What “closing the gap” in the SEC East really means

I expect some pushback on this post, but here goes nothing.

Let’s start by reposting this:

Titles are reserved for programs that sign more blue-chip recruits than non-, and only 13 teams in the whole country met that threshold in 2018, including all four Playoff teams.

The SEC has seven teams above that cut right now for 2019, including three — A&M, Florida, and Tennessee — whose 2018 rosters left them just below the Blue-Chip Ratio line. The Vols got there by signing a five-star tackle, Darnell Wright, and four-star linebacker, Henry To’oto’o, in the last hour or so of the February NSD.

Both the Gators and the Vols are trying to emerge from irrelevance.  Tennessee has a tougher row to hoe in that regard, both because it’s fallen farther and also because it’s a tougher place from which to recruit.  That being said, the surest way to dig yourself out of an irrelevant hole is to sign better talent.  Both programs appear to have done that with their 2019 classes.

Sure, being relevant and being elite are two different things.  2019’s done nothing to put either UF or UT on the same level, talentwise, as Georgia.  But relevant programs can certainly win divisional and conference titles and make the national title postseason on occasion.  It may take somewhat freakish opportunities — key injuries to opponents, injury luck for itself, a generational type player who elevates the program, turnover margin magic, etc. — but there are occasions when a puncher’s chance has been sufficient, if a program is sufficiently prepared to take advantage.

That’s exactly where I think Florida and Tennessee are now.  The gap isn’t closing, but the chance to break through on occasion may be rising for the two.  I think that’s particularly true for Florida.  As I’ve mentioned, Tennessee is hampered by having a tougher time recruiting.  It’s also got to deal with the reality of having Alabama on its schedule every season, a burden neither Georgia nor Florida have.

The other reason I think the trend favors the Gators is that I think they’re better built to deal with it.  Pruitt’s record as a head coach is obviously too short to draw any real conclusions about his program management philosophy, but I don’t think Phil Fulmer is expecting anything less than a return to the glory days of the nineties, even though today’s SEC is a tougher place for the Vols to build sustained success.

Mullen, though, runs a program — at least from what we’ve seen from his days at Mississippi State and even a little from last season at Florida — in a way that’s conducive to success in accepting relevancy as a launch point.  Along those lines, I had an interesting exchange with David Wunderlich on Twitter about that.

That’s where I see Florida.  And I think Mullen is a good enough coach to make something like that work now and then.  Mississippi State waxed and waned when he was there; it’s not hard to see Florida doing the same, except at a higher level on both ends because he’ll be working from a much better base of talent.

No, it won’t be a return to the Spurrier or Meyer eras.  But I can certainly see a year here and a season there of frustration for Georgia fans.  Hope I’m wrong, of course, but I bet I’m not.

As for Tennessee, ask me in another year or two.

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63 Comments

Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football

63 responses to “What “closing the gap” in the SEC East really means

  1. DoubleDawg1318

    I reached a similar conclusion to this post last night as I was looking at the rankings and who achieved the necessary blue chip ratio.

    Frankly if you had told me when we hired Kirby that UT and UF would bounce back and still be staring up at Georgia, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I love watching our rivals struggle but I don’t want the East to be terrible forever. There’s more glory in dominating good competition (as Bama has done in the West) than cleaning up on cupcakes.

    Like

    • gastr1

      Fact of the matter is, though, that it benefits us for them to be competitive. Makes our team better and creates more respect when we beat them. Now, I don’t mean they should beat us, but they should be top 25 material, anyway. Can’t count on SCu, UK, or Vandy to do that consistently.

      Like

  2. Bright Idea

    Logic dictates that UGA recruit and coach like Florida and Tennessee will always be loaded with talent and coached by Bellichick. If they aren’t, all the better.

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  3. Jim

    I simply do not understand why Florida would redshirt Emory Jones last year. Kid is clearly talented and the days of getting five years out of talented players are long gone

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    • The other Doug

      Mullen won 10 games with Franks, so he didn’t need to burn a year of Emory Jones’ eligibility. When Mullen has his scheme installed and better talent then he plays Jones.

      Like

  4. Go Dawgs!

    Florida won’t be down forever. Georgia needs to get the ball over the goal line with one of these championship opportunities while the window is still open.

    That said, while I do believe that Florida will get back to a level where they can spoil the occasional season for us and have a great season of their own, while Kirby is coaching in Athens I don’t see them being able to return to dominance, either in the Cocktail Party or in the SEC. Hell, I think they’ve got problems recruiting against UCF, much less the power programs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Biggus Rickus

      I don’t think the window is small for Georgia. As things stand, there may be ebbs and flows, but Georgia’s going to be in the SEC and subsequently the national title picture for years to come. Unless Smart loses his recruiting touch, which doesn’t seem likely.

      Liked by 2 people

      • paul

        I don’t know. I’m with Go Dawgs! Quite possibly the best opportunity we will ever have, reaching the National Championship without having to beat Alabama, we squandered. We had them beat a second time, though I’m not sure anyone was going to beat Clemson this year. It’s easy to look at today and project tomorrow, but life is funny. It rarely works out the way we think it might. Tomorrow may just be another day like today. Or it may not. There are many, many variables that can derail a program almost overnight. You never know.

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        • Biggus Rickus

          Georgia actually would have been better served by playing an injured Alabama team in the SEC title game than what happened, so 2017 wasn’t that fortunate.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Macallanlover

        I agree, the 2017 championship was the one we squandered by going conservative in the 2nd half and taking the ball away from Fromm and Sony. Yes, Tyler Simmons was onside by a full fricking yard and that blown call alone was a game changer, but for the last 20 minutes of the game we tried to be cute in running the damn clock out. We may not get that close again, such is how precious these opportunities can be. And there wasn’t another hurdle left, it was ours, the curse was over. That was on the coaches, not the players. Epic fail for all of us, and it didn’t have to be.

        Like

  5. Wait, no mention of SCU and their ongoing cannon shots at us? Don’t you know they are quickly closing the gap talent wise? Surely we need to address the 800 lb gorilla in the room at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David K

    There’s a flaw to the players 1-40 argument. I agree there’s a lot of guys in the middle where they’re equally talented before their depth drops off compared to ours. However, our top 5-10 guys will be better than theirs. At least the way we’re recruiting now compared to them. And ultra elite playmakers with game changing talent on the roster is a huge advantage.

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    • It is… unless they’re hurt, or leave early, or the other team is riding a crazy advantage in turnover margin, or has somebody like Cam at quarterback. Over time, more elite talent beats less elite, but in a given season, who knows?

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    • The other Doug

      Go look at Clemson’s roster. They have a few elite players, solid 20 players, and 5 or so kids that are coached up. Mullen is likely to do the same, and if he can grab those few elite players, well…

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    • Bulldog Joe

      Depth matters. Florida lost in Jacksonville last year because of the number of players missing in their defensive backfield and lack of options at quarterback. Georgia took advantage of it and thrived in the 4th quarter when fatigue set in on the Florida side.

      The quality of competition on the practice field matters, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Gravidy

    You won’t get any pushback from me. I think you are right.

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  8. The Script has flipped. We had a real shot at UF every three or four years. That is what the Gator nation is likely looking at going forward. (And they have not figured that out yet)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Under Kirby, we are becoming what the Bear said about Florida … If they ever get their act together, the rest of us will be playing for 2nd place.

    No more dumb fake kicks. No more SEC West road faceplants. Finish Bama when we have them down.

    We’ll be happy with the results.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Macallanlover

      2nd time today you have overstated, imo, the fake punt as being completely boneheaded. Since it didn’t work it is a glaring place to attack, but it was the execution that failed, not the decision. Kirby had thought through that very well, and made a calculated decision. Despite using the wrong player in Fields, too obvious, he knew that was a play Bama would be vulnerable to. When it wasn’t open because Fields didn’t act when it was open, Fields should have checked out of it, or called a TO. He is a QB for God’s sake. UGA had practiced it dozens of times in practice that week, and a good opportunity presented itself. Kirby’s mistake wasn’t calling it, it was not using a less known player to throw it, and also not stepping in when Fields failed to abort the mission. Arthur Lynch implemented it very well against the same Bama Punt Safe defense in 2012. (We also don’t know that punting it wouldn’t have had the same success in resulting in a score, even if it were a FG.) UGA lost that for the same reason they lost the Sugar Bowl, our OL collapsed and let defenders pour through at critical times.

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      • Agree to disagree, Mac. Even if it worked, it wasn’t the percentage play for down & distance and the time of the game. We ran the one in 2012 in the first half and executed with 4th year redshirt junior in his normal position as the main punt protector. This time we ran it in the 4th quarter in a tie game when field position was a hell of a lot more important with a true freshman QB (who doesn’t play on the punt team) who either didn’t do what he was supposed to do or the coaches didn’t stop it.

        The failure flipped the field just like a turnover.

        Kirby took a calculated risk by calling the fake at that time with a true freshman as the trigger man, and it blew up in his face.

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      • Gaskilldawg

        I have a friend who is a college football coach, and is a friend of Kirby’s. Kirby told my friend in mid December that he “f**ked up” with that fake punt call.

        The mistake was not trying to take advantage of a weakness in Alabama’s punt return formation. His mistake was not calling a time out when Alabama recognized that Fields and Swift were in a punting formation FOR THE FIRST TIME all season, and shifted to stop a fake before the snap.

        In my view he also should have had the freshman quarterback practice recognizing a return team’s formation change and audibling out or calling a TO himself. Fields was not prepared to adjust when Alabama did not do what Fields had been prepared to see.

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  10. Bigshot

    Mullen is a good coach and you are not wrong. There are some disappointing days that lie ahead for UGA. We’ve had 2 chances to win a National title and missed them both.

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    • What exactly tells you there are “some disappointing days that lie ahead for UGA”?

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      • Bigshot

        Disappointing in the fact that UF is getting better and will have more of an opportunity to beat UGA. It’s not going to be as easy as it was.

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        • I don’t think we’re going back to the 90s where we knew we had no chance.

          Mullen may be a good head coach. He has never had pressure on him like he’s going to experience the next couple of years. He’ll find out quickly what’s it’s like in Florida if he gets Kirb-stomped again. They were boat-raced by Missouri and lost for the first time in 30 years to Kentucky.

          Liked by 1 person

      • 79Dawg

        Old Lady Luck, she can be a real b*tch sometimes!

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    • Coach Bobby Finstock

      Bruh, you cry all season every season, every minute of every game, and you spend the off-seasons lamenting the doom ahead and gnashing your teeth over the past. How could you possibly disappointed when you know, just know, that we’re absolutely going to lose every f*cking game. Sheesh.

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  11. Bulldog Joe

    I’m more interested in closing the gap to the SEC West, where Georgia has a losing record with Kirby as head coach.

    24/7 does an annual talent composite each June, taking into consideration the players who leave the program early as well as which recruits are likely to be on the roster when the season begins.

    Team Composite Rankings (2015-2016-2017-2018):

    Alabama: 1-1-1-2
    LSU: 5-3-6-7
    Georgia: 6-6-4-3
    Auburn: 7-7-8-14
    Texas A&M: 10-13-15-16

    Using 24/7’s rating system, Georgia closed the gap with Alabama from 104 points to 15 in this time period. This June, I expect Georgia’s gap to be roughly the same, while LSU, Auburn, and A&M’s continue to widen from 2015. The wild card for Georgia are losses from the 2016 and 2018 classes (including Hardman, Ridley, Holyfield, Nauta, Eason, Wims, Fields, and Ford). Other SEC programs have losses, too.

    Net/net: Georgia has the talent to be SEC champions (and beyond) in 2019 and a relatively stable coaching staff compared to the competition. No need to have ‘wait until next year’ expectations. Georgia’s time is now.

    https://247sports.com/Season/2015-Football/CollegeTeamTalentComposite/

    Liked by 1 person

    • GruvenDawg

      This why I think this is the year for UGA to get over the Bama hump…

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    • Biggus Rickus

      This is what I don’t understand about those who are down. 2018 was never supposed to be a championship season for Georgia. It was something of a transition year from the senior laden team of 2017 to the more experienced talent of 2019. The fact that Georgia nearly repeated as SEC champs SHOULD make people optimistic, yet here we are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • GruvenDawg

        100% agree with you Biggus Rickus. However I will admit that the Sugar bowl sure didn’t taste sweet. Hopefully this teams leadership group has the same taste in their mouth and takes a cue on how to be leaders from Nick, Sony, Roquan, Lorenzo and Bellamy from 2017.

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  12. 81Dog

    Mullen is a very good coach in terms of player development, but he’s nothing special special as a recruiter, and there’s nothing special about his schemes on O or D. Decent talent playing up can win a lot. So can poorly coached or unprepared high talent. But when great talent works hard and is well prepared, you have to catch them on a really bad day. Alabama is the paradigm. They lose an occasional game to a lesser team, but they never lost to Mullet. If Kirby keeps the talent flowing and UGA can avoid games like the recent Texas effort, seems to me Mullet should be respected, but not feared. He should be fearing us.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I get what David’s trying to say about players 1-40 being comparable, but the idea that Spurrier’s 1-40 wasn’t better than everybody else’s (and frankly his 70-85) during his heyday at Florida is pretty laughable. I think there’s some revisionist history going on based on how his career ended at South Carolina with not wanting to do the grind anymore, but Spurrier had as many, if not more, dudes as any of the other elite programs at the time.

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    • Yep – those 90s teams were powerful (and not just on offense). He was doing something no one else was by flinging the ball everywhere. They would Fun N Gun to get a big lead and then grind teams into submission with Rhett, Taylor and those other backs he had.

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  14. 2675miller

    It is a mistake to underestimate the kind of talent in the state of florida and florida always gets their share. In spite of being mediocre on the field, the past four years they have had by my count 28 players drafted. If they get the qb position straightened out they will be a handful once again.

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    • Biggus Rickus

      Muschamp recruited at an extremely high level in 2012 and 2013 and solidly in 2014. it was reflected in recent drafts, and it showed up on the field in 2015 and 2016 when Florida’s defenses gave McElwain his division titles. Last year, they had five players drafted, and even two of THOSE were holdovers from Muschamp’s final class. McElwain’s classes and Mullen’s first one are not going to fare nearly as well as Muschamp’s groups.

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  15. This is kinda how we did it under Richt. It’s also why blowing the NC and SECC are such a big deal. It’s not just the losses or the how but more about not taking advantage of opportunities and losing momentum and then finding yourself highly ranked and losing at home to the upstart. Then you go on a 10-15 year skid.

    No, appearing in the NC two seasons ago isn’t good enough. I’d just assume that we’d kept Richt if appearing in the NC is as good at it gets. UT, FU and Tech look to be finally getting off their asses and we won’t keep signing #1 or #2 classes if we don’t win a title. At some point you have to meet or exceed what you’re selling.

    The entire program kinda rested on it’s laurels after that last championship and look how long it took to recover.

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    • As good as it gets? You gotta be joking. If memory serves, Richt never ran the table in the East. Smart has done it in year 2 and 3. He didn’t get to Atlanta because Florida or Carolina blew a road game somewhere. He is kicking their asses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m clearly not talking about the past but ok.

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      • Well I was talking about the past as evidence that you can’t settle and talking about sweeping a bad east and losing in the NC is just that. Squandering two big leads on the biggest of stages isn’t what I had in mind when they canned Richt and decided to give the guy whatever he wanted.

        Do you actually believe we’ll keep having these recruiting classes if we don’t take the next step?

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  16. Dawg Vegas

    I agree the the Gators are most likely to improve quicker than Tennessee. I feel confident that Kirby will have sustained success, and will break through soon for a national championship.

    I am curious, and nauseated, when thinking about the often-seen 2nd-year bounce. And oh yeah, last year they finished tied with us in the final rankings. I’m glad that there’s nothing complacent or on cruise control about our program right now.

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  17. TimberRidgeDawg

    I think your absolutely spot on what you get with Mullen.

    I don’t think the Florida fan base will necessarily accept that though. They seem to believe that the winning big and with style that came with Spurrier and Urban should be the norm and anything less is unacceptable.

    i can understand where they get that entitlement but it flys in the face of the fact than they’ve been very much average to good for their entire history with coaches not named Spurrier or Meyer. Mullen is good but he is neither of those two and will never be. What will happen if he wins 10 games a year but loses consistently to UGA in the East? Somewhat the reverse role of the Mark Richt tenure… how patient will the boosters be? I suspect not much.

    The point that is missed by Wunderlich with players 1-40 being competitive is enough is that if your players 41-80 are highly rated blue chips then the odds of one of them hitting as significant contributor and breaking into 1-40 than lesser ranked players. Not all 4 and 5 stars pan out but if you have enough of them then the numbers say odds are in your favor statistically that you’ll get enough hits to have a superior roster and depth. Hello Alabama

    Liked by 1 person

  18. PTC DAWG

    Maybe UF can finish HIGHer than 3rd in the East this year. Hopefully not.

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  19. The longer we 1-recruit team needs 2-excellent staff hires, we will always have ala. on our schedule, either early dec. or early jan.

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  20. Derek

    The problem with: let’s get close to Bama and UGA on the two deep, not worrying about scout and 3rd team, and win the big games is 2-fold.

    1) I think it costs you in special teams and if you hit a spate of injuries at a spot.

    2) where has Mullen won in the big spot? I went back a year ago and looked at how many teams he beat that finished as top 25 teams and it was atrocious. Like 2 the whole time he was at MSU. He’ll up that rate due to better talent but it doesn’t say much for the coaching part of things.

    That ass whuppin’ we put on MSU was pitiful. There they were with the whole world watching and picking them because they’d beaten LSU and they didn’t even get off the bus. At all.

    I think Pruitt is a better ball coach with a more patient fan base. They may take longer to get there but UT Will be a bigger threat on game day in my opinion. In fact it wouldn’t shock me if Mullen is out after 2021 if he hasn’t won the east and he won’t.

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    • Biggus Rickus

      It’s also not so cut and dry. You stockpile more good recruits because it creates a buffer for recruits who don’t pan out. Recruiting enough talent to match 1-40 if everyone pans out means the gap is going to end up wider than you anticipated when many of them don’t in a given cycle.

      Like

  21. W Cobb Dawg

    No matter how much talent they assemble, Grantham and Chaney will find ever more creative ways to f*#k things up – at least a few times each season. I guess one could say they’ve both got a history of doing above average (though that’s arguable). But they simply aren’t championship caliber.

    There was a void in the power structure of the sec east that allowed McElwain and mizzou to stumble into sec championship games. Kirby’s arrival eliminated that void and moved the bar considerably higher. It would take near herculean efforts on the part of Mullen and Pruitt to close the gap. I just don’t see no-detail-is-too-small Kirby allowing either program to creep up on us.

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  22. ApalachDawg

    To quote the greatest stock car driver when asked about his racin’ philosophy…
    “Well, Dick, here’s the deal: I’m the best there is, plain and simple. I mean, I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence. You know, nobody can hang with my stuff.”
    UGA football can now back that up on the field when we take on our sec east foes.

    The hilljacks and the cheesedicks are going to get round 3 of pain and humiliation from Mr Smart and companions.

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  23. Rebar

    Maybe we ought to think of what it will take to beat Clemson. They beat the bejeebus out of the best Bama team ever.

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  24. Pedro

    Mullen’s scheme seems to be one Kirby has covered. Not certain a Kirby coached defense has lossed to a Mullen offense. Maybe something there. On the other hand Pruitt seemed to have Tennessee fighting above their weight with us. Just thinking a Pruitt coached team with talent scares me a little more.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. DawgByte

    As much as I think Mullen has the personality of a clown, he should be a concern for Georgia fans. Anyone who can take a disaster like Fellippe Franks and turn him into a serviceable QB (threw for more yards than Jake Fromm in ’18) in year 1 of his regime will have the capability to make things more difficult for Kirby Smart and Georgia in the near future. I expect the 2019 Outdoor Cocktail party to be a real slobber knocker.

    Like

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