Of all the almost-ness in the SEC East, the almost-ness of Florida should be the most alarming. Georgia fans won’t like hearing that any more than I like writing it, but the Gators really aren’t that far off. But the narrative around the program is somehow lumped into that of Georgia and Tennessee despite more cause for optimism.
Will Muschamp was not a great coach. No one (except maybe the administration at South Carolina) would make that argument. But he took his team to a BCS Bowl in his second season at Florida. He went 5-3 against his two biggest rivals (Georgia and Tennessee). He never lost to the Volunteers (I guess we’ve already decided that Florida’s 11-game winning streak in that rivalry is just finished?). He beat the tar out of a top-10 Georgia team just weeks before getting fired. He drew an insanely difficult schedule. He played 18 ranked opponents during his tenure. LSU is on the schedule every year; Alabama was on there twice; FSU was peaking; etc.
Did he succeed at the level Florida fans expect? Obviously not. But he had more success than he gets credit for. He averaged seven wins per season at Florida. Tennessee has had exactly one season with more than seven wins since Fulmer was canned.
But I’m not making a case for Muschamp’s Gators. I’m (reluctantly) making a case for Jim McElwain’s Gators. Because guess what: that guy won 10 games in his first season and won the division in question.
It was rarely pretty, but he found ways to win ugly ball games in the same way Butch Jones finds ways to lose them. He won on the road in a close game against Kentucky. He won at home in dramatic fashion against Tennessee. He beat the ever-living tar out of Ole Miss (ranked third in the nation at that point). He crushed Mizzou on the road. He embarrassed Georgia and all but ended Richt’s tenure. He survived against Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
The wheels came off late in the year. No denying that. Getting blown-out by Florida State, losing to Alabama in the conference championship game and losing a bowl in embarrassing fashion is no way to go out. But know what’s worse than losing an SEC Championship game? Not appearing in one. So score that one to Mac’s tally.
Of the three teams in contention in the East, Florida was the best last season—by record, by divisional finish, by head-to-head competition, you name it. And coaching staff stability should benefit Florida where it might hurt Georgia. And a relatively recent history of winning (2012 BCS Bowl, 2015 SEC Championship Game) is something Tennessee players can’t relate to. Seriously. The last time Tennessee went to a BCS-caliber bowl (not sure what they’re called now) was the Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2000.
Florida is almost almost a good team. And compared to the rest of the East, Florida might actually look good.
That’s all I got/
This is the second in a seven-part series entitled Almost: A Preview of the SEC East. Yesterday, we discussed the University of Tennessee’s almost-ness, so check that out.
One could argue that December 1, 2012 marked the beginning of the end for The Georgia Way™. On that particular Saturday, The Georgia Way™ fell painstakingly yet definitively short against the Crimson Tide of Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Thereafter, The Georgia Way™ seemed to do everything in its power to euthanize itself over a 36-month period.
The Georgia Way™ found a way to turn preseason optimism into a narrow defeat against a renewed rival to open the 2013 season. The Georgia Way™ severed ACL after ACL while losing five of its final nine contests (including disheartening losses to lower-ranked Missouri at home, un-ranked Vanderbilt and un-ranked Nebraska in a bowl game) to close out that campaign. The next year, The Georgia Way™ self-diagnosed itself in a way that only The Georgia Way™ could as a star running back (and the best football player in the country) faced a lengthy suspension. Even a rival at its low point (Florida) and a little sister (Georgia Tech) beat up on the afflicted in 2014. And last year, The Georgia Way™ performed exactly to expectation—winning 10 games but failing to defeat a single ranked opponent and losing to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida by a combined margin of 59 points—as it took its final breath.
We didn’t know it then, but The Georgia Way™ began dying way back in 2012. And we didn’t know it then, but that’s probably about the time The Alabama Process began gestating in Athens, Georgia. The first evolution of this new lifeform saw a former Nick Saban Assistant (Jeremy Pruitt) arrive with a few other Bama connects (Kevin Sherrer and a slew of unmarked assistants). And then came the more recent iteration with the hiring of longtime Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Make no mistake about it, the Smart hire was much less about “bringing Kirby home” than it was about “Bringing The Alabama Process to Athens.” Sure, it’s a great story that Smart played in Athens. It’s lovely that he coached there early in his career and married a former Bulldog student-athlete. But he wasn’t hired for what he accomplished with UGA. His 13 interceptions as a DB didn’t matter one iota; neither did his stint as a grad assistant in 1999 or his lone year as running backs coach in 2005.
All that mattered was:
- 2008: 12-2, Final Ranking No. 6
- 2009: 14-0, Final Ranking No. 1, SEC Champs, BCS Champs
- 2010: 10-3, Final Ranking No. 10
- 2011: 12-1, Final Ranking No. 1, BCS Champs
- 2012: 13-1, Final Ranking No. 1, SEC Champs, BCS Champs
- 2013: 11-2, Final Ranking No. 7
- 2014: 12-2, Final Ranking No. 4, SEC Champs
- 2015: 14-1, Final Ranking No. 1, SEC Champs, CFB Playoff Champs
In eight years as Nick Saban’s top assistant, Kirby Smart never saw Alabama finish the season outside of the Top 10 (as ranked by the AP). The Crimson Tide won half of the national championships over that time period and half the SEC’s championships. The Crimson Tide won 98 games in eight years and lost only 12.
Georgia hired Kirby Smart to reinvent the wheel. Georgia hired Kirby Smart to make football great again. Georgia hired Kirby Smart in hopes that Number One’s Number Two might actually match or surpass Number One.
None of this should come as a surprise to keen followers of Georgia football. But from the outside looking in, Greg McGarity & Co. sure have tried to maintain a “business as usual” facade while radically altering day-to-day operations within the football program. They didn’t coincidentally hire a longtime Bama assistant. They hired Saban Lite.
Look no further than GeorgiaDogs.com for an official account this recreation.
This spring McGarity commented on the size of the football program’s support staff, saying (per Chip Towers of DawgNation), “It’s not, ‘School A has 40; I have to have 40.'”
But out of the overflow of the heart the Coaching Staff Bio page speaks.
Georgia now tallies 46 people on its football staff tab. The only SEC school with more listed (online) is Kentucky with 48. I mean, of course Kentucky, the program that gives Mark Stoops a contract extension and raise every time he successfully finds the practice field, has 48 total staff members. But 46 is a LOT. We’re talkin’ Player Relations Coordinators and Directors of Player Wellness; Quality Control Assistants and Graduate Assistants; Directors of Video Operations, Assistant Video Coordinators and Recruiting Video Coordinators; Directors of Strength and Conditioning as well as Senior Associate Directors of Strength and Conditioning and even Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coaches. You get the idea.
This is a very Alabama staff. And not just because of the numbers of job titles.
The terms “Alabama,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Tide,” “UA” and “Nick Saban” appear in staff bios exactly 54 times. And it’s worth noting that I ignored non-contextual / generic reference to the state of Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham and South Alabama. Only “UA” references to the University of Alabama were logged. Further, almost one-third (15 of 46) of the staff members listed don’t even have bios yet. Fifty-four references to the top program in the nation might 75 by the time every bio is added.
If the goal here is track Alabama, Georgia’s Human Resources Department seems to be doing a decent job so far.
But that doesn’t mean Georgia is almost Alabama. Right now, Georgia is still much closer to the 2015 Georgia Bulldogs than the 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide, and that gap makes the use of almost damn-near laughable. Consider a few measurables:
|Category||2015 Alabama||2015 Georgia|
|Top 25 Wins||8||0|
|Top 10 Wins||5||0|
What’s more, these finishes are every bit as indicative of the recent state of both programs as they are of the singular 2015 campaign for each respective team. Alabama is (and has been since 2008) the best program in the country. On the other side, Georgia is (and has been for most of recent history) a middle-of-the-SEC program. That might be a hard pill for for Dawg fans to swallow (and it was painful for me to write), but ultimately Georgia is in its current wheel-reinventing state because even with the two other traditional powers in the division down and with omnipresent menace Steve Spurrier reeling, Georgia missed out on winning the weaker division in the SEC in 2013, 2014 and 2015. That’s pretty middle-of-the-pack.
But back to almost Bama and the 2015 season analysis. Consider how hard it would be for Georgia to match 2015 Alabama. The last time the Bulldogs finished with the top spot in the country was in 1980. Georgia has literally never won 14 games in a single season and the last time Georgia lost just one game was in 2002. That was also the last time Georgia won eight SEC games (both Alabama in 2015 and Georgia in 2002 include the SECCG). Alabama won eight games against ranked opponents last year; Georgia beat eight ranked opponents in total during the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. Bama defeated five Top 10 foes last year. Georgia has only defeated five Top 10 teams since defeating Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl after the 2007 season. Bama won the division last year. Georgia won its division in 2012.
I knocked Tennessee for not being “close” based solely on 2015 results, and by the same measurement Georgia is on the exact same page. Yes, Georgia won 10 games last season. But no, the Bulldogs didn’t really beat anyone of note. Which of these victories was anything more than a game Georgia would have no excuse losing?
- Louisiana-Monroe at home
- At Vanderbilt
- South Carolina at home
- Southern University at home
- Missouri at home
- Kentucky at home
- Auburn on the road
- Georgia Southern at home
- Georgia Tech on the road
LA-Mo didn’t beat a single Power 5 Conference opponent and won just two games over all. Vandy’s only two Power 5 Conference wins came against other schools on this list (Missouri and Kentucky). South Carolina beat North Carolina and Vanderbilt. South Carolina was so bad that Spurrier quite mid-season which was the second most surprising thing to happen involving Gamecock football (most surprising was Greyson Lambert completing 24 of 25 passes against them). Southern did not beat any FBS foes. Missouri’s only Power 5 win was against South Carolina. Kentucky’s only Power 5 wins were South Carolina and Missouri. Auburn was the best team of the bunch with Power 5 Wins over Louisville, Kentucky and Texas A&M, but the Tigers missed bowl season. Georgia Southern won zero Power 5 games. Georgia Tech won one – against Florida State (quite hilariously).
That right there is nine regular season wins. Toss in a meaningless bowl win over Penn State and you have double-digits. And if you think 1. Tennessee is a good team and 2. That almost beating good teams should count for something, then give the Bulldogs credit for almost beating Tennessee on the road. But I don’t personally believe either of those things.
So I wouldn’t say that Georgia is almost Alabama in any way, shape or form.
But to be sure, there is optimism to cling to.
Georgia is immensely talented (not quite on the level of Alabama, but only one of Georgia’s last five recruiting classes failed to crack the Top 10 per 247Sports). And the coaching staff is presumably solid. After all, if ever there was an assistant coach geared to replicate Nick Saban, surely it would be his most-tenured high-ranking lieutenant. But there’s a multifaceted danger in assuming that Smart can become Saban.
First and foremost, no one prior to Nick Saban ever became Nick Saban. And I don’t mean that merely in a literal sense. I mean that Nick Saban is the best coach college football has ever seen. To win with this degree of consistency, with this amount of pressure and with this much competition is insane. With that in mind, we’d be foolish to assume that Smart will ever match Saban. At best, we should hope he competes with him. And if you witnessed Georgia’s 2015 matchup against the Crimson Tide, you know that would be one hell of an improvement.
Secondly, we need to remember that Saban didn’t become Saban overnight. We tend to remember Saban’s 9-2 campaign in 1999 at Michigan State, his BCS National Championship at LSU in 2003 and his four national titles in the last seven years at Alabama. But, we forget some of those early stages of The Process.
Nick Saban was 25-22-1 in his first four seasons at East Lansing. Over that time period he never won a bowl game or conference title.
Nick Saban never finished better than 5-3 in conference play and lost a total of 12 games during his first three seasons in Baton Rouge.
Nick Saban lost his final four regular season games (including a matchup with Louisiana-Monroe) during his first season in Tuscaloosa. Several games were vacated as punishment for a previous regime’s missteps, but the outcome of the games itself that year resulted in a 7-6 record (vs. a 6-6 record the year before under ousted Mike Shula).
It may take Kirby Smart two or three years to right this ship and he may never be the captain that Saban is. The good news, however, is that he is inheriting a stronger crew and more calm waters than what greeted Saban when he arrived at Alabama in 2007. So in that regard it’s almost possible to imagine what the program is capable.
With that in mind, Georgia belongs squarely in the conversation for the SEC East divisional crown (along with Tennessee and Florida), but to say that will be enough to make this team feel like Alabama…well, maybe we’ll get a chance to see in December. But my gut tells me that the best possible result for this team is “this is no longer the 2015 Georgia team.”
Almost Alabama still seems a ways off.
That’s all I got/
For all the nice things one can say about the job Jim Harbaugh has done at Michigan, he’s not perfect.
See, a couple of typos and clerical errors cost the Wolverines a highly-touted offensive line recruit. They misspelled his name and thanked him for attending a camp he…did not attend.
Harbaugh was unable to keep one recruit, but he retained Clint Copenhaver. Wisconsin could not sway him, and one wonders why.
— Clint Copenhaver (@copietime43) August 23, 2016
First and foremost, this song from
Sony Michel Flyguy2Stackz is awful.
Some observations from this abominable production:
Roughly 30% of the song is comprised of an A/A rhyme scheme in which the first A is “feelins” and the second A is “feelin.” My dog writes better lyrics than that. And I’m talking about my literal canine.
The words “trippin'” and “millions” do not rhyme. Don’t tell
Sony Michel Flyguy2Stackz I said that though.
I think I get what he’s getting at with the repeated line “You just keep doin’ your dance; all this money in my hands.” But at the end of the day, this just makes
Sony Michel Mr. Stackz seem like a stingy strip club attendee. Why is the money still in his hands? That seems atypical. And he doesn’t just say it once, he repeats these phrases back to back. So it’s kind of like, “Yo I’m stingy at strip clubs, this money is staying in my hands but you keep dancing.” And then, “No for real, all of this money is in my hands, not on or around your person. I promise this status will not change.” I don’t think that’s the reputation one wants when releasing a rap song on SoundCloud. There’s just an inconsistency here. I can think of hundreds of places in which fiscal responsibility would be rewarded, but this isn’t one of them.
“I ball on them and then I dab,” is something I would say if I was trying to sound super boss…that’s how I know it’s not very hip. Do people still dab? Everyone in my office dabbed during a staff photo shoot last week, which made me think the dab was dead. We’re the embodiment of “Stuff White People Like” crossed with “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” with a side of Financial Analysis. If we’re doing it, it’s not cool. #RIPDab. Or did
Sony Michel Flyguy2Stackz resuscitate the dab? Or did we remind him that the dab is worth keeping alive? Maybe this song is pretty great after all.
This entire song is cliches.
- I’m out here grindin’; people trippin’.
- People actin’ fake. They hungry, they starvin’, they killin’.
- A lot of people out here lyin’.
- Every day I gotta get it; every day I gotta live it.
- I hit my dog up when I come to the crib (side note: I also hit my dog up when I get home; shout out to DogYouCrazy a.k.a. FlyDawgNoStackz).
This is not good music. You don’t have to like it. Seriously. Take a deep breath and remember that you like Sony Michel the
student-athlete and maybe (hopefully?) you even like Sony Michel the human being. That doesn’t mean you have to like Sony Michel the rapper Flyguy2Stackz.
But you do have to like this:
That’s all I got/
This is the first in a series of posts examining the state of the SEC East and its collective almost-ness. I’m going to look at every team in the division, because as a Georgia fan every team in the division merits consideration as an annual opponent. But, I’ve chosen to start with the Tennessee Volunteers for two reasons: 1. According to most national polls, the Vols are the most relevant team in the division; and 2. I can always count on Tennessee fans to get upset, ignore context and say, “Well what about Georgia?” Georgia’s next. Tennessee fans won’t notice that I just typed that. But Georgia’s next.
You may have heard it said that hope is not a strategy. You’ve also probably heard that almost doesn’t count. In Knoxville, Tennessee, it appears that the combination of hope and almost is the winning ticket—at least this offseason.
The hope, to a pretty thorough extent, is understandable. Consider the recent context of Tennessee football. Since Phil Fulmer’s canning in 2008, the Volunteers posted 7, 6, 5, 5, 5 and 7 wins respectively from 2009-2014. Over that period Lane Kiffin (ha!), Derek Dooley (haha!) and Butch Jones (ha? maybe?) roamed the sidelines. Firing Fulmer, who just one year prior to being kicked to the curb won the division and 10 games, looked questionable at best. Then 2015 happened and along the way several recent records were established.
- Tennessee posted a winning regular season for the first time since 2009 (Kiffin’s first year).
- Tennessee posted a winning conference record for the first time since 2007 (Fulmer’s last full year)
- Butch Jones became the first post-Fulmer coach to reach a fourth year in Knoxville.
There is certainly cause for optimism for the Tennessee Volunteers. I’m not being facetious, insincere or otherwise troll-ish with that statement. Tennessee football looks better now than it has at any point in the post-Fulmer era (with the possible exception of right after Kiffin’s first year – remember, he won 7 games in year one).
I have no beef with the hope in the equation. However, take issue with the value pundits and fans alike place on almost.
Beyond the arguments that Tennessee seemingly always claims (strong recruiting, passionate fans, unbridled optimism), the two leading arguments for the return of Glory Days Tennessee Football focus on some variation of almost. After all, Tennessee almost beat some good teams last season, and Tennessee beat the tar out of a team that was almost good in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Tennessee Almost Beat Some Good Teams
Tennessee lost to two of the College Football Playoff’s four teams by a combined 12 points. Toss in a one-point loss to SEC East Champion Florida, and all of a sudden Tennessee’s four losses seem awfully insignificant.
The problem here is that four losses are always meaningful—especially win those four losses reflect your best season in nearly a full decade and you’re positioned in preseason Top 10 polls.
The Amway Coaches Poll ranks Tennessee 10th. The nine teams above the Volunteers posted an average 2.11 losses in 2015. Three teams ahead of the Vols combined to lose a total of three games. You have to go to #17 to find a team with more losses than Tennessee (Southern Cal coming off a tumultuous 7-6 campaign). The top 15 schools (outside of Tennessee) are comprised of four 1-loss teams, five 2-loss teams and six 3-loss teams.
The recently released AP Poll is even higher on Tennessee (a #9 ranking). The eight schools above the Volunteers in that poll averaged exactly two losses in 2015.
In reality, Tennessee’s winning percentage in 2015 was closer to what it has averaged over the past 10 years than it was to a Top 10 finish (as measured by average winning percentage of Top 10 teams each year).
Going from four losses directly into the Top 10 seems odd by logic of “almost” for two reasons. First and foremost, Tennessee hasn’t been “almost” in the Top 10 recently. This isn’t a team coming off a lone rebuilding year or a team just breaking in a new coach or replacing a star quarterback. This is a team that’s been wandering in the desert for 40 years. Secondly, College football is an extremely competitive sport—especially when traditional powers are involved. If we’re going to count close losses this is gonna get real ugly really quickly. I, for one, refuse to give merit for Tennessee’s most narrow losses.
Tennessee willed itself to defeat against Oklahoma in overtime last September. It was incredibly impressive and hard to forget. And I can’t give Tennessee credit for that. Tennessee lost narrowly to a Florida team that frankly wasn’t all that good (1-4 vs. ranked opposition, outscored by more than 10 points per contest in those five games). Tennessee lost narrowly to an Arkansas team that lost five games. I give no points for that defeat. Tennessee played Alabama incredibly well, but still lost. We didn’t knock or elevate Alabama for losing that game (the Crimson Tide rose from 8th to 7th in the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll as two higher-ranked teams lost that same week) so why would we give credit to Tennessee for that?
Further, if we’re giving Tennessee props for games that it almost won, then we need to give Georgia and South Carolina credit for almost beating Tennessee (and I don’t think we need to do that!).
Sure, Tennessee turned things around beginning October 31 against Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri, and Vanderbilt, but think about that collection of teams for a minute:
- Kentucky: 2 Power Conference Wins (both on this list of crappy teams – South Carolina and Missouri)
- South Carolina: 2 Power Conference Wins (North Carolina and Vanderbilt)
- North Texas: 1-11 record, lone win was a 7-point victory over the University of Texas San Antonio.
- Missouri: 1 Power Conference Win (South Carolina) + Win vs. BYU
- Vanderbilt: 2 Power Conference Wins (both on this list of crappy teams – Missouri and Kentucky)
Again, those five teams (Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt) combined to win one game against a Power 5 Conference opponent not named Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri or Vanderbilt.
These were not good football teams. They weren’t even almost good football teams. Tennessee should have and did beat all of them.
Tennessee Demolished an Almost Good Football Team
In a bowl game.
This game means next to nothing.
Northwestern is a 3-5 SEC team at best. Guaranteed.
Northwestern lost to Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee by a combined margin of 107 points. Good football teams don’t do that. So ignore the 10-3 record and the time spent ranked in the Top 25. Just know that no self-respecting good football team loses three games by an average of nearly 36 points per contest.
So What Do We Make of Tennessee?
I honestly don’t know. Given the weakness of the division last year and the amount of talent in Knoxville, Vol fans should have a hard time loving Butch Jones knowing that he failed to win the SEC East when Florida was breaking in a first-year coach, Georgia was firing its coach, South Carolina’s coach was quitting mid-season and Missouri was boycotting football for a minute and its coach was stepping down.
Does that make sense? Sure, Tennessee has been down for some time, but things couldn’t have lined up better for the Volunteers than they did in 2015.
- Florida went through prolonged periods of offensive refusal as its quarterback was suspended for PEDs. Simultaneously an entire new coaching staff tried to pick up the shambles of an 11-13 two-year stretch of football in Gainesville.
- Georgia fielded three quarterbacks (one who only knew how to pass against South Carolina, one who didn’t know which arm to throw with and one who settled as a punter) and lost its best player to injury while treading water to such an extreme extent that the most-tenured coach in the league was finally drowned.
- South Carolina’s coach quit mid-season. People forget that happened.
- Missouri’s protests were the most noteworthy facet of the Tigers’ season.
But despite those factors in Tennessee’s favor, Jones manufactured enough losses to miss out on the SEC Championship Game.
And yet, Butch Jones is not only tolerated in Knoxville; he’s validated as the coach of a Top 10 program.
I think Florida will be better this year, and based on head-to-head competition and record, Florida was better than Tennessee last year. I think Georgia will be better this year (even a healthy Chubb should secure that prediction) so that could shift the outcome of that matchup. I think South Carolina will be better (though still not better than Tennessee). I think Missouri is still Missouri. But the point is this: I’m not sure why we’d expect such a drastic jump up for the Volunteers.
Further, much has been made of Tennessee’s talent, but it’s hard to give the Volunteers a decided advantage against the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M (all of which are on the schedule in 2016).
Tennessee has almost as much talent as these schools based on average recruiting class ranking and a coach that almost beats good teams and often beats almost good teams. But is that enough for a Top 10 ranking? I say no.
Obligatory Joshua Dobbs Commentary
In closing, this would not be an article on Tennessee football if I didn’t properly pay homage to Joshua Dobbs, the lord and savior of Tennessee football (the Vols are 14-10 in games in which he plays). Dobbs can do things with his arm and with his legs, the problem is the things he does with his arm still leave much to be desired. For context, let’s compare his passing to that of Georgia
placeholder starting quarterback Greyson Lambert.
|Category||Joshua Dobbs||Greyson Lambert||Advantage|
Greyson Lambert was not a good quarterback. If he is the starting quarterback in 2016, it is unlikely that Georgia is a good team. But there’s a gap between good and great. So the question becomes this: Can Dobbs improve enough as a passer or do enough with his legs to take Tennessee from being good to great? I’m skeptical. He didn’t do that (in my opinion) in 2013, 2014 or 2015.
So what’s my prediction? I guarantee Tennessee won’t end the season in a Top 10 position. My gut is the Vols lose 3 games prior to Bowl Season and miss the SEC Championship. If 10-3 (bowl win) gets them a Top 10 ranking, I guess I might eat some crow. But I’m not banking on “almost” counting come January.
That’s all I got/