Georgia Football: Fans Should Take Courage in Disappointment – This is What We Came For
Let’s start here: Georgia did not belong in the playoff. Hear me out.
Was Georgia a Top-4 team on Saturday? Absolutely. Were the Dawgs a Top-4 team down the stretch, when they cruised by Florida, Kentucky and Auburn? Probably. But Georgia wasn’t a Top-4 team all season long, and that shouldn’t be too hard for you to wrap your mind around. After all, up until last Tuesday (we’re talking literally six days ago), the Bulldogs weren’t a Top-4 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings. This was not an unjust travesty or failure by the system. It just wasn’t.
I hear all the arguments for putting the Dawgs “in” loud and clear and I agree with most of them. But the reality is no man-made committee will ever appropriately reach a consensus on something as subjective as who the “best” teams are. That’s why the BCS system was created in the first place. So, a panel of experts retreat into a room and do what boards tend to do—act in the interest of self-preservation. Anyone with a lick of common sense knows it would not have been a politically popular move to put Georgia into the playoff. And that “anybody with a lick of common sense” qualifier applies to Kirby Smart, who contrary to the bad fake-punt call he may never live down, does in fact have a functioning brain.
Smart did his best to lobby for Georgia but he knew the odds were stacked against the Dawgs after Saturday’s heartbreak. That’s probably part of why the aforementioned punt call came to be in the first place. It’s certainly why the Dawgs played like a team with no margin for error down the stretch of the season, because after the LSU game two narratives were abundantly clear as it relates to the Playoff:
- Georgia did still, technically, control its own destiny.
- Georgia had zero room for mistakes.
And to be clear: Georgia wasn’t in any greater of a predicament than any other team in contention.
Ohio State couldn’t afford another mistake after losing to Purdue. The Buckeyes completely checked the big boxes thereafter (crushing Michigan for arguably the most impressive win of the entire college football season and winning a conference title by 21 points). But my guess is the committee perceived lackluster performances against Nebraska and Maryland as mistakes. If you lose a game you shouldn’t lose in ugly fashion, you get a second chance, but you have to be perfect.
Oklahoma couldn’t make any mistakes after losing to Texas. And though you may not like how the Sooners won games, they won them all. And ultimately, Oklahoma was more deserving, from the standpoint of accomplishments, than Georgia. Oklahoma lost only once, to a rival away from home during the regular season and avenged that loss in a conference title game. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how Georgia got into the playoff last year. We’re kidding ourselves if we think the committee was going to eliminate a team for style of play. That’s not how the committee operates.
Georgia is probably one of the four best teams in the country. But Georgia doesn’t belong in the playoff—at least not in this current reality. If we’re being honest, the playoff is a lot less about the nit-pickiness of who the best four teams are and a lot more about ensuring with certainty that the best team comes out on top. And frankly, that’s how it should be. That’s the point of playoffs in general. The BCS formulas weren’t about the gap between number 17 and number 18, they were about making sure the best team was standing at the end. The same is true of the playoff. That’s part of why I’m opposed to expanding to eight teams, even though doing such a thing would have benefitted Georgia this year. I don’t think the wrong champion has been crowned in the Playoff Era (and I don’t think the wrong team took the crown during the BCS Era either for that matter).
The SEC Championship Game was a playoff game—at least for Georgia. And though we might think we know how Oklahoma (or later Notre Dame or Clemson) will hold up against the Crimson Tide, we do know (precisely) how Georgia would do against Saban & Co., because we just saw it. We know—concretely—that in a one-game, must-win setting, Georgia lost to Alabama. Because of that, I see why the committee felt compelled to put Oklahoma in. Because we don’t know that the same would be true of Oklahoma—at least not yet.
That’s a bitter pill for Bulldog fans to swallow, but it’s a pill I’ll take nonetheless.
Because this is what we came for.
Georgia didn’t swap Mark Richt for Kirby Smart for anything less; that’s for damn sure. But why, exactly, was the change made and how, specifically, has it already been validated? Surely, no one really misses the Richt Era at this juncture, but still, how do we know this is working? Let’s take a step back for some context.
If Georgia wins the Sugar Bowl, it will mark the program’s 25th win over a two-year period. The Bulldogs have never done that. They’ll have accomplished that partially with Richt’s guys and partially with the youngest roster in the country. But that’s not what we came here for.
We came here, quite frankly, to be disappointed, by that figure. “Georgia should already have 25 wins over a two-year stretch,” we should be saying. “Or maybe even 26.” Georgia should be in the playoff. Georgia should already have its first National Championship since 1980.
We came here for disappointment in anything shy of perfection. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we chose with Kirby Smart and that’s where he’s taken us—already.
I happen to love it, and I don’t know how you could not.
Heading into the SEC Championship Game, I was disappointed in the demeanor of Georgia fans. I talked to a handful who felt the Bulldogs had an outside chance. I heard a few podcasts that kept the Dawgs in the game. But that was about it. Most seemed to embrace the national narrative. Nobody—and certainly not Georgia—was going to dethrone Alabama. That bothered me to my core. I was, after all, somewhere between confident in the Dawgs and misguidedly confident in the Dawgs.
But now that the smoke has cleared and I’ve had time to reflect on a game that was closer than almost anyone would have expected and that somehow went largely how I anticipated, I realize I’ve been a hypocrite. I’m as guilty as the next guy of not thinking Georgia is really there.
I watched the National Championship Game at Miller’s Ale House in Orlando. I was down there for a work thing I couldn’t get out of (booked shortly after Georgia’s 2017 loss to Auburn), and because good things don’t happen to Bulldog fans, the first Georgia national championship game appearance of my lifetime occurred in my backyard and I was in another state listening to investment pitches from small cap retail & consumer companies. It is what it is.
I had at least three drinks that night. It was a rare occasion in which I got to have one-too-many drinks in celebration and one-too-many drinks in mourning on the same damn day.
When the game ended, everything got really dark. Not in a blackout kind of way, more a macabre kind of defiance. I was sitting on the floor at Miller’s commiserating with some recent Georgia grads. They were in Orlando for training with KPMG or Ernst and Young or something. Not long after I sat down (again, on the floor of Miller’s Ale House in Orlando), I grew testy. The tone of the conversation from all other participants was: We’ll never get back here. This is the worst. Being a Georgia fan is the worst. This is unfair. Woe is me.
How dare they! I’d seen worse. They weren’t at Georgia in 2008. They weren’t fans yet in 2012. They hadn’t blogged millions of words about this program like me. They didn’t have the right to be disappointed!
In hindsight, no one has the right to be disappointed in a college football team—not even me. But as Georgia fans, we now have that privilege. And oh, what a righteous indignation it is to be disappointed. And that, my friends, is the new state of Georgia football.
We’re not pissed off just because Florida is running over us time and time again anymore. We’re not annoyed by our Dawgs’ inability to get past Tennessee in a meaningless mid-season game. We’re not bitching about trivial woulda / shoulda / couldas. We’re not wondering why the Bulldogs can’t show up for big games.
Nope. That’s not what we’re disappointed by. We’re bummed out that our team outplayed Alabama for 119/120 minutes of regulation in two meetings and we have no wins to show for it. We’re hot and bothered to not be repeating as SEC Champions while the most dominant dynasty in the history of the sport is happening across the aisle within the conference’s other division. We’re pissed off that we’re not going to play for a second national championship in as many years despite boasting the nation’s youngest roster. And we’re downright irritated that we keep running head-first into a problem that is literally once-in-a-generation.
Think of it this way: If Alabama only has Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia is either 1-1 against the Tide or (more likely) 2-0 over the past 12 months. I truly believe that. The Bulldogs beat Hurts in January when they prepared for him but couldn’t fend off Tua in the second half. Tua was obliterated by Georgia on Saturday (when Mel Tucker and his staff brilliantly prepared), but Hurts found ways to beat Georgia. Never before has college football had a team as generally talented as Alabama and that almost didn’t matter against the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, never before has a college football team boasted two such supremely talented quarterbacks with such differentiated skills. The uniqueness of this situation can’t be overstated.
Jalen Hurts was the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. As. A. Freshman. And that wasn’t lip service. He accounted for 3,734 yards and 36 total touchdowns that year. Georgia has fielded some pretty good freshman QBs in recent history, too. For context, here’s how they compare to Hurts (SPOILER: They’re nowhere close):
- Jake Fromm: 1,040 fewer yards of offense, nine fewer TDs
- Jacob Eason: 1,349 fewer yards of offense, 19 fewer TDs
- Aaron Murray: 518 fewer yards of offense, eight fewer TDs
- Matthew Stafford: 1,794 fewer yards of offense, 28 fewer TDs
- David Greene: 904 fewer yards of offense, 18 fewer TDs
That’s the guy who beat Georgia this past weekend.
And he only really beat Georgia this past weekend because the Dawgs were consumed by preparations for another, completely different quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa. Were it not for the curb-stomping (or should I say, Kirb-stomping) Georgia put on Tua this past weekend, he would surely have won the Heisman Trophy while posting the highest passer rating in the history of college football. As it stands at this moment, the Heisman may go to Kyler Murray and Tua may have to settle for the second-highest passer rating in the history of the sport.
And here we are as Georgia fans. We’re frustrated that Georgia is somehow 0-for-2 against this dynasty and those quarterbacks—not just both of them individually, but both of them at the same time.
THIS is what we came for.
We came to be disappointed. Not because we’re masochists. Not because we’re delusional. Not because the expectations are too high. But because we’re ready to watch a football program transcend. Because we know it’s doable. Because we know the expectations are exactly where they should be—our Bulldogs have just set them a little early.
That is what we came for.
I’ve talked a few times with a particular reader of this site about Georgia’s early success under Kirby Smart. This guy is a Mississippi State fan and someone I know personally. His point, and it has merits, is this: Georgia fans will be spoiled by early success under Kirby. They’re going to come to expect this year-in and year-out and that’s going to doom Smart and his staff as such levels aren’t sustainable.
To be perfectly clear: This guy could be correct. Maybe only time will tell. But there’s a certain relative-to-Richt-ness or relative-to-history-ness about that narrative. In other words, the narrative seems to still involve the old guy. Yeah sure, Kirby is winning a lot now and it seems better than what you had. But if you start to expect that you’re only going to be disappointed because it can’t be sustained as evidenced by Richt at Georgia and others elsewhere.
To be clear: I don’t know if the Richt angle is intended in the narrative above or if I’m contriving it, but either way, I would counter with something like this:
You’re exactly right. Georgia—the program, the administration, the coaches, the dozens of analysts/personnel directors, the players themselves and even the fans—have come to expect a hell of a lot more under Kirby. And he’s damn right that pressure is a privilege. But the pace with which Georgia has gotten here isn’t merely fortuitous instant gratification or fool’s gold. It’s actually proof of concept.
This is what we came for. And we’re not leaving.
Immediately following the National Championship Game, I legitimately wondered if Georgia would ever get back in the playoff. As I said at this article’s onset, I never thought the Dawgs would be in the playoff this year and they’re not. But the fact remains that just 11 months after rock bottom for Georgia fans, Kirk Herbstreit and countless other pundits were lobbying for a playoff spot for an allegedly-rebuilding Georgia team.
Can you swallow that pill?
Eleven months later, we’re second-guessing Kirby Smart about a fake punt at midfield in the SEC Championship Game against the team some were calling the best in college football history. That’s the level of nit-picking we’ve reached as a fan base. And no, I don’t think that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s unhealthy. I don’t think it’s misguided and I don’t think it will be short-lived.
This is the new normal. The expectations are now oppressively high, and the program has proved that they should be.
Perfection or bust. Or, as a wise philosopher once said, “Anything less than the best is a felony.”
I’m here for that.
That’s all I got/