Mark Bradley (I know) calls 2015.
Georgia will go 8-4. I’m always accused of overrating the Bulldogs, and sometimes the accusation holds water. But I have real doubts about this season. Over Mark Richt’s 14 seasons in Athens, teams working with a new quarterback have averaged 3.8 regular-season losses. (Richt’s teams with an incumbent have averaged 2.1.) Most of those new quarterbacks — David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray — were a cut above any on this roster, and coordinator Mike Bobo isn’t around to smooth the kinks. I see Georgia losing to Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn — and to someone else simply because Georgia under Richt always loses a game it shouldn’t. But I do think Georgia will beat Tech.
Say what you will about the rest of it, what I want to focus on is his “cut above” observation about new quarterbacks. Here’s the passer rating for every quarterback’s first season as a starter under Richt:
A few things to note there. Shockley is the only one of that bunch to enjoy a trip to Atlanta in his first (and only) starting season. He had a fine year, but he also benefited from a defense that hadn’t forgotten what VanGorder taught. Stafford is the only true freshman on that list, and his passer rating reflects that. Greene’s first season is underrated – his passer rating actually declined over the next two seasons – but that year was Richt’s first and was clearly transitional.
What’s interesting is the jump in Murray’s and Mason’s ratings over their predecessors. That, in my opinion, reflects a change in philosophy on offense, as Richt and Bobo started putting a higher priority on completion percentage. Georgia’s starting quarterbacks have been over the 60% threshold every year since 2010 except for Murray’s second.
But here’s the thing – note what most of these guys didn’t have in those seasons. Most of them didn’t have a dominant running game to take some of the pressure off. Mason did. And it’s likely that whoever starts this season will enjoy the same benefit.
Now it’s true we’ve got the wild card of a change in offensive coordinators, so there’s certainly that to take into consideration. But how much of this is really going to matter as part of Georgia’s success in 2015? If the approach on offense is to focus on with what’s worked, which is completion percentage and turnover avoidance, is it really that unlikely that we won’t see this year’s starter with a similar rating?
I know pointing in the quarterback’s direction is the obvious way to assess Georgia’s chances this season. I just have a feeling this season’s success is going to come down to what it usually does in Athens, and that’s a matter of how well the defense plays.