Georgia, offseason 2011: optimist or pessimist?

I have to admit I didn’t see this coming:  Athlon Magazine picks Georgia to win the SEC East in 2011.  Athlon isn’t alone in dispensing the preseason optimism, either.

I can’t say I’m ready to jump aboard the bandwagon, but it might be a useful exercise to lay out where I think the pluses and minuses of the program are at the moment, so here goes.

What I like:

  • Kicking game.  Butler and Walsh are so good, they tend to get overlooked.  Boykin is an excellent return man.
  • Aaron Murray.  Bobo’s quarterbacks don’t have sophomore slumps.
  • Defensive front seven.  G-Day convinced me that there’s depth on the d-line and lots of athleticism in the linebacking corps.  And that’s before John Jenkins shows up.
  • Tight ends.  Georgia is absolutely loaded at this position, which is a good thing, considering the wide receivers.
  • O-line starting five.  Again, I saw enough at G-Day to think Friend will be able to cobble together a functional starting line.
  • Year two of the defensive scheme.  I do think we’ll see noticeable improvement due to where they are on Grantham’s learning curve.
  • The schedule.  Yeah, the first two games are huge.  But if Georgia can avoid imploding at the start, it’s really set up for a good run.
  • The state of the SEC East.  Pretty much speaks for itself.

What I’m uncertain about:

  • Secondary.  Until the walking wounded return and we see what the Dream Team brings to the table, it’s hard to say whether this bunch will be good or bad.  A better front seven should help.  I’m thinking we may see more freshmen play here than expected.
  • Running backs.  Ealey’s gone and Crowell’s coming in.  Maybe that’s an upgrade, maybe not.  And don’t forget they’ll be breaking in a new starter at fullback.
  • Mike Bobo’s playcalling.  As I’ve said before, he has it in him to be a very good coordinator.  What he’s lacked is the courage of his convictions.  Maybe A.J.’s departure turns out to be liberating; we’ll know that’s not the case if we see Carlton Thomas run between the tackles on third-and-long.

What gives me the willies:

  • Offensive line depth.  There is none.  Any injury to a starter is a scary prospect right now.
  • Wide receivers.  What I saw at G-Day, outside of Tavarres King, was a pedestrian looking bunch.  This is another area where we might expect some impact from an incoming freshman or two.

I’m choosing to ignore all the happy horse shit talk about S&C and the team’s mindset.   I’ve been burned too many times before buying into that stuff.  (Although, to be fair, maybe some credit is due for Georgia’s zero offseason troubles with the law so far and Richt’s willingness to part with contributing players who may have let their attitudes get in the way.)  They’re going to have to show me right out of the gate against Boise State that they really have turned a corner before I’ll think differently.

Which is not to say it’s not important.  In fact, as Grantham noted, in all seven of the team’s losses last season, the Bulldogs were leading or within one possession during the fourth quarter.  That’s the sign of a team that wasn’t prepared to win, either physically or mentally.  My lists have more positives than negatives right now, but if this year’s team can’t ready itself to play a full game consistently from week to week, it’ll wind up being another disappointing season.  And that’ll be on Mark Richt.

Bottom line, I can see Georgia winning as many as eleven regular season games in 2011.  But I can just as easily see another six-win season if things don’t go well at the beginning.  What do y’all think?

************************************************************************

UPDATE:  By the way, Richt reminds us again why we want the man to succeed.

“Georgia is a heck of place, the University of Georgia, the city of Athens. I was at a great place at Florida State, working for the greatest coach in college football. I was not in a hurry to go anywhere unless it was a special place that I wanted to finish my career in.

“Here’s the thing about me: I know a lot of coaches take jobs and maybe know in their mind that if a different job showed up, I would take that one instead. I had a few opportunities to take head jobs along the way at Florida State. But the question always came back to me and to my wife: Is there where you want to live the rest of your life?

“She’s like ‘Why do you ask that?’ I said, ‘Because I’m not going to go to a school thinking in my mind that there may be a better place to go.’ … These young men, they’ve had enough disappointment in their lives, and they’ve had enough people in their lives leave them, enough people that haven’t followed through with what they’ve promised. I just don’t want to be one of those guys.

“So that’s why I’m at Georgia. That’s why I love Georgia and want to spend another 10 years at least.”

We do too, Coach.  Make it happen.

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61 Comments

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61 responses to “Georgia, offseason 2011: optimist or pessimist?

  1. It feels like a special season might be on the horizon. One of the things baseball analysts use to predict an outbreak year for a team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous year is a large number of one-run losses in that previous season. In one way, last year was better than the two before it: we were never out of a game in the fourth quarter, as you noted. We had several blow-out losses in the two previous seasons. I’m gonna hope for the best with Crowell and Jenkins, and plan for…the best. Georgia’s either gonna have to succeed or break my hear (again). I just can’t grow up.

    • Jim

      here we go with the mean reversion argument again. We got mean reversion on turnovers last year and look where it got us.

      If we are well-prepared to play the rest takes care of itself. We need to make our own luck

      • That doesn’t mean the reversion to the mean argument is invalid. Although I agree it sure did ring hollow last season. I look for the reversion to the mean argument to revert to the mean in 2011.

  2. Section Z alum

    amen and amen for the reasons we want richt to succeed.

    it’s only may 15, too much time left to get behind the wheel of mudcat’s car. but if it’s just mudcat’s car, i’m happy.

  3. heyberto

    I’m excited but not too excited. I don’t expect to be an undefeated or one loss team.. i expect two losses at a minimum.

    Senator, I understand your pessimism regarding S&C.. but I have to say that the results we’ve seen so far give a lot of reason for optimism, and it’s a visible thing that we haven’t seen before (ar, at least, not in a long time). I’ve bought in that we’re going to be better on that front, but where I’m restrained is how much better.

    We will see improvement next season, and I hope its right out of the gate.

  4. X-Dawg

    This (knock on wood!):

    “Although, to be fair, maybe some credit is due for Georgia’s zero offseason troubles with the law so far and Richt’s willingness to part with contributing players who may have let their attitudes get in the way”

  5. I wanna Red Cup

    I don’t know what the hell “S &C” is, but count me an optimist. If Crowell is the real deal, he will make the O line look very good. The new fullback will be seamless and result in improved play if Bobo takes advantage of his size, speed and matchup issues he will provide. I think the defensive front 7 is the KEY to the secondary having a good year. If any SEC QB has time to throw, he will make the DBs look bad. So- if the beef stops the run and pressures the QB, the secondary will be fine. And way too early to tell about off field stuff but am holding my breath for now.
    And CMR is clearly a class act and good man. Too bad some of our fans aren’t more like him.

    • S&C = Strength and Conditioning.

    • Normaltown Mike

      Sullivan & Cromwell

      http://www.sullcrom.com/

      • stick jackson

        True dat. I grew up in Athens and became a securities lawyer in DC. I’m sad to say that an one point I had fallen so far that the Securities and Exchange Commission was the first thing I thought of when I saw “SEC.” But now I don’t practice anymore and I’m back to thinking right.

        • Vinings Dog

          UGA BA and JD, but now am in the investment business. The Securities and Exchange Commission makes the NCAA look clear-headed and reasonable!

        • Prosticuter veretis

          Ha! I know what you mean. Last year I moved into a new building. My office is on the top floor of the Southeast Corner. I liked to say I was at the top of the SEC. Go figure I was the only person who thought that was funny

  6. Irishdawg

    My biggest puzzlement is why ALL Georgia fans aren’t desperately wishing for Richt to succeed. The man’s decent and humble, and a fine representative for UGA.

    On S&C agnosticism: understandable, but to me the team as a whole, and the defensive front seven in particular, looked substantially bigger. That’s a positive step.

    • Chuck

      I believe that any die hearted DAWG fan is behind Mark all the way. I get as frustrated and have made appalling comments about the down fall of the program in the past, but when I read articles such as this one and many more just like it, I am very proud that I am a DAWG fan. There are not many individuals out there that can say that their team’s coach and program has a higher degree of integrity as Mark. I am sure that it will pay off huge in the end. Go DAWGS!

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Count me among those who desperately want CMR to succeed. That said, I fell off the wagon last year because of coaching staff end of game mismanagement issues (something that had reared its ugly head in the past as well). Good decisions at the end of the game win at least 3 games that UGA lost last year. Whatever happened to games that ended for the Dawgs like the 2001 UGA-UT game? That’s my biggest concern. Hopefully that was just an aberration and the problem is fixed.

  7. baltimore dawg

    couldn’t agree more about richt. i’m sure as hell hoping he’s our coach for a long time to come, but i’m pessimistic about that. i’ve said it before: in organizational life, it’s exceedingly rare that the people who drove the car in the ditch are the ones who get it out. but maybe this will be one of those rare cases. i hope so. but my head tells me that richt let things slip too far and for too long to reverse the trend in the time he likely has to make it right again. but i’ll be rooting just as hard as ever for the man and his team come september.

    right now, i tend to think we’ll lose one of those first two games, and my gut tells me it comes in the form of a pumped up, epic ass-stomping of boise followed by an languid loss to sc in which the offense struggles to move the ball and lattimore just keeps sc on the field all night.

    but it’s may. ask me next week, and i’ll likely have a different opinion.

    • …my gut tells me it comes in the form of a pumped up, epic ass-stomping of boise followed by an languid loss to sc in which the offense struggles to move the ball…

      It’s not like that scenario hasn’t come into play before. See LSU and Tennessee games, 2004 edition.

      • Bourbon Dawgwalker

        Or Okie State and SC 2007. Or ASU and Bama 2008.

        • Vinings Dog

          It is exceptionally hard to win back-to-back big games. Dooley had close to a 17-7-1 record against Florida, but a losing record against Auburn, a team we normally played the week after Jax.

          For our first two games, I would take 1-1 right now. Boise State is physically smaller than we are, but are well coached and disciplined. SC, position by position, is probably better than we are. I am expecting an 0-2 start, but hoping to be surprised.

          • Mike

            “Dooley had close to a 17-7-1 record against Florida, but a losing record against Auburn, a team we normally played the week after Jax. ”

            And during the Dooley years, Florida almost always played UGA right after it played Auburn

            • Mayor of Dawgtown

              No, the sequence was Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Dooley used to wax poetic about how UGA ended the regular season each year with the 3 greatest rivalry games in a row for any school in the nation.

              • Mayor of Dawgtown

                Sorry, Mike I misunderstood your post. You must have meant that Florida played Auburn the week before the Gators played UGA.

      • It’s not like that scenario hasn’t come into play before. See LSU and Tennessee games, 2004 edition.

        That was a coaching loss, plain and simple. Richt & Co. should have seen that one coming.
        ~~~

    • in organizational life, it’s exceedingly rare that the people who drove the car in the ditch are the ones who get it out. but maybe this will be one of those rare cases. i hope so. but my head tells me that richt let things slip too far and for too long to reverse the trend in the time he likely has to make it right again.

      There’s no doubt that Richt became too soft and lost too much control. And it manifested itself in many different ways.

      Nevertheless, I’m encouraged about everything I’ve seen this year, more than I would have imagined in December. I’m not sure how the fundamental changes could have gone much better. So far, so good.

      So I’m very pleased with where we are today (compared to where we were in Dec.), and now believe there’s a VERY good chance Richt can get the car out of the ditch. And having things go our way this season might be the action that gets the car out, provided Richt keeps the petal on the metal.

      I agree with the Senator. I can see 11 wins, and I can see 6 wins. But right now, on this track, 11 wins is much easier to see. Even with the personnel losses we’ve had.
      ~~~

      • W Cobb Dawg

        I agree ‘leaguer. People mistake criticism of Richt the football coach with Richt the man. He IS a wonderful guy, and he’s stating the obvious to say Athens is a great place to live and UGA is a terrific place to coach. Getting millions $$ on top of it is a dream come true.

        But loosing 7 games at UGA is horrible. It’s unacceptable for a talent rich state, a flagship school with almost unlimited resources, and terrific fans. He didn’t put in the effort, and the results speak for themselves.

        I want UGA to win. We don’t have to cheat to do it. Whether CMR is the coach is a distant afterthought to football success. UGA has the players and schedule to win 11 games in ’11. Whether we win 11 or 6 is entirely up to the coaching.

    • I think your insight is very good. That’s exactly what should happen, if Richt’s squad is anything like they have always been.

      But I’m hoping for a change, even there. Two years ago, I kept posting about nutrition, or the lack of it. Even that has finally been addressed. The one thing that hasn’t been addressed, to my knowledge, is our mental and psychological life as a team. Richt brought to Athens what he learned from Bowden, and that has been, and still could be, a problem. Bowden was one of the poorest psychologists ever for a successful head coach.

      Not sure what the answers are, but I’ve always thought that some of them reside in a house with a very nice garden, not 5 or 6 blocks from Richt’s office.
      ~~~

  8. sUGArdaddy

    I don’t know, baltimore. I think coaches like Richt are smart enough to make it happen. You certainly have to be a keen leader to get the car out of the ditch, but I think he is. We will find out shortly if the thinking is right.

    I, at least, think he understands where and why it all went wrong. The stat that, to me, has been the most striking is the QB stuff. When we’ve had an incumbent starter under Richt, we’ve been pretty doggone good. ’02, ’03, ’04, ’07 & ’08 were pretty good seasons. You can almost count ’05, too, because Shock was the most experienced back-up on the planet, so it wasn’t like breaking a newbie in.

    And, man, if we beat down Boise, Sanford is going to be rocking and night fo the Cocks. I just don’t see how we lose that game. I really don’t. I think we’ll be riding a momentum wave unlike what we’ve seen in a long time, at least since ’07.

    But it’s football and that thing is shaped funny and you never know how it’s gonna bounce.

  9. paul

    I love coach Richt and would keep him even if we had several losing seasons in a row. I do not believe you can find a better coach in college football today. Period. Unfortunately, I doubt McGarity and Adams believe similarly. I think they feel Richt has to post the W’s this year. I am cautiously optimistic. However, I’m tilting a little towards the pessimistic side after talking to a couple of folks close to the program who are very concerned. I hope they are wrong. Personally, I am confident we are headed in the right direction. I just don’t know if coach will be given the time he needs.

    • Personally, I am confident we are headed in the right direction. I just don’t know if coach will be given the time he needs.

      Yeah, that’s why it’s important for things to fall our waythis season. We’ve had more than our share of just plain bad luck during this 5-year stretch, on top of all of our self-inflicted problems.

      Seems to me it’s time for the sun to shine on these Dawgs once again.
      ~~~

  10. William

    Not sure where I read this, but it’s worth adding into this coversation (if only to excite and focus): “I don’t care what they say. All I want to hear is the snap count. All I want to see is the field. All I want to do is hit the guy in front of me. And all I expect, is to win. Everything else is BS until we strap the pads on and it’s Go Time.”

  11. Sefdawg

    Thanks alot, Coach! Way to get me all misty-eyed first thing in the morning.

    • Go Dawgs!

      No joke. If the first notes of “Battle Hymn” had been playing as I read that piece, it probably would have been all over.

  12. Derek

    Not having a good sense if where the offensive production will come from and not knowing whether we are good enough in defense to play to it are scary things. I love TEs but I don’t think you see offenses built around that position. While we know we’ll show up with enough on the roster to line up and play with anyone, we have no idea what this team’s identity will be and that is why predicting win totals is almost impossible. We’ll be good if things we don’t know now go our way, like Crowell is a stud, and we will not be very good if the wr and rb corp are mediocre. The only way to overcome that is if we end up being a dominating defensive team. I want to be optimistic, but the realist in me wants to see weeks 1 & 2 before drinking any Kool aid.

    • I love TEs but I don’t think you see offenses built around that position.

      That’s a great point, IMO. We have to have production from our WR’s or we’re in trouble on offense.
      ~~~

  13. Brandon

    Until we demonstrate on the field that we can play defense again I think the cap is back on the program.

  14. JaxDawg

    We, have GOT, to beat, Florida.

    • paul

      I agree on this. Back when I was a younger man Dooley regularly took inferior teams down to Jacksonville and returned with a victory. Nowadays it seems our guys expect to lose. We seem to find ways to do so even when our talent is superior. We have to break that mentality. Richt tried to shake them out of their complacency with the end zone celebration but that turned out to be a short lived gimmick. We got to BELIEVE.

  15. zdub

    It’s hard to argue with “liking” the kicking game, Murray, and the TEs.

    The rest of it I’m a bit more pessimistic about:

    D front 7: Geathers has played but not much; he showed out on G-Day but don’t forget that it was against our O-line (by far not the best unit in the SEC). Jenkins has yet to play against SEC-level competition. The LBs are largely inexperienced and will need a few games to get comfortable. I do however feel good about the DEs.

    O-line starting 5: How about the O-line starting 3? Jones, Cordy, and Gates don’t worry me. The other 2 spots are going to be patchwork. Jury’s out on this one, but perhaps some RBs can make them look better than I expect them to be.

    Year 2 D scheme: They may understand it better, but if they don’t play hard it won’t matter (I saw some players flat out quit on D last year). Plus we may have to rely on some incoming freshmen and they won’t be in “year 2″ like the others. Jury’s out.

    Schedule: It was supposed to be a easy schedule last year too. BSU and USCe are not pushovers. @ Ole Miss is considered a easy win (but so was @ MSU last year…). MSU may or may not be tough without Diaz. @UTk: we haven’t played well in Knoxville the past few visits (I know they’re not too good, but were they very good in ’07? No and they still whipped us). Florida: nuff said. Auburn will be better than some folks think; not a guaranteed W. @ Tech: we’re only a few NT injuries away from Tyson lining back up at Nose; would we be able to outscore them again if that happened?

    The State of SEC East: We don’t really know what UF has up it’s sleeve. But if Weis gets through to those guys early, their offense may indeed be nasty. Plus, they’ve got a fair amount of guys returning on D. Add USCe to the mix and there’s some competition in the East.

    Your “uncertainties” and “willies” lists are spot on. Though I don’t worry that much about WRs because, historically, we have not had great ones (like AJ) and have won under Richt with some pretty mediocre WR play.

    • About the SEC East, the Gators have major personnel issues on offense, which isn’t surprising given the scheme change. Weis can’t fix a lot of that in one season. I think their front seven on defense will be good, but the secondary may have even more questions than Georgia’s. Plus, the mid-season schedule is brutal.

      South Carolina looks more formidable, on paper at least, right now. But I don’t see any school as a lock to win the division.

      • zdub

        Oh absolutely, there is no clear cut favorite to win the East at this point. USCe may be favored by the majority, but that’s coming off a “banner year” in which they went 8-5…

        The only reason I say UF may be better than anticipated is because, well, they’re UF. They beat us every year and that helps get them that much closer to the East title.

        Still with the East being “down”, I don’t think we (UGA) are in any better position than anyone else to take the East this year.

  16. Reptillicide

    I think you summed up where we stand pretty well, Senator. That, in a nutshell, is the season preview.

    Count me as an optimist about the off-season, and I say that for no other reason than that we’ve had zero arrests (knock on wood), zero run-ins with the law whatsoever, and aside from normal attrition (We lose a couple of guys every year, this year it was Ealey and Harmon), there hasn’t been a negative story out of Athens since the end of the disastrous 2010 campaign.

    I don’t want to buy into the sunshine blowing either, but the apparent lack of police blotter stories at least indicates to me that they’re focused on the goal this time around.

  17. Ausdawg85

    With AJ gone, so too is “1st & bomb” (although an occasional TE quick release post to Charles is surely justified). If Crowell is to continue our great tradition at tailback, with mentoring (?) from King, then we may be able to establish the toss sweep again. And Bobo/Richt should be able to throw in some neat wrinkles with Figgins as fullback/H-back.

    With Richt able to devote more time to X’s & O’s, I think we’ll be even more diversified on offense, giving Murray and all the Dream team additions time to mature. Assuming the defense stops the late 4th Q meltdowns, we should definitely be in a 9 – 10 win season and in the conversation for the East title.

    But up first is Boise…not a make or break game, but oddly probably more important for the Dawgs pysche than Boise’s I’d guess.

    • zdub

      You make some good points, 85.

      The best point you made is one that I have been saying ever since it was announced that we would be playing Boise: that game is in no way a make or break game. It is 99.9% likely that we will not be competing for a national championship this year, thus losing a out of conference game to a highly ranked Boise team will not break our season. The season really comes down to the UF, UTk, and South Carolina games. Beating South Carolina on September 10th and find a way to win in Jax and we’ve got a great chance to take the East.

      • Reptillicide

        Can’t really agree with you about “99.9%…” I mean, if you’re competing for the SEC title, you’re competing for the national championship, and I expect us to compete for the division crown this year, thus the SEC title, and therefore, we are competing for a national championship by default.

        From a pure momentum standpoint, I don’t think losing to Boise State bodes well for our team’s mentality going into the conference schedule. We don’t want to test that theory.

  18. Dboy

    Jenkins and Gathers will make S&C initially look good, but I want to see the OLine push in the 4th Quarter and in short yardage situations before I form any real opinion.

    UGA has many questions to answer. But this is the window, with FLA in transition, for UGA to make a run through the SEC East. Once you get into the SEC Championship game, it is really just one step to the “national title game.”

    Richt is class, personified. Personally, I would like to keep him until he decides to retire. The struggles of UGA over the past 4 years highlight the importance of choosing your assistant coaches wisely. Bobo / Martinez experiments threatened Richt’s job. Here is to hoping Bobo can find consistency and Grantham can restore the defense before the axe falls on Richt & Co.

    • Reptillicide

      Keep in mind that we may be a little thin on the OL this year, so you may not see the push from the OL that you want to see in the 4th quarter, because quite frankly, we may not have enough to rotate in to keep them going strong, good S&C program or not.

  19. Krautdawg

    I might get shelled for this, but I don’t understand the romaticizing of Richt’s persona. He’s obviously a man of unquestionably stellar character, a rarity in college football. But he’s chosen a profession that requires results, and character doesn’t substitute for on-field performance.

    Frankly, I think the character argument is all we’ve got in Richt’s favor after last season. Before 2010, we could point to his record and state confidently that 8-5 was an aberration. After 6-7 and some bang-head-on-wall offensive calls, no one’s really championing Richt’s competence anymore; instead it’s that he’s such a good man and representative of UGA that he deserves to stay captain.

    I can’t disagree that–off the field–Richt’s an excellent representative of UGA (still, that’s more an argument to make him a figurehead/fundraiser). On the field, however, we’ve lost almost every big game since West Virginia ’05 and taken major woodsheddings from those ‘bad-character’ programs we deride. That’s not good representation, and becoming gracious but harmless is, over time, more damaging to our program than being controversial but dominating.

    Personally, I like Richt (who doesn’t?) and continuity at the helm. Like him, I’d also love to live in Athens on $2 mil a year forever. But an ethical approach to greyshirting and helping the players have fun won’t get me there — this season, it’s GATA or go home.

  20. Macallanlover

    On the “you can’t build an offense around the TE” discussion, it can be like the “does the run open up the passing game, or does the passing threat keep the LBs passive allowing the running game to succeed” argument. Perhaps “building around the TE” isn’t the right phrasing of what we may see but a solid TE with two TE Hybrids involved in the offense may damn well allow the inexperienced WRs to get open. I don’t know.

    I do understand the concern about the WRs simply because both go-to guys left at the same time but come on, WR is the single easiest position for someone to succeed as a freshman in college, or as a rookie in the NFL (outside of kickers.) In fact, Green and Durham were excellent from the start. I don’t know who will step up at WR, but we some athletic folks that are hungry to succeed and will get their chance. More attention being paid to our huge TE package can open those guys up. For me, I will continue to worry about what has killed us the last two years, defense and OL performance.

  21. The SEC East race will likely be decided by the results of its games against the West.

    UGA plays: Auburn, Miss St, @ Ole Miss (also hosts SoCar)
    SoCar plays: Auburn, @ Miss St, @ Arkansas
    UF plays: Bama, @ LSU, @ Auburn

    Is South Carolina better than Georgia? Probably, but UGA will be favored to win the division in Vegas because of schedule. And UF, um, good luck with that. They could be right there with UGA & SoCar in terms of quality but yet have little shot of winning the East due to the schedule.

  22. Hunkering Hank

    Lot of hope and change in these comments. I hope ya’ll are right but too much koolaid will make you sick. I’ll believe Georgia isn’t the same team that didn’t go for it on fourth and goal against UCF when I see it. The Dawgs need a wardaddy on defense and o-line. I haven’t seen one yet. We’ll see if one shows up in the fall. Hunker Down!