Yesterday afternoon, about six hours before Alabama and LSU kicked off in the BCS Championship Game, I asked Georgia coach Mark Richt if he thought this time a year from now his 2012 team could be on that stage.
It wasn’t a ludicrous question, considering this year’s team led one of the participants for two quarters of the SEC championship. Nine starters return from the defense that did not allow LSU a first down and only 12 total yards in the first half of that contest.
Richt was, of course, predictably measured in his answer.
If there was any lesson in last night’s game, won by the Crimson Tide 21-0 in New Orleans, it’s that defense still rules the day in college football. By all indications, Georgia is going to have that covered next season.
Meanwhile, the schedule certainly has broken the Bulldogs’ way. Due to realignment as a result of conference expansion, the SEC dropped Alabama from Georgia’s schedule and replaced it with new member Missouri. Now I don’t know much about the Tigers beyond the fact they lose 12 senior starters before next season. But you have to believe opening the SEC slate in Columbia, Mo., has to be better than playing the defending national champion Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in October.
But the Bulldogs have several areas of concern to shore up, some of which might not be possible to sew up in a year. Georgia’s three best offensive linemen must be replaced, plus its starting fullback. The running game vanished at the end of the season. Tight end Orson Charles may be in the NFL next fall. Your record-setting punter and kicker are definitely gone. A special teams overhaul is in order besides.
Anybody who thinks Georgia is resting on its laurels of this past season hasn’t been listening to Richt.
“I think we came a long way this year,” he said of the 10-4 season. “I’m proud of the effort; I’m proud of the progress. But we’re still on a journey to do even greater things and that’s going to be the goal.”
Having gone on a 10-game run and having LSU on the ropes for the better part of 30 minutes, then watching their SEC brethren duke it out last night has to provide incentive.
“I would hope the guys would see it that way,” Richt said. “But every year has its new challenges and it’s going to be a new team. I knew that the day we walked out of the stadium after the Outback Bowl, that team right there was gone and they were never going to be together again. It’s going to be a new team next year and a new dynamic and a new leadership and chemistry and unity and all that kind of stuff. It’s going to get built again because everything is brand new. We’re just going to have the thought in mind of trying to get better on a daily basis and getting into position to compete at the highest level.”
The 2012 team had its first meeting as a group Sunday night at 8 p.m. at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. At that time, Richt assigned mentors to the younger players, appointed leaders and, finally, verbalized the goals and expectations for the upcoming season, which for them starts with offseason workouts in three weeks.
“I thought it was received real well,” Richt said. “It got serious at the end when we started talking about our future. I thought everybody responded well.”
South Carolina is, of course, saying the same things as Georgia today. Florida certainly won’t stay down long. Meanwhile, Alabama must replace eight senior starters, LSU nine, and who knows how many underclassmen may make the jump?
Staying on top is tough. The SEC hasn’t had a repeat champion in 14 years. But the league has produced the national champion now six years straight.
Who will it be next year?