So let me get this straight: Georgia won nine regular-season games last year with a veteran head coach, a veteran (albeit transfer) quarterback and a fully healthy Nick Chubb. Now they have not only a first-year head coach but a first-time head coach, who is walking into one of the most high-pressure jobs in college football without having ever coached a game? And he’s doing it with (likely) a true freshman at quarterback and Chubb coming off injury? And we expect the Dawgs to actually be better than they were last year? Especially when you add in a brutal schedule that includes an improved Tennessee, cross-divisional games against Ole Miss and Auburn and an opener against an 11-win North Carolina team? Plenty believe Georgia will be good in time under Richt [sic] (I’m a bit more dubious than most), but they feel like a nine-win team at best this year.
While there is some stuff in there I disagree with — for one thing, the schedule isn’t any more brutal than last year’s — I can’t quibble with his nine-win projection. And he’s not the only pundit less than impressed with Georgia’s chances in 2016, as you can see from his stable mate Stewart Mandel’s latest top-25 projections, which leaves Georgia off entirely.
Lest we forget, Georgia is coming off a weird 2015, in which it finished unranked despite being a 10-win team in a P5 conference. That’s not an easy thing to do.
And yet, there are plenty of pundits and folks who do stat projections who see better things ahead for the Dawgs this season. Are they right? Or is Georgia simply that hard to get a solid handle on right now?
I’m leaning towards the latter, to be honest, and I have a theory about why. First off, I don’t question the coaching change as much as the writer of the quote above does. Certainly you have to say Kirby is a question mark until we see him in action, but even the most diehard cynic would have to admit that spending almost a decade around Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa had to result in some knowledge rubbing off. On top of that, there are clear areas where the staff has been upgraded, and I can’t really point to a single area where I feel like Smart has settled for a less able coach than his predecessor.
That leaves the talent base, the players. And here’s where I think the ambiguity rests. Georgia recruits well, we tell ourselves. Certainly, as I noted in that post about Pick Six Preview’s SEC East projections, it’s recruited at least as well as its divisional competitors have. But I think most of us have mixed feelings about the talent on the roster, or perhaps more accurately, the depth of talent on the roster, especially when you factor in experience.
And that I think has its roots in Mark Richt’s neglect in maintaining roster numbers a few seasons back, but maybe not in the way you think. Because, to his credit, Richt did finally wake up about that and take big steps to correct it.
The problem he ran into — and the one Kirby Smart will have to deal with this season — is Georgia’s 2013 recruiting class.
That class, if you’ll recall, was a big one, with 34 kids who signed, although only 32 wound up enrolling. Despite the class size, though, it only finished 12th in the 247Sports composite rankings. That was only good for seventh-best in the SEC.
But even that’s not the real story, as we sit here today. The real story is the way that class subsequently vaporized. Take a look at the list of those enrollees. It is staggering to see how few of those four-stars ever became significant contributors, let alone starters, not to mention how many of them are no longer on the team at all, a mere three years later. And much the same can be said for the three-stars.
That’s had the result of blowing an enormous hole in the roster. So a class that was assembled in part to address a numbers gap has had the opposite effect. And these are the kids who should be stepping up now as juniors and seniors to assume major roles on the team. Instead, we’re seeing the scrambles of the next three classes being used to make up for what’s not there.
The quarterback situation Smart’s got is a perfect example of that. Brice Ramsey is part of the class of 2013 and to date he’s made more of an impact as a punter. Christian LeMay washed out and so Richt found himself last season in a hole at the position, which he attempted to plug with a graduate transfer. Smart is trying to solve the problem with that same transfer, who is coming off a mediocre season, Brice Ramsey, or a true freshman. It’s not exactly your ideal situation.
But it’s the hand he’s been dealt and it’s the reason I’m willing to give Kirby Smart some time. At least as long as I think he’s making good use of that time, anyway.