The short answer for the 2015 version of the Bulldogs is, of course, absolutely not. For the second straight season, Georgia finds itself going into battle with a sub-SEC-quality quarterback, which is cancer for the sort of classic, pro-style offense the Dawgs prefer. And for the second straight season, Georgia is left because of Reasons without its best running back—only this time, instead of Todd Gurley turning into Nick Chubb, it’s Nick Chubb turning into A Handful Of Guys. The defense relies on freshmen at times more than any other defense in college football, and the special teams are all over the place. This isn’t a great team.

Though the back door is opened for Georgia to make a U MAD, SEC? troll dash toward the SEC East championship, the on-field product isn’t worthy of a trophy. (This didn’t stop the last two versions of Missouri, but we’re a better program than that.) And I don’t think Georgia is beating Florida on Saturday, which will shut them out of Atlanta entirely.

But what about Georgia football—all of it? Is UGA football elite?


“It’s just a weird vibe around UGA. Almost like the school would feel guilty acting like a real football power.” – Dan Wolken after Georgia’s loss to Florida in 2014


Georgia football’s historical pedigree doesn’t suck. The Dawgs claim two national championships with between 1-3 more that they could make a case for but don’t. 14 conference championships, 12 of them SEC. 28 bowl wins. All-time record of 778-410-54. 11th all-time in wins (ahead of, for example, Florida and LSU and Auburn). The College Football Data Warehouse matrix also has Georgia 11th all-time. That seems about right. Big stadium, lovely city, fertile recruiting ground. If Georgia won the national championship in the next five years, it probably wouldn’t shock anyone outside of a general “so those guys finally got over the hump” consensus.

Outside of the Herschel run in the early 80s (side note: those teams were not on Godlike Mode the way the old-timers would tell it; the Herschel Runs Over Bill Bates game was a 16-15 win over a Tennessee team that finished 5-6), Mark Richt has led Georgia to its most successful decade+ in program history. SEC titles in 2002 and 2005; SEC East titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2011, and 2012. And either to his credit or discredit depending on your mood, Richt had Georgia one game away from playing for the national championship in 2002*, 2003**, 2007***, and 2012****.

But Georgia doesn’t *feel* elite, does it? Not to me. For self-inflicted wounds, I’m afraid to say.

The pessimistic line on Richt is that he can’t lead Georgia to a title because he loses games he shouldn’t. Or that his teams have the nebulous “come up short” stigma about them. That’s not untrue. It’s what undid potential national title runs four times. But that the runs exist to begin with says positive things for his coaching acumen. And you could say that here, he’s just been unlucky. 2002 Georgia would’ve probably won the title in, say, 2006, 2007, 2010, or 2013. LSU won the title in 2007 with two losses. They won the title in 2003 after getting smacked at home by a 5-loss Florida team. 2013 Auburn required a Rube Goldberg experiment to make the championship game. 2006 Florida won all of their games by something like 20-14, and needed Southern Cal to inexplicably go belly up the last weekend of the season to make the title game. Richt just hasn’t had this sort of luck (outside of 2012 setting up nicely—we’ll get to that). But you’d think the ball could bounce the other way.

It’s not “he can’t coach” where Richt has failed Georgia, it’s in roster management. Remember the 2012 SEC Championship Game? Great game. Probably the best SECCG ever. Oregon and Kansas State, #1 and #2, had lost with two weeks to go in the regular season, setting up Georgia/Alabama as a play-in game to face Notre Dame (snicker) in the BCS Championship. Georgia was a tough out for Alabama, and they didn’t require any hurry-up pop-pass sorts of chicanery to do it. Instead, the Dawgs played their tails off and had skill position talent to nearly match Bama guy-for-guy at the top. After Georgia got a two-score lead in that game, Bama was able to man up and push Georgia around on the lines. And they were able to, by the skin of their teeth, hold off the Dawgs’ last push.

The line on that game for some was that Richt choked by not calling for a spike on the last offensive play. (I personally think it was a good, bold call.) But Richt *really* lost that game before it ever started. At kickoff, Alabama had close to 85 players ready to roll, more or less a full stable of players. Meanwhile, Georgia had less than 70 players in their arsenal because of serial undersigning in offseasons past. For whatever reason, Richt had treated his player numbers for years like Georgia was under some sort of NCAA sanctions. It killed (and still kills) Georgia when it mattered, when games became grind-’em-out trench fests. It killed (and still kills) Georgia when guys at the top, because they were hurt or tired, had to be replaced with the great unknown of freshmen and walk-ons. And it killed (and still kills) Georgia when they strike out on a couple quarterback prospects.

Undersigning has left Georgia where it is in 2015. Eight true freshmen played at least 10% of the snaps on defense two weeks ago for the Dawgs, with four over half. QB Greyson Lambert was eventually protected and vanished playcalling-wise because of the fear—with a good deal of backing to it, mind you—that he couldn’t be expected to make reasonable decisions. This, a year after Georgia started a senior eunuch under center. These are the signs of a program in a figure-things-out rebuilding mode, not one expected to contend for division titles and more every year.

Aaron Murray. Todd Gurley. Keith Marshall. Nick Chubb. Justin Scott-Wesley. Malcolm Mitchell. Michael Bennett. Jay Rome. Other than often being awesome players in Athens, what do they all have in common? Horrific, career-altering injuries, ranging from requiring months of rehabilitation to straight up making a player quit football. Football is luck. Stuff happens. World War I had better turf than Neyland Stadium in 2013, and the SEC never, ever, ever protected Aaron Murray from a Ryan’s Buffet of late hits and cheap shots, the last of which tore an ACL. My bitterness aside, the lack of conditioning smarts on this team couldn’t be more evident. Strength and conditioning in the year 2015 is more an exact science than ever, but for the longest time, Georgia’s S&C staff has operated like a cross between a Civil War medic unit and a 1920s YMCA. Instead of pressing for a staff full of analytics nerds and fitness freaks, Richt opted to give the chief position to a legacy hire who went old school with training and stayed there. Would specialized, smarter training have saved the Dawgs from an ACL tear plague? Your answer may vary from “we’ll never know” to “it certainly would’ve,” which is cause enough in my mind to make the commitment to change.

This is all on Richt. But his bosses in the Athletic Department have been just as lost.

There are no academic scandals, there are no booster improprieties, there is no NCAA breathing down Georgia’s neck, and yet, the program has cowered like all of these are happening. Players lose a big chunk of the season for smoking weed, and are booted off the team for doing it a second time. The football program kneels and whimpers to University Police, not the other way around. Imagine a Nick Saban player being arrested for “emerging from an alley” or for declining to give his middle name to Tuscaloosa PD. Imagine an LSU player getting tossed off the team for smoking pot twice, rather than the 40 or whatever times it was that did in the Honey Badger. Imagine Nick Marshall going from Auburn to Georgia, instead of the other way around. I’m not saying the Georgia brass should ignore malfeasance. But it shouldn’t be this aggressive, hyper-moralist scold, either.

Until this past offseason, the idea from the Athletic Department was that Richt and his assistants had to win, and then the money would flow. For years, the Athletic Department had declined to build an indoor practice facility because of various hemming and hawing reasons, with the end argument eventually settling on “more SEC championships first, plz.” Meanwhile, Georgia assistants earned salaries in the lower half of the conference. This is crummy program building. If you want to win, you pay to do it. And then you win. Alabama knows this. UGA football made about $40M last year. This program isn’t suffering for money.

And this is the program the FIRE RICHT crowd would have replace a consistent 9/10-game winner, despite all his legitimate flaws, with…question mark.

Here’s where I highlight the beginning to two paragraphs ago. “Until this past offseason.” After a strange week during the Belk Bowl last year, when it appeared that Richt and Georgia’s Athletic Director, Greg McGarity, were on the outs, McGarity out of nowhere opened up the purse for Richt and his assistants. Richt got an $800,000/year raise, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt got a $450,000 raise, and some other coaches down the chain were given competitive salaries as well. And the Athletic Department finally, finally!, FINALLY!, committed to building an indoor practice facility, which will be finished around 2017.

Let’s go back to that earlier quote.


“It’s just a weird vibe around UGA. Almost like the school would feel guilty acting like a real football power.” – Dan Wolken after Georgia’s loss to Florida in 2014


We don’t know what happened between Richt and McGarity during bowl week in December. (My guess is that Pruitt has been leading the charge on internal improvements, but that’s mostly an intangible feel off of him being a former Bama guy.) But since then, there’s been a 180 in how this program is internally perceived and managed. Georgia is making strides to act like the real football power it feigns to be. The sins of the past can’t be deleted as easy as one restarts a computer. Richt’s roster mismanagement has left Georgia perilously young and with holes, and the financial side of things left us with competitive disadvantages that are only now being negated. But I can feel a new commitment that might not necessarily show itself in the kinda-crummy on-field product. Next year’s recruiting class is great. QB Jacob Eason is the real deal.

Cue the power/responsibility speech from the comics. I’ve tried to shy away from being a FIRE RICHT NOW type, because the devil Georgia knew with Richt was better than the devil we didn’t, with a penny-pinching, bean-counting Athletic Department sure to give us the latter. But if the financial investment is there, if the facilities are there, if the momentum is there, and Georgia is still going its classic 9-3—if Georgia still isn’t elite—then it’ll be legitimately time to do something else.

Oh, also, we still really need to fix special teams.

And probably fire Schottenheimer.

* A loss to a crummy, Ron Zook-helmed Florida team. Hence where “discredit” has to appear along with “credit.”
** Had Billy Bennett not missed three field goals against LSU, Georgia would’ve finished the season with 1 loss, LSU would’ve lost the SEC West to Ole Miss, and the Dawgs would’ve just needed to beat the Rebels (They would’ve.) to be involved in that USC/Oklahoma/SEC winner fustercluck.
*** Georgia was #4 in the BCS on conference championship weekend. #1 and #2 both lost. Georgia didn’t play. If #1 and #2 lose, #3 and #4 play for the BCS marbles, no? Except the football shouting heads mandated that You Can’t Play For The Title Without Winning Your Division (rule does not apply to 2001 Nebraska or 2011 Alabama) and Georgia was left out. Would’ve taken just a home win over a bowlless South Carolina team to render the point moot.
**** 5 yards away.