisfying the other major conference requirement, UGA and McGarity need to get down to some serious scheduling. I wish everyone would stop sugar-coating this. Bottom line is fans want big games with name brand programs. We do not like playing directional schools (anything starting/ending with Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western). And, I would not even get out of bed to watch us play Georgia Southern no matter how good they are. It simply does not excite me. With the playoff system here, UGA needs to schedule big and win big. There are no other options. No excuses. … UGA needs to be in one of the kickoff classics every year. These are like mini-bowl games and are only going to increase in popularity. This year LSU-Wisconsin open in Houston and Alabama-WVU in Atlanta. Recently it was Alabama-Virginia Tech and Alabama-Michigan in Dallas. UGA got one shot at the Chick-fil-A game against Boise State (embarrassing). Don’t we have some pull with our in-state bowl in Atlanta? Can’t they match us with a big name? We should be in that game opener every 2-4 years. In addition to that, we need a marquee home-home series going on every year not just once a decade as McGarity is saying. I would like to see 2 of these going every year (one at home and one away) in addition to Georgia Tech. Then, we can fill in with a “semi-cup cake” in the years it may be needed.
I think two power-conference opponents each year in addition to Tech sounds like overscheduling, Mark. Not only would it be much more difficult, it would be harder on the players and might result in a year with only five home games, which would be disappointing for fans as well as tough financially. However, one marquee nonconference opponent on the schedule in addition to Tech, as Georgia has done in recent years, certainly would stir up more fan interest than having three cupcakes. It’s true, as McGarity noted this week, that the period that saw the Dogs playing those tougher games didn’t produce any championships. As he told the Macon Telegraph, “While it might have been exciting to fans, it did not yield a championship. So one could argue that in order to put yourself in the best spot, what model works best. So I think it just leaves it up to each institution to do what they think works best as they see fit.” Of course, if strength of schedule ends up becoming a key factor in whether the SEC can get two teams into the College Football Playoff, it might prove to be worth it in the long run to consistently play another marquee team.
As for the SEC sticking with eight conference games plus mandating one other game against a power conference team, Ted Marx writes: Bill, I was amused this week to see Stanford coach David Shaw lecturing the SEC on its need to start playing nine conference games like the Pac 12, Big 12 and Big 10 are doing. “Don’t back down from playing your own conference,” he said. Of course, when you’re in a conference like the Pac 12 that has a severe drop-off once you get past Oregon, Stanford and Southern Cal, it’s much easier to “play your own conference.” Likewise, most years the Big 10 is really just the Big 2 or 3. And until the Big 12 plays a conference championship game, I don’t think they have room to talk about anybody else. The SEC consistently has nine really good teams capable of beating most teams from most other conferences, and that has to be taken into account by the folks figuring “strength of schedule” for the new playoff, don’t you think?
Along the same lines, Jim P. writes: Bill, The recent decision to keep the status quo on the conference schedule is a brilliant move simply because there is uncertainty of how a [selection] committee will actually choose teams for a playoff. They may have an outline, but they are still human and may put more emphasis or bias of one thing over another. Leaving the schedule at 8 games gives the SEC the leeway to find out first what the committee does in reality. If it is an advantage, the SEC can stay at eight games. If not, the SEC can then change to nine games. It is much easier, politically speaking, to change up, if needed, than to try to change down from nine games.
Good point, Jim, and I’m sure that was in the minds of the conference presidents and athletic directors when they settled on the present course. As for the comments by the Stanford coach, Ted, I agree with you, but I’m a bit concerned that a general anti-SEC bias seems to be developing nationally that could keep a team other than the SEC champion out of the playoff in the future. Remember, the only reason this playoff finally came into being after years of fan gripes was because other conferences were tired of SEC domination of the BCS and particularly after two SEC teams (Alabama and LSU) played for the national championship. That’s what goosed the playoff movement. Plus, ESPN, the SEC’s partner in the new SEC Network, had to be a bit disappointed in the conference not moving to a ninth game and thus improving their inventory of TV games worth watching. The new network announced its first four weeks of TV games this week and the ESPN honchos in Connecticut can’t be too pleased by the Sept. 6 lineup that sees Florida Atlantic at Alabama, Arkansas State at Tennessee, Eastern Michigan at Florida, Nicholls State at Arkansas, Sam Houston State at LSU and Lamar at Texas A&M. No wonder ESPN’s Chris Fowler was tweaking the SEC on Twitter this week about voting down an opportunity to “improve quality.” I’m afraid that’s going to become a media mantra that ultimately will hurt the conference’s standing.
Finally, George in Gwinett writes in to lament: Bill, you need to raise the alarm about what a disaster the Dawgs’ recruiting is this year! We can’t seem to land any of the top in-state talent. Just about every week we lose another player to someplace like Auburn. I thought the addition of Jeremy Pruitt to the staff was supposed to help UGA recruiting, but we’ve got a lost year here!
Hold your horses, George. UGA hasn’t “lost” anyone yet. The folks who cover recruiting naturally like to play up the horse-race analogies all year long, but national signing day isn’t until Feb. 4, and until then all anyone has is verbal commitments that in this day and age have become all but worthless. Name recruits commit and decommit at a dizzying rate, so until the time comes to sign that letter of intent, everyone’s still in play. As for in-state recruiting, I hear recruitniks constantly talking about UGA needing to “close the borders” and keep all the top talent at home, but that’s an impossibility. Going back to Bulldawg Illustrated’s report on Richt’s comments this week in Savannah, the head coach summed it up pretty well when he said, “If we sign 20 a year, there’s probably 150 here that are major D-I players out of the state so you’re just not going to get all the guys out of your state. The SEC has more Georgia players on its rosters than any state in the union. Most people think it’s Florida but that’s not the case, it’s Georgia.” Face it, there’s just no way all the top talent in the state can wind up playing in Athens.
Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg