Georgia Football and How What People Don’t Know Is Hurting the Bulldogs
I fully realize the hypocrisy in my hatred for preseason polls. I voted in one for Bleacher Report. I created one here. I put real time and real effort into both ventures and I enjoyed them. But I hate them nonetheless.
In the preseason we don’t know anything. We might think we have a feel for the pulse of our favorite team or even the conference in which that team plays, but “educated guess” is a bit of a misnomer. The guess work, after all, far surpasses the education. But we (the amateur media, the bloggers, the whatever-you-call-us) aren’t alone in this idiocy.
Case in point: Mississippi State is now the nation’s No. 1 team. Who saw that coming in the preseason? Even the cowbells themselves didn’t even anticipate that type of clanging up the polls. The Bulldogs from the SEC West were planted firmly in the “Others Receiving Votes” portion of both major polls. The Associated Press had Mississippi State at the equivalent of spot number 36. The Coaches tabbed the Bulldogs at No. 29.
But for every Mississippi State-like rise to glory, the bottom has to fall out for another program. In the Southeastern Conference this year, two programs—South Carolina and LSU—fit that bill particularly well. But in and of themselves these declines are not noteworthy in a bubble. What is worth understanding, however, is what pundits missed going into the season and how those misses are now impacting perceptions and polls.
I struggled mightily with South Carolina heading into the season. The AP tabbed South Carolina as the nation’s 9th best team. I wondered (in writing here) if South Carolina was now truly a perennial 11-win team:
As sure as I write this, South Carolina fans will call me out for not recognizing what the program has become. But it should be noted that my questioning of South Carolina has nothing to do with what the Gamecocks accomplished over the past three years and everything to do with if Spurrier and Co. can maintain it. Over the past three seasons, South Carolina has arguably been the best team in the Eastern division despite failing to earn an SEC Championship Game bid. But can the wiles of Spurrier keep this program on top?
Missing from the Gamecocks’ squad in 2014 are a host of household names. Most obviously, Jadeveon Clowney is gone. This time last year, Gamecock fans (rightfully) hailed Clowney as the best defensive player of his generation. The team rode Clowney hype to a host of preseason accolades. Oddly, the departure of this one-man wrecking crew has had little impact on outside sentiment surrounding this team. South Carolina is ranked 9th by the media and the coaches in preseason polls.
On the offensive side of the ball, the most successful quarterback in program history is gone. Connor Shaw may not have always been pretty, but he won football games with more consistency than any other passer in Gamecock history. South Carolina hasn’t typically been forced to replace this caliber of payer, because these types of producers have not typically played for South Carolina. In that regard, South Carolina has never lost more talent.
Later, I questioned whether South Carolina’s best asset—running back Mike Davis—was Todd Gurley-esque in his ability to change games.
Comparisons between the two seem downright insulting to the Heisman candidate wearing Red (not garnet). Gurley missed time over the course of Georgia’s last eight games too. Over that stretch he’s accounted for 1,131 yards of offense. He’s turned 26 more total offensive touches into 531 more yards. Run the numbers on that.
I happened to be right on those two blurbs (though again, read my Mississippi State preview if you think I think I’m never wrong!). Most other pundits were wrong. Hell, even our unofficial pre-season SEC power rankings had South Carolina at No. 3 in the conference.
What matters more than being right or wrong, however, is how being right or wrong impacted outside sentiment. The general public (hereafter “people”) thought South Carolina was a really good team heading into the season. So, when Texas A&M steamrolled the Gamecocks on Thursday night of Week 1 the immediate assumption was that the Aggies were great. As a result, Texas A&M climbed from No. 21 in the AP Poll to No. 9. A win against Lamar vaulted the Aggies to 7 and a win over Rice put them at 6.
Texas A&M was never the nation’s sixth-best football team. The Aggies beat the pants off of a South Carolina team that was mis-valued and things got out of whack. Accordingly, the fact that Arkansas played A&M close should be discounted. Mississippi State and Ole Miss both handled A&M comfortably over the past two weeks, but again—this is not a Top 10 team. Texas A&M is giving up an average of nearly 35 points per game in four contests against Power 5 opposition. The Aggies have scored more than 35 in just one of those four contests. Sorry, people. The Aggies are not who you thought they were after Week 1.
But what’s interesting about the Aggies handy defeat of South Carolina is that it immediately made the Gamecocks irrelevant to people—regardless of scenario. So, when South Carolina beat Georgia in the weirdest of weird games*, Georgia was discredited unfairly. What people didn’t know was that this game has gone in the Cocks’ favor more often than not. Much like the Florida rivalry was not too long ago, South Carolina has had Georgia’s number, regardless of what happens in the other 11 games of the year.
*What most have now forgotten:
- This game was delayed repeatedly due to lightning. Yes both teams faced the same circumstances, but no that’s still not normal.
- Todd Gurley had a long touchdown run called back due to a hold that did not exist. The SEC admitted there should not have been a penalty on that play.
- Marshall Morgan set a conference record for consecutive field goals made and promptly missed two in a row.
This isn’t the rehashing of excuses, but rather a recap to demonstrate how little people remember about that game now. Georgia is one play away from being undefeated. Instead, all that’s remembered is Georgia losing to a terrible South Carolina team**.
**Note to South Carolina Twitter: Not my sentiment, but public sentiment.
So now the SEC East is a disgrace of a division in which even the clear leader can’t survive against a team with a losing conference record. In reality, however, Georgia lost a freakish game on the road to a team that has some kind of voodoo spell over the Bulldogs. That’s all.
Now, contrast that view of South Carolina with the view of LSU.
LSU also lost a tremendous amount of talent heading into the season. The Tigers also opened the season ranked too high (No. 13 by the AP). They even climbed up to No. 8 by Week 4.
But this LSU team was never a Top 10 team, either. No, people didn’t know that. But it’s factual and now the Tigers are unranked.
Oddly enough, however, LSU is still viewed as a quality win for two teams in particular. Mississippi State’s five-point win over the Tigers is of note as was Auburn’s decisive victory. What’s interesting in those two instances is the distinction that both programs received—not merely for a win, but for a win over a good opponent. The general consensus is not that Mississippi State beat LSU, but that Mississippi State beat a good LSU team. Auburn didn’t merely dismantle the Tigers, Auburn dismantled a good Tigers team.
I have a hard time reconciling those sentiments with LSU’s three point margin of victory over Florida. After all, Florida (according to both public perception and the eye test) is not a good football team and Florida was playing without the guy who was supposed to start at quarterback. LSU is not a good football team.
Let’s be clear: nothing hurt Georgia more than the loss itself to South Carolina. But if South Carolina was viewed, like LSU, as a good team with unfortunate scheduling luck, Georgia’s loss wouldn’t hurt as bad in the court of opinion. This inconsistency is compounded by the fact that South Carolina’s win over Georgia is better than anything on LSU’s resume.
On the other end of the spectrum (and less pertinent to Georgia), Mississippi State may be a tad overrated at this juncture. To be sure, the Bulldogs have done more than any team in the country to assert themselves as No. 1 in the polls, but that might be as much an indictment of the year in college football as it is a credit to the Bulldogs. Their win over Auburn was spectacular—and ugly for both teams. But both LSU and Texas A&M were inaccurately propped up and continue to pay an abnormally large dividend in Mississippi State’s portfolio of wins. To my earlier point, Mississippi State still gets credit for a win over the now (and rightfully) unrankred LSU Tigers. Georgia remains condemned for losing to South Carolina.
That’s all I got/