In search of optimism: the 2016 All-SEC teams, youth, talent and the Process

This post is for all of you who think I’ve been too dour of late about the football program.

I’m not the only one who’s had a reaction to the news that, for the first time since 1990, Georgia failed to place a single player on either the first or second coaches’ All-SEC teams.  In particular, Dean Legge and Chip Towers have made the effort to determine the cause or causes behind the omission.

As you might expect, between those two, I find Legge’s case the less convincing.  Not just because he spends the first part of his post making the argument that Georgia really wasn’t that talented — something that is both highly amusing, considering that he runs a recruiting site that’s pumped out happy talk about Georgia’s classes on a recurring basis, but also misleading in that he’s conflating overall program talent with having an individual player on a given roster who’s sufficiently talented to gain the coaches’ approval.  (See, for example, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham.)

The better argument to make, and Legge sort of beats around the bush making it, is not that there’s a total omission, but that as a whole Georgia’s numbers lag behind the top programs in the conference.  Sharing the distinction with South Carolina of being the only schools shut out is one thing; being light years away from Alabama’s eleven named and LSU’s seven is the real structural problem.

And, yes, some of the blame for that can rightfully be placed on Richt’s roster management practices and the fall out from the vaporization of the 2013 class.  But not all of it can.  Legge points to how young Georgia’s roster is as an explanation.

But another consideration to consider is that of the 43 Scout 300 players on campus in Athens right now, 28 (or 65%) are sophomores, true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. In addition, in Kirby’s one recruiting cycle he’s signed 33% of the Scout 300 players on the roster. Needless to say that’s a disproportional amount of the roster. That number should be closer to 20%, or one in five; i.e. how many classes Kirby has recruited to UGA.

It’s true that the All-SEC teams skew towards upperclassmen, and that’s to be expected.  But skewing isn’t the same thing as totality.  By my count, there are a dozen freshmen and sophomores populating that list and none of them wear red and black.  That ain’t on the class of 2013, y’all.

Towers’ take, while noting that the overall talent level wasn’t all it could be, is more nuanced.

Georgia didn’t have any players included on the postseason All-SEC team this year for the first time since 1990, or 26 years. Kind of mind-boggling, isn’t it?

But I argue that the Bulldogs had some all-conference players. They just weren’t recognized — or utilized — depending on your perspective.

I got into a pretty good debate about this with a couple gentlemen in the football business for whom I have great respect. They’ll nameless here but, suffice it to say, both have been in the game and I value their opinions greatly.

One pointed to the fact that Georgia didn’t have any players on All-SEC team as evidence that the Bulldogs didn’t have any talent on the roster this year. The other pointed out that there was all-conference-caliber talent on the roster but that it was overlooked because of the crappy overall season and/or because of deficiencies in other areas.

As always, I’d say the truth lay somewhere in between. Personally, I believe Georgia had six or seven players with all-conference talent. Those either didn’t get the recognition they deserved this season or will eventually.

I think that’s closer to a good explanation.  As an example, here’s what Towers has to say about Isaiah McKenzie:

… Isaiah McKenzie probably should have been this season, if not as a receiver but as a returner/all-purpose player.

Think about how McKenzie’s season started? He had 18 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in Georgia’s first three games. Now it’s probably unreasonable to think he could have maintained that pace for the whole season. But if he could have, he would’ve finished with 1,220 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns, not including his return numbers.

As it was, the Bulldogs simply got away from feeding McKenzie. He had no touches against Florida, and only four against Ole Miss, four against South Carolina, three against Kentucky and three against Georgia Tech. Again, it’s always a challenge for play-callers to distribute the ball to all the weapons at their disposal. But McKenzie was curiously absent in the gameplan a few times.

That “challenge” was a problem all season.  Just ask Chubb and Michel.

But even that doesn’t explain all.  I thought Georgia’s two best players on defense this year were Trent Thompson and Roquan Smith.  Pro Football Focus named the latter to its All-SEC team, saying, “Smith rounds out the top three, after a season where he impressed against the run and in coverage, and finished the year as our 11th-highest-graded linebacker.”

Yet here’s the thing about both:  neither of them started all season.  Regarding Thompson,

The nation’s No. 1 prospect in the 2015 signing class according to, Thompson has racked up 48 tackles this season after making 25 as a freshman. Yet his six starts at defensive tackle match his number from a year ago, with his inability to increase that total largely due to the emergence of freshman Julian Rochester.

Those 48 tackles were good for fifth on the team, which is a remarkable amount, considering what interior defensive linemen are asked to do in Georgia’s defense.

Roquan Smith led the team in tackles, despite coming off a knee injury that kept him out of spring practice.  His official resume for this season reads pretty impressively.

2016: Has appeared in 12 games, making nine starts…team’s leading tackler with 82 total stops…also has 5.0 tackles for loss, five QB pressures and one pass breakup…career-high 13 tackles came vs. Georgia Tech…also forced at GT fumble in the game…had 11 tackles (7+4) in win at South Carolina, adding a forced fumble and a fumble recovery…in addition to six stops vs. Vanderbilt, he assisted on a QB sack and broke up one pass…has led team in tackles in each of the past two games: 7 stops vs. Auburn and 7 vs. Louisiana…had 7 tackles in win at Kentucky…made a then-career-high 6 tackles (5 solo, 1 assisted) with 2 TFL against UNC…had five tackles vs. Tennessee…made 4 tackles against Nicholls…added four tackles (all solo) at Missouri…recipient of the Tommy Lyons Football Scholarship.

Yeah, that’s someone who’s worthy of a little more attention.  So maybe a mediocre team season did hurt some individual guys’ chances.

But maybe there’s a further explanation worth considering.  (WARNING:  I’m about to get optimistic on some of your asses.)

Maybe there’s a bigger point being made in Athens… purposefully.  Go back to that Smart comment about why Thompson didn’t start all season.

“Trenton has worked really hard,” Bulldogs first-year coach Kirby Smart said. “He had a spell in the middle of the season there where we thought Julian was practicing better and playing a little better than him, so Julian was playing a little more. Trenton went back to work and outworked him, and we thought he played and practiced well the Auburn week.

“We actually started him in the second half of the Auburn game, but there is competition at certain positions every week, and they know they’ve got to go out and earn it.”

That’s a sentiment John Atkins echoed.

“It just shows you how everyone has to work,” Bulldogs junior nose tackle John Atkins said. “No one spot is safe, and a lot of the younger guys have challenged me, too. Julian and Trent have gone back and forth, but Trent can be very disruptive in the backfield, and you need someone like Trent on your team.”

What that sounds like to me is akin to what Nick Saban’s preached in Tuscaloosa ever since he showed up there.

As for Alabama, its structure doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. But there does appear to be a level of expectation in Tuscaloosa that’s greater than other top programs. At a place that replaces senior five-star talent with junior five-star talent in most years, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, a former five-star from Folsom, California, stepped into a starting role this year as a freshman.

It didn’t take Jonah Williams long to realize the kind of work that’s required to win at the level Alabama has, which is 118 games over the past 10 years.

“I think Coach Saban is the greatest coach of all time,” he said. “Being a part of that program and the process, if you just buy in you’re going to be successful. They’ve always been successful. All you have to do is buy in. It’s certainly not an easy path but it’s laid out for you. You know it’s going to be hard but if you buy in you’ll be successful.”

Jonah Williams added that while there is plenty of star player, egos don’t accompany the players on the roster. He said there isn’t a spot at Alabama for those looking to be flashy. With that in mind, it would explain why so many five-star athletes choose the Crimson Tide, even when they know there is a chance they may not play right away.

“You need to be willing to grind harder than anyone – because that’s what everyone else did,” Jonah Williams said. “It’s not some magical recipe we made up.”

Said Tim Williams: “There’s no individual person on this team playing for stats. We got guys going to the league next year but we’re just a team. We’re not even worried about that. We’re worried about playing the next game. It’s amazing.”

If you’re a Georgia fan, it’s not just amazing.  It’s totally foreign.  And while that’s something Jason Butt writes the Georgia athletics department is looking for, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, a nicety that was perhaps brushed aside a little too conveniently by those folks before the start of the season.  Remember, Kirby spoke of turning a battleship back then, not a speedboat.

Can he do it?  Well, that’s the $64000 question.  I have no doubt his time on Saban’s staff gave him all the reference points he needed for charting a course.  That being said, let’s not forget he’s hardly the first bird to have flown from that particular nest and none of the other chickadees have yet managed to come near, let alone meet, what Saban’s accomplished.

Still, I have hope.  The success on the recruiting front gives me a lot of that, not only because that’s an example of learning from Saban what matters in program building, but because Smart appears well on his way to implementing the lesson.  That’s all I can ask at this point.  Give me talent and attitude and I’ll be more than patient watching the rest of the details fill in.  That’s being optimistic, right?


Filed under Georgia Football

53 responses to “In search of optimism: the 2016 All-SEC teams, youth, talent and the Process

  1. Normaltown Mike

    We got hosed since they don’t name an all SEC long snappah.


    • PFF named Payne as its All-SEC fullback. I guess that’s as close as it gets.


      • Russ

        Payne? Didn’t he play some at the first of the season?

        Good take overall. Sounds like Kirby has two of the three legs you mentioned, recruiting and attitude (well, he’s working on it). If he can improve his coaching/strategery, then he will be here a long time. I realize he’s learning on the job, so I just hope he’s a quick learner. Next year should show some significant improvement.


  2. gastr1

    I think this is about as compelling a case as I’ve seen to explain what’s gone on this year. It’s an interesting point, isn’t it, that even though we all know Alabama dominates the recruiting headlines every year, they don’t produce Heisman candidates so much and their individual players are not so recognizable in that sense.

    I can live with that if the trade-off is winning games eventually, that’s for sure.


  3. Bob

    Only two Heisman winners in their history has been in the Saban era. But I agree, focus at the Capstone has been TEAM.


  4. MLB2

    Who cares what your opinion is? You had a 0.0 GPA when your fraternity was shut down.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JCDAWG83

    A friend of mine who is a Florida grad made the comment a few years ago about Georgia football; “…at Georgia, the players are playing for their draft position, at Florida, the players are playing to win games for Florida…”. This was during the Meyer era when both teams had good talent. I initially dismissed his comment but the more I thought about it and thought about the talented players who had come through Athens and gone on to the pros, I realized he had a legitimate point.

    I’m hoping Kirby can bring that Bama mentality of players giving their best effort in order to win the game and not think about their personal stats. I’m optimistic Kirby is going to bring in talent, I really hope he turns out to be able to do big things with it.


    • Jeff Sanchez

      No, he didn’t have a point. That’s ridiculous.

      Don’t let Tim Tebow mis-color one’s perception of Meyer era Florida


      • JCDAWG83

        I guess the NC with Leach, before Tebow doesn’t count. I don’t like Meyer but it’s hard to argue with his results. He’s 165-28 with 3 NCs and 3 SEC championships in 16 seasons. His teams were ranked every season but 1 since 2003 when he went to Utah (2010, his last season at Florida they were unranked but did manage to beat Georgia). In 5 seasons at Ohio State, he’s only had 5 losses total. He’s a jerk but he can put a winning football team on the field.

        As to the other Florida coaches, since 1990 Georgia has a winning record over exactly one Florida coach, Will Muschamp (3-1). I don’t like it but Georgia could do much worse than equaling Florida’s football results for the past 26 years.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff Sanchez

          Ummmmm….ok? This wasn’t your argument at all though.

          UF under Meyer didn’t have “all for ‘ol State U!!!” players all over their roster. Tebow glossed over a lot of trash that he had recruited there


  6. heyberto

    One point I’d like to make on Smart and the comparison with other Saban disciples.. I’d need to check the actual data, but is there anyone with more time under his system than Smart? Everyone said Grantham (I know he’s not a head coach, just using him because I recall the issue being brought up) coached under Saban, but he wasn’t a coordinator at the time, and wasn’t there very long (again, I may be wrong about that.. going from memory here). My point is, there are varying degrees of grooming and time spent under these so called disciples.. and Kirby seems like the one person who may have been around that system the longest, and actually moved up the ladder quickly under Saban. So if it’s the Sabanization you’re looking for, does Kirby, out of all the former assistants that are now head coaches, arguably have the most experience under Saban? If I had time, I’d check the math on that.

    Also, it might be worth noting that Kirby experienced Saban at his best. I mean.. Alabama is when Saban himself put all the pieces together. But, it’s not that time served makes one a great head coach, but I think it’s a good place to start when trying to conduct the Pepsi Challenge of former Saban Assistants that are now head coaches.


  7. Recruiting is the one thing that has me positive about 2017 at this point. Until Chaney is gone, I have no faith that we’re going to get better on offense. Tucker showed signs, but his guys collapsed at the wrong times this year with Auburn as the exception.


  8. rchris

    A 5 loss regular season for only the 3rd time in 20 years, losing to Vandy and Tech at home for the first time since 1961, no All-SEC players for the first time since 1990 despite having 4 years of top 8 classes. I think I’m sensing a pattern. Thank you Senator for not buying the propaganda that we have no talent. We didn’t develop or use the talent that we had. This is squarely on Kirby.



    I know where we were headed…

    Not 100% sure now, and I like the feeling. Kirby will be relentless in bringing in talent, that Inam sure of. Country Clubs don’t change overnite.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Snoop Dawgy Dawg

    I think 3 years from now, looking at names from the 2016 roster, we’ll see quite a few in the NFL. the current crop of seniors is terrible, at least what is left of them. (not analyzing what went wrong there. that horse is dead and then some). The ’14 class moved back in the right direction. 15 was great. With good coaching, just because we have a new coaching staff doesn’t mean these guys are required to underperform.

    That being said, there are first half of the draft players on this team that are sophomores and juniors. Those guys(roquan, Trent T., Ledbetter, Lo Carter, Chubb, Michel, Patrick, Walker, McGraw, Godwin, Roundtree) are all people that UF, UT, Bama, LSU, FSU, Miami, etc fought for. They are allowed to get better and perform at or above expectations.

    This year was a repeat of 2015, except with better quarterback play and more losses. other than that, it was an abysmal season where everything just came up snake eyes. Man I hope to see the light bulb go off for this team next year. Year 2 is the big jump. year 3 of fantastic recruiting for us. Year 2 with a coaching staff. Please God let next year be better than this year.


    • DawgPhan

      last year’s team was significantly better than this year’s team. Offense, defense, and special teams.


      • Disagree, but not going down this rabbit hole again.


        • Why not? DawgPhan just seems to be itching for an argument this morning.


          • DawgPhan

            meh…I will try and argue with data points and analytics and he will respond with yeah but that team was really more like 7-5 and those data points are meaningless next to my gut feeling about the team last year.

            there i saved everyone 15 minutes. happy holidays.


      • JCDAWG83

        Last year’s schedule was much easier than this season. We beat exactly one FBS opponent last season who had a winning record, Georgia Southern and we had to go to overtime to win that game. Tech was a much better team this season and so was Vandy. We still should have won those games but if either of them were as good last year as they are this year, we probably would have lost to at least one of them in ’15.

        I’m glad this season is behind us. The honeymoon is over for Kirby, now we’re playing for keeps.


        • Snoop Dawgy Dawg

          Enjoy the argument with whoever, but this season was no harder than last season. Teams are more likely to have winning records when they beat you than when they don’t.

          Also, an ugly win is also known as a win.


        • David K

          I agree and not even due to the schedule being much easier this year. A few minor things change and we could’ve lost a few additional games last year, just the same as we could’ve pulled out a few more wins this year. It’s how the ball rolls, not necessarily because we were better or worse. Sometimes things go your way. We were an average at best team both years.


  11. Greg Pyke would have garnered more SEC love had he played guard instead of tackle. UGA had not tackles on the roster, so he had to play outside.


  12. Greg

    To me, the key thing that Jonah Williams was quoted as saying in that article was this:

    “It all comes down to how much the players want to work for their head coach”.

    I feel like Smart lost a lot of respect in the beginning with his players…speaking publicly about needing bigger players, criticizing players performances in the media and “dressing” players down on the sidelines after mistake/mistakes in a game. I certainly would not want to work hard for a coach like that. Hopefully he has learned – but you are who you are imo.


    • DawgPhan

      I was wondering if anyone else was thinking this. I think that if you look at the way performances of the team before and including the UT game you see a team that was playing pretty well. After the UT game the team didnt bounce back to their level of play up to that point.

      It looks like Smart lost the team and wonder if all his bad mouthing and that of other coaches didnt play a part in it.

      To be fair, it did seem like Smart eased up on the bad mouthing later in the season.


  13. doofusdawg

    The vanilla game plans on both sides of the ball are as big a contributor as anything. It’s like we needed all eleven to be successful on every play for one player to really standout. It’s also hard to find excellence when your offense scores less than your defense gives up and when your defense gives up more points than your offense scores.

    Maybe the team element is addressed with the bama comparison but I think the bigger issue is the fact that our two coordinators had a really bad year. The success of the coordinators seems to have more of an impact on the results than even the head coach. The theme of all of your posts today would indicate that you tend to agree.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Go Dawgs!

    I fear that Kirby is in danger of following in Will Muschamp’s Floridian footsteps, building a beast of a defense and entrusting the wrong people to develop the offense.


    • Ginny

      That is my fear too. To be honest though, as bad as our offense was this year, I still think it was better than any offense Florida fielded during Boom’s days. Stats could totally prove me wrong. But those UF offenses were historically bad.


    • Will (The Other One)

      He’s going to need to win at least 10 games (assuming a win over TCU) just to match Muschamp’s record after two seasons at Florida…


    • W Cobb Dawg

      Agree. There’s talent on O: Chubb, Michel, Nauta, Godwin, IMac, Blazevich. Our inept offensive coaching was the problem.


  15. CB

    Dean Legge is basically a glorified Bill Shanks. The guy offers about the same amount of insight as you’ll find on the comment section of lesser blogs.


  16. Napoleon BonerFart

    So … you’re going to start covering recruiting?


  17. I just want to have a better record than the U….if we don’t fire em all. Strike that… fire em all anyway. Bluto for AD.


  18. Will Trane

    Have not looked but I would be very curious what the red zone defense was like for the Tide when Smart and Tucker were there. No doubt their defense during their employment was exemplary. Plus it was tangible. Their coaching process awarded them with rings, platitudes, and money.
    Plus how many all SEC and All American players did they have on defense while at Bama?
    Poor, Kirby, the man has not even finished one season coaching and been on board for a full year…and the fan base is sending him bags of coal.
    As for McKenzie. Even though I do not know him [or his folks, kin, etc] I have nothing against him personally, but he is way too small for the SEC. Maybe if he had been a 225 pound running back with an alleged can-not-miss-NFL prospect leading the blocking he would have had a Herschel Walker moment [remember UT game]. Size counts.
    If Legge , Dean, Jeff, Bill, Chip, and etec had an eye for talent and coaching they would not be running a website. They might even be hired by agents and NFL teams to evaluate personnel for draft.
    Plus the QBs. How did MSU and Auburn end up having two that have gone into the NFL and produced. Remember they came out of spread programs.
    Where is Murray now?


    • David K

      If Murray were 3-4 inches taller he would’ve been the overall #1 pick in the draft and killing it in the NFL now. If you’re only as tall as Drew Brees you better be as good as Drew Brees.


  19. daphne95

    My two biggest issues with this season was:

    In game coaching decision making with whether you should be conservative or aggressive. I feel like they failed it in a number of games and it probably cost them two games entirely.
    Personnel decision making, which it now looks like it was a problem on both sides of the ball.

    #1 is something that can be learned with coaching experience, but I don’t feel very good about the odds of #2 being fixed. It’s something that if a coach is good at, you can tell right from the start.