Georgia Bulldogs: The Big Picture and Dare I Say…the National Championship
A few weeks ago all hell was breaking lose if you listened to the vocal minority (or maybe majority) of Georgia Bulldogs fans. Georgia had suffered an embarrassing 35-7 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks and many couldn’t even be talked off the ledge as they were too busy trying to push Mark Richt off of it first!
In contrast to that seemingly popular panic I wrote (in my most-commented-on article of all-time, most comments coming from dissenting readers) that “in the grand scheme of things, the score [of the South Carolina loss] doesn’t matter, it was a loss to South Carolina that can be overcome.” For Georgia to overcome this setback I pointed out that the following two things needed to happen:
- South Carolina needed to lose to Florida or lose two other games – something that there was a historical precedent for (dating back several seasons) and something that came to fruition as the Cocks lost to LSU and Florida.
- Georgia needed to beat Florida – an assumption that I deemed plausible as I felt the Carolina loss was an outlier and I believed that Georgia was more experienced and more talented than Florida. That came to be.
It’s hard to believe that we are only those two measly steps removed from doomsday, or at least Richtageddon as some wanted to believe. Georgia is now sitting on a 7-1 overall record and 5-1 in the conference. The Bulldogs have four games remaining with conference matchups against Ole Miss (at home) and Auburn (on the road) preceding home dates with FCS Georgia Southern and 21-points-inferior-to-MTSU Georgia Tech. Ole Miss poses the biggest threat (at least on paper and from where I’m sitting at my non-film-evaluating job) and despite being a trendy upset pick this week the Rebels opened as 16-point underdogs against the Dawgs. Yes, Georgia has to take care of business (more on that forthcoming), but barring a disaster the Bulldogs will roll to the Georgia Dome as the SEC East Champs with an 11-1 record (11 wins has only happened 8 other times in the program’s history that I can think of – 2007, 2003, 2002, 1982, 1980, 1971, 1946, 1942) and a top-5 BCS ranking.
That’s the grand summary of where we’ve been and the general outlook. But how, more specifically is that going to play out, and what is the ceiling for this team?
Although there’s nothing on paper to indicate a pending struggle (yes, that’s why you play the games though) with Ole Miss, Auburn or Tech (I’ll respectfully skip over Georgia Southern and work on the assumption that a late-season version of App State/Michigan is unlikely), Georgia can’t afford to merely win those games. Georgia needs to dominate those games.
I predicted, rightfully so, that the “switch” would get flipped on Georgia’s defense against the Florida Gators. Now that they’re turned on they need to stay on. Georgia can ill-afford another shootout this season and momentum – which is at a premium this late in the season – is going to be requisite for post-season success. Georgia has the talent – more than I even have time to name – and the coaching, now they must maintain that intensity. By the end of last season the Dawgs’ defense was playing with a swagger that resembled the old Junkyard Dawgs defenses. They started to get that back against Florida, but that type of confidence needs to be built upon to fully develop. Ole Miss is averaging 32 points per game – I’d like to see them held to 14 or fewer. Auburn and should be kept under 10 (for the second consecutive year) and Georgia Tech under 17. And, those figures are all minimal requirements. 10, 7 and 10 is doable.
Offensively the Bulldogs need to tighten up. I think a lot of people liked the idea of a high-powered Georgia offense, and I admittedly bought into it. Frankly, the Dawgs needed that to survive with a struggling defense. But that isn’t who Georgia is. Georgia doesn’t need Aaron Murray to force passes (which he has done in his last three games but managed to do successfully only once, against Kentucky). Georgia doesn’t need to force runs up the middle (especially not with Keith Marshall – a speed back who is deadly on a toss sweep). What Georgia needs is for the offense to enter each game, play mistake-free and stick to a game plan. Ole Miss is a middle-of-the-pack defense both against the pass and the run, so I want to see Bobo call a truly balanced game. Auburn is giving up over 213 yards per game on the ground, I’d like to see the Dawgs run the ball 40 times. Georgia Tech is giving up over 260 yards in the air, so Murray should pass the ball a little more.
If the defense can dominate and the offense can take what’s available – rather than forcing what they think might catch a team off-guard – the Bulldogs can win their last few games by big margins.
If the Bulldogs can do that they’ll head to the Dome with a top-5 ranking to take on either Alabama or LSU. It’s too soon to analyze either of those teams as they relate to the Bulldogs (because we don’t even know which it will be, and it could theoretically be Mississippi State – wouldn’t we love that?), but I don’t think either team is as dominant as their respective 2011 squads were. LSU’s offense is even worse and they still haven’t found a playmaker to replace Tyrann Mathieu (that’s a big reason why they’re not in the nation’s top-50 in scoring despite being in the top-10 in defense and dominating time of possession). Alabama is certainly impressive, but remains relatively untested as several opponents that were thought to have value in the preseason have declined in credibility – Michigan opened the season ranked 8th and is now unranked at 5-3, Arkansas opened the season ranked 10th and is now 3-5 with embarrassing losses to teams like Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers on their schedule, and Missouri and Tennessee have proved to be bottom-of-the-pack SECers, not rising programs.
But although it is early to predict this game, I’m confident in saying the Georgia Bulldogs will be an underdog in the SEC Championship – assuming all goes to plan and they get there. And, if that is the case I think it is in Georgia’s best interest to hope for the undefeated team (Alabama, pending a win over LSU) as the opponent as the upset of the Crimson Tide would do more to bolster Georgia’s résumé relative to the BCS National Championship Game and a loss to the nation’s undisputed #1 would do less damage heading into Bowl selections.
Everyone would have thought DudeYouCrazy needed to be institutionalized if I had said this immediately following the South Carolina game, but this is all that now stands between Georgia and a National Championship Game appearance:
- Four wins over teams that will most-likely all be 16+ point underdogs
- An upset against either an Alabama (who as of today holds a win against Mississippi State, who I still think will drop out of the top-25) as its top win, or an LSU team (who lost to Florida – a team Georgia beat).
Do those scenarios sound far-fetched? Maybe so. But do you think they’re less-likely than the two conditions Georgia needed to win the SEC East following the loss to South Carolina? I personally am not sure, but I was also in the minority that was confident even as the Red and Black world seemed to crumble on October 7th and 8th.
There’s still a lot of season left and I’m thankful for that. I don’t think we’ve seen Georgia’s best football yet. And that should be a little bit scary for the Alabama and LSU’s of the world, although I hope they’re not even noticing.
That’s all I got/