Remember getting razzed by Tennessee and Florida fans about how Georgia’s success in the early part of the Richt era wasn’t predicated so much on Georgia’s excellence so much as the decline of the rest of the SEC East? I didn’t buy it then, but Barrett Sallee makes the case for that rationale now and it doesn’t sound as if it’s as much of a stretch in 2011.
Considering the quarterback issues at South Carolina, the offensive ineptitude that Florida showed in its spring game, and the way Georgia’s schedule shapes up, the SEC East is there for Georgia’s taking. If the Bulldogs beat South Carolina the second week of the season, they absolutely have to get to Atlanta. They don’t play Arkansas, LSU and Alabama this season – the three primary contenders in the SEC West. Plus they get Auburn and Mississippi State, the next two in line on the other side of the division, at home. Sure, the Florida game in Jacksonville is always a tough matchup for the Bulldogs, but even if they lose that game, it’s hard to find two more losses on the schedule, provided that they get past the Gamecocks. September 10 vs. South Carolina will be the biggest game in Mark Richt’s Georgia coaching career, because it will dictate how the rest of the season – and Richt’s coaching future – will pan out. Win it, and Georgia is in the drivers seat for the East title. Lose it, and Richt will be looking for new employment in 2012.
Now I think his very last statement there doesn’t necessarily have to pan out. The schedule favors Georgia enough that things could swing back in the Dawgs’ favor if they right the ship after a South Carolina loss, although admittedly, who knows if they’ll be resilient enough to do so?
But it’s hard for me to argue with the rest of his premise. Georgia wins that second game and the chances of returning to Atlanta look pretty good, given the flaws in the rest of the East and, again, the scheduling advantage. Between the two, there should be plenty of margin for error. That’s why I don’t see the point in measuring Mark Richt’s success this season so much in terms of wins and losses. If he can get his team to regroup, make Georgia a significant factor in the division race and close the deal on getting back to Atlanta, I don’t really care if that’s accompanied with three or four losses. Your mileage may vary, of course, but that’s more than we’ve gotten in the past three seasons.