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Post Forecasting Kirby Smart’s first season

Monday August 29, 2016

There’s a weather forecasting method called climatology. It uses averages over time as a starting point to forecast the weather during normal weather patterns. On a typical July day in Georgia, climatology might tell you to expect temperatures in the 90s with a stray thunderstorm possible. Individual days can be hotter or cooler, drier or wetter, but climatology is a good place to start unless there are solid reasons not to. Climatology can also be used as a sanity check for extreme forecasts: if another forecasting tool tells you to expect snow in June, climatology leads you to doubt the model or at least to examine why the model gave the result it did.

But climatology is only one tool of many, and it can break down when there are abnormal conditions. Is there a legitimately unusual weather system developing? Have other variables changed? Has the climate itself shifted to a new normal?

The climatology of college football tells us to tap the brakes on big expectations for the 2016 season. There’s a track record for first-year head coaches and especially assistants-turned-head coaches. We know that no first-year Georgia head coach has won more than nine games, and the most recent head coach set that benchmark. If we want to keep going, history warns us about freshman quarterbacks – even the best rarely started out of the gate.

Are there enough special conditions though that might lead us to question what history says to expect? Smart isn’t stepping into a typical first-year situation. Four of Georgia’s last five teams have won at least ten games, and Smart is expected to improve on that. Georgia might start a freshman quarterback, but he’ll be handing off to one of the most talented backfields in the nation. We might even say that the climate has changed for new SEC coaches: the most recent hires for Auburn and Florida won their divisions immediately, and the window for producing results is as narrow as it’s ever been.

Kirby Smart doesn’t care one bit about what history says about the first seasons of Ray Goff or Nick Saban or Gus Malzahn, and he won’t let his decisions be clouded by the results of Matthew Stafford’s 2006 freshman year. That’s fine, but he and his team are going to have to make some extraordinary things happen to stand out from the typical first year. These are a couple of questions I’ll have on my mind during the season:

When will we know that things are different?

The 2001 season got off to a so-so start: there was an easy cupcake win in the opener, a disappointing home loss to South Carolina, and a nice rebound win over Arkansas. It was fairly similar to the way the 2000 season began. Though fans were generally positive, the late game-winning drive allowed to South Carolina and indecisiveness at the quarterback position had made it a brief honeymoon.

Things changed of course with the trip to Knoxville and one of the most famous playcalls in program history. It wasn’t just that Georgia had defeated Tennessee; they had done so the year before. It wasn’t just that Georgia won in Knoxville though it had been decades since the last win up there. It was that Georgia twice got off the mat in situations where previous teams might’ve folded. The Dawgs recovered first from the shock of an early 14-3 deficit and then found a way to recover with an improbable drive after Tennessee’s late go-ahead score. The team reflected the calmness and confidence of its coach, and the win was a significant moment in shoring up the buy-in for both players and fans.

The 2016 Bulldogs will face several tests within the first month of the season. Within five games we should have a fairly good sense of Georgia’s relative standing in the SEC East and learn how well Georgia measures up against a nonconference opponent favored to win its division. Smart doesn’t have to win them all – Mark Richt’s 2001 team stumbled late against Auburn and Boston College, but those losses didn’t undo the groundwork that led to a successful run. But with a successful and popular coach suddenly fired last year, Smart does have to show enough of a difference for fans, players, and recruits to understand that the right decision was made. Will Smart’s teams down the road be able to point to events in 2016 as the foundation for their success?

What’s the two-point conversion play?

Indulge me in one of my favorite obscure game situations. Mark Richt came to favor, with a little variation, a certain play on conversions. (See these plays from 2006 and 2011. The play was also used for the score that should have been the game-winner against Tech in 2014.) A receiver came in motion, often from left-to-right, and went underneath. Meanwhile the other two receivers on the right side of the formation cleared out the defenders. The play rolled right, the QB had some options, and the underneath receiver was usually open.

It’s one of those little details, but the right go-to play at the right time will win games. As much thought as Smart has put into other details across the program, I’m looking forward to seeing what the staff has up their sleeves. I’m focusing on the two-point conversion here, but similar thought and preparation has to go into third-and-short, the red zone, the two-minute drill, and other circumstances that might only come up a few times each game but which can determine the outcome. (Same goes for the other side of the ball – is Georgia’s defense prepared for opponents’ go-to plays and favorite tricks?)

What will Smart have to learn on the job?

Even with all of the preparation in the world, there are some lessons that have to be taught by experience. For Mark Richt, it was clock management. Richt’s self-assessment following his first season at Georgia in 2001 led him to seek out help in that area. The Dawgs fared much better in close games in the years that followed.

We have a fairly good sense by now of how Kirby Smart approaches building a program. We’ve seen the investment in staff and facilities. We’re impressed with the staff’s commitment to recruiting. We know a little bit about how he conducts an offseason. We don’t know how Smart will prepare a team during game week. We don’t know if he’s able to motivate a team from week to week during a taxing SEC season. We don’t know how he’ll manage a sideline or consider in-game adjustments. Does he panic too soon when he falls behind, or does he get too conservative with a lead? It’s possible that Smart has picked up many of these skills along the way, but it’s also likely that, as with Richt, he’ll be able to look back on his debut season and identify specific areas for self-improvement. With that in mind, how will those deficiencies show up during the season, and will the team be able to overcome them?


Post Is there a trap game on Georgia’s schedule?

Monday August 29, 2016

Preseason assessments of Georgia have focused in on a handful of games that will make or break Georgia’s season. North Carolina will set the tone. Ole Miss might be the best team on the schedule. Tennessee and Florida will determine the SEC East hierarchy. Auburn and Georgia Tech are rivals against whom Mark Richt enjoyed lopsided success, and Kirby Smart will be expected to have the Dawgs focused and prepared for them. Enough is riding on those six games that it’s unthinkable for the Dawgs to drop a game elsewhere on the schedule, but it’s always possible.

With two sure wins against non-conference opponents, that leaves four SEC games that will test Smart’s ability to keep the team’s attention on the game at hand. The Dawgs have lost to all but one of these opponents since 2013, and three of the four will be hosting Georgia in 2016. It would be a sign of progress if Georgia is able to dispatch this group without much drama, but the program might not be in a position to do that just yet. Do any of these stand out as more dangerous than the others?

@ Missouri: It’s the first true road game and the SEC opener. Georgia has fared well in their two trips to Columbia, and both teams will be in the early stages of breaking in new head coaches. We’ll see which offense has made more progress since the miserable 9-6 game in Athens last season. Though anything is possible in the league and we expect that people are writing off Mizzou much to easily, losing this game would be a big jolt to an optimistic Georgia fan base and would right out of the gate require a major adjustment to expectations.

@ South Carolina: Two former Bulldogs will lead their teams into this game. Yes, the Gamecocks are coming off a poor season. Yes, they’ve traded Spurrier for Muschamp. Yes, they make Georgia’s quarterback situation look stable. The Dawgs haven’t won at South Carolina since 2008, and this game will fall immediately after the Ole Miss-Tennessee gauntlet. This might be one that the Dawgs have to grind out.

Vanderbilt: Last season’s margin of victory in Nashville was padded by punt and interception returns, but Georgia’s offense struggled to move the ball. Fortunately Vanderbilt wasn’t much better. Derrick Mason’s defense will be a challenge for a team playing its seventh straight game, but it’s tough to imagine Vanderbilt lighting up a Kirby Smart defense. We’ll have the usual sleepy Homecoming crowd. Will the Dawgs sleepwalk through this one?

@ Kentucky: We’re used to this game following the trip to Jacksonville, so the timing shouldn’t be an issue. Recent Kentucky teams have begun their swoon by this point in the season. Mark Stoops is under pressure to get over the hump this year, and we should know how well he’s done in time for our visit. The last Georgia true freshman QB to start at Lexington (2006) left with a loss.


Post Senior LB Kimbrough to transfer

Thursday August 11, 2016

Not long after Georgia learned they might be gaining one defender via transfer, the news broke Wednesday night that senior inside linebacker Tim Kimbrough planned to leave the program. Kimbrough, known as a big hitter on the interior of Georgia’s defense and the team’s 2014 Most Improved Player, was Georgia’s leading returning tackler but was fighting to earn a starting job under the new coaching staff.

Reggie Carter, Natrez Patrick, and Roquan Smith figure to get most of the snaps at ILB this year, but it’s a very thin unit behind those three. The transfer of Kimbrough, combined with the departure of Jake Ganus, means that Georgia will be looking to replace 169 tackles from its top inside linebackers. All four of Georgia’s top tacklers in 2015 are no longer with the program.

Kimbrough hasn’t redshirted yet but he’s also not a graduate transfer, so he’ll have a year to play after sitting out the mandatory one season. There’s no speculation yet about a destination, but it would be some irony if Kimbrough decided to test Georgia’s own transfer policy after the role Georgia played in the Maurice Smith transfer. Hopefully the Georgia administration and staff learned a thing or two.


Post Alabama stands down on Smith transfer

Thursday August 11, 2016

When the transfer request of Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith blew up last week, it wasn’t hard to see the road ahead.

I expect this will follow the usual cycle: there will be some unpleasant publicity for Alabama, some haughty pronouncements from folks at keyboards, and eventually Alabama will relent.

And that’s what happened. It’s what happens every time a little light is allowed to shine on these transfer restrictions. You’d think that schools would know to get ahead of the inevitable publicity storm by now, but even mighty Alabama couldn’t help themselves. Instead the Tide have spent a week defending the inconsistent application of their transfer policy, answering for the petty and vindictive reaction to Smith’s transfer request, and watching story after story come out featuring the Smith family.

Why the change of heart? Either Nick Saban saw the light or he suddenly stumbled across some of those “unique circumstances” that justified Smith’s release, namely a story that went from local to regional to national news became more trouble than it was worth to block Smith’s transfer to Georgia.

What’s next? The transfer isn’t a done deal yet – the SEC must grant a waiver of its own transfer rules, and Alabama is more than happy to kick this can down to the league office. The league has its own “restrictions on athletes with less than two years of eligibility remaining transferring to league schools, including graduate transfers.” The Smith family expects that ruling to come as soon as Thursday evening, and Smith would then be allowed to enroll at Georgia and join the team for the final three weeks of preseason practice. As a projected starting nickel back at Alabama, Smith would provide instant depth for a thin Georgia secondary and instant experience playing in the Smart/Tucker defense.


Post Smart vs. Saban…again

Wednesday August 3, 2016

Since Kirby Smart became Georgia’s head coach, Georgia and Alabama have swapped a couple of assistant coaches, gone head-to-head for top members of the 2016 recruiting class, and now find themselves at the center of a tug-of-war over graduate transfer defensive back Maurice Smith.

Maurice Smith, a defensive back who is set to graduate from Alabama this month, wants to transfer to Georgia, where he would be eligible to play this season. But Smith’s mother said the potential move is being blocked by Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “He wants to go to Georgia. Period,” Samyra Smith said on Tuesday night. “That’s where he wants to go.”

Smith would take advantage of the same graduate transfer rule that brought Greyson Lambert and Tyler Catalina to Athens. As a reward for graduating with eligibility remaining, the NCAA allows players to transfer after graduating without having to sit out a year. The player’s current school must release the player though, and that’s where Alabama is dragging its heels.

Alabama has continued to decline to agree on a move anywhere within the SEC. “They’re being difficult. Intentionally,” Samyra Smith said.

Seth Emerson points out that Alabama didn’t have a problem with another graduate transfer to an SEC school. “Earlier this year, Alabama did not put a block on Chris Black, who graduated from Alabama and transferred to Missouri.”

Emerson also reminds us that karma can be a bitch.

The situation is an interesting turn in Alabama-Georgia relationship, given Smart serving under Saban the past nine years. And earlier this year Smart put a block on a player, A.J. Turman, from transferring to other SEC schools as well as Miami. (Turman did not want to go to Miami, but Smart said he wanted to set a precedent that players couldn’t follow former head coach Mark Richt to the Hurricanes.)

I expect this will follow the usual cycle: there will be some unpleasant publicity for Alabama, some haughty pronouncements from folks at keyboards, and eventually Alabama will relent. But will it be too late? Georgia has already started preseason camp. Alabama begins later this week. Alabama only needs to hold out on Smith long enough for him to be too far behind the curve to contribute at Georgia. Even if Smart is Smith’s former position coach, it might be tough for someone to miss a good chunk of preseason camp and expect significant playing time. It won’t be many more days before remaining at Alabama or transferring out of the conference are the only hopes Smith has for seeing the field in his final year of eligibility. The longer this plays out, the longer the odds of Smith ending up in Athens.

To add another twist of the knife, one of those out-of-conference destinations Smith might consider is …Miami.


Post Ranking the games of Georgia’s SEC Network takeover

Monday July 25, 2016

Georgia takes over the SEC network programming at midnight tonight. There will be several magazine-type shows inside the football program, the must-see Herschel Walker SEC Storied special, and ten memorable games featuring six of Georgia’s sports. Clear some space on your DVR.

I’ve ranked the ten games they’ll show taking into account the magnitude of the win for the program, the quality of the game/meet/match, and the novelty of the rebroadcast. Surprisingly spots 1-4 are not all football!

1. 10:30 p.m. — 1983 NCAA East Regional Final (Men’s Basketball – Mar. 27, 1983): The Dawgs upset defending champs UNC to earn a trip to the Final Four. This is as good as it gets for Georgia basketball. Even the football-only crowd should watch this at least once.

2. 1:30 a.m. – 1980 National Championship Game (Football – Jan. 1, 1981): You’ve seen this already, right? If not, it’s a no-brainer – the crowning jewel of the Herschel Walker era and Georgia’s last national football title.

3. 8:00 a.m. — 2016 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships (March 25, 2016): Georgia’s gymnastics and women’s swimming and diving programs have emerged as the standard-bearers for Bulldog athletics. In this meet you’ll see not only great collegiate swimmers but also world-class Olympians bringing home to Athens another national title.

4. 12:00 p.m. — 2016 NCAA Super Regional Final (Softball – May 27, 2016): It doesn’t get much more thrilling than a walk-off home run to advance to the World Series. Kaylee Puailoa’s improbable shot stunned the heavily-favored #1 Gators in arguably the biggest win in program history. If you missed this live, catch it now.

5. 2:00 p.m. — 2000 Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, 2000): I don’t know that there’s been a bigger swing in a game – perhaps the 2006 Virginia Tech bowl game is up there too. Many fans have a love-hate relationship with that era of Georgia football, but the spirit of this comeback win set the stage for some high expectations entering the 2000 season.

6. 6:30 a.m. — 2001 Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament Final (March 4, 2001): The last hurrah of the Miller-Nolan era. Kelly Miller hit an off-balance shot at the buzzer for the win to finish off a dramatic second half. It turned out to be the last SEC championship for Andy Landers.

7. 8:30 p.m. — 1997 Georgia vs. Florida (Football – Nov. 1, 1997): A cherished win between long droughts in Jacksonville. Bonus: two interceptions by Kirby Smart!

8. 1:30 a.m. — Georgia vs. Florida (Football – Nov. 8, 1980): Memorable for one play, but watch the whole thing to understand what got us to Belue-to-Scott. I put this low on the list because you’ve likely seen the game’s defining moment a million times. But one more time can’t hurt…

9. 3:30 a.m. — 2008 NCAA Super Regional Final (Baseball – June 8, 2008): The 2008 baseball team was probably the best of the three Georgia squads that made the trip to Omaha in the 2000s. There wasn’t much drama in this decisive third game of the Super Regional, but this 17-8 thrashing of N.C. State was a treat.

10. 10:00 a.m. – 2012 Men’s Basketball vs. Florida (Feb. 25, 2012): KCP and Gerald Robinson had big games, and Georgia led the entire way in the upset win. It kept alive Georgia’s slim postseason hopes for the time, but the Dawgs finished the season 15-17.


Post How will Smart customize game day?

Tuesday July 12, 2016

Marc Weiszer reports about some changes Kirby Smart will make to the weekly schedule during the season. Both the weekly news conference (Monday) and the Bulldog Hotline (Thursday) will be shifted around.

Those changes aside, I’ve been wondering how the game day experience will change under Smart. Each coach wants things his way, and sometimes the changes can be jarring: fans of a certain age can remember the smoky entrance and music (Macarena, anyone?) that ushered in the Jim Donnan era. The pregame we all know by heart now evolved during Richt’s 15 years – everything from the Dawg Walk itself to the pregame walk and huddle about 40 minutes before the game came about with Richt. Smart will and should have the opportunity to establish his own routine.

Some elements and ads are produced by the athletic department and sponsors, so I don’t expect that find-Hairy-behind-the-french-fries is going anywhere. But I do think that warmups and pregame activities might be tweaked. Nothing major – just enough to feel a bit off from the routine we became conditioned to over the past 15 years. Is it the end of Baba O’Riley? Of Nickelback? Will Smart prefer different in-game video? Does he care?

I was glad to see Smart embrace the Dawg Walk tradition as part of G-Day, and there’s no reason for a recruiting-savvy coach to scrap one of the program’s best recruiting experiences. The Dawg Walk will be modified by necessity in a season or two – the team will move to a new locker room under the west stands instead of crossing the field to the east endzone. The team will dress in that new facility rather than pre-Dawg Walk. Many teams arrive at their stadium in warmups or coat-and-tie, and that could be a big change for fans used to seeing the team come through the Dawg Walk in uniform.

Will the new locker room also mean the team will take the field from the opposite open side of the stadium? We’ll find out in a year or two when the new locker room is complete.


Post The Sony Michel ripple effect

Tuesday July 12, 2016

Sony Michel is expected to be out 6-8 weeks after breaking his arm last weekend. That timetable has him back just before the season opener, but it’s worth remembering that it’s 6-8 weeks until he’ll be cleared for participation, and his return to playing form could take a while longer. We trust that the medical staff will be working with Michel to minimize weakness and atrophy and expect that Michel will play with a cast or brace for a few weeks. It wouldn’t be the first time.

All that’s to say that even if Michel is cleared and plays in the opener, he’ll probably be in a similar situation to Chubb: medically cleared but closely supervised, protected, and even limited. That has obvious direct bearing on the tailback situation – Brendan Douglas and a handful of freshmen (redshirt and true) might play a larger role in the early part of the season. Douglas himself had offseason wrist surgery, but he was able to participate in spring practice.

But beyond the tailback position the availability of Michel and Chubb will impact other roster decisions and even the identity of Georgia’s offense. A diminished (or at least unproven) rushing threat will place additional pressure on a passing game with questions of its own. Determining the receiver depth chart behind Godwin will be a priority of preseason camp. Tight ends look to be a potential strength, but they’ll have to be far more productive than a year ago.

Will the tailback situation and Michel’s status affect the quarterback competition? With a potential lack of experience at both tailback and receiver, you might lean towards a quarterback with starting experience. Lambert won ten games as a starter and dramatically improved his TD/INT rate. The offense wasn’t nearly as productive, but it also didn’t make the crippling mistakes that cost games. That unaesthetic formula got the team to ten wins despite Chubb’s injury and coaching turmoil.

Keep in mind that we’re not talking about a long-term solution, and we recognize that the team could undergo quite a transformation from the beginning of the season to its end. At this point I’m more interested in getting to the Ole Miss-Tennessee stretch when Georgia should be healthier and more potent at tailback and more settled at quarterback.

What gives me pause about Lambert as the “safe” option is, of all things, the 2013 Vanderbilt game. It’s not necessarily because of the loss (special teams had plenty to do with that); it’s the way Vanderbilt defended Georgia. Without Gurley and Marshall and with several receivers sidelined, Georgia simultaneously lacked a strong running game and a deep threat. Sound familiar? Vandy didn’t sell out against the run but were able to limit the Dawgs to just 107 rushing yards. With no deep options in the passing game, it felt as if Aaron Murray were trying to throw in a phone booth. Completions came in small, frustrating chunks, and Murray’s 4.1 yards/attempt has to have represented one of his least productive game.

So entering 2016, I wonder if Georgia’s probable tailback roster can take advantage of an expected weakness in the UNC rush defense. If not, Gene Chizik will likely follow that Vanderbilt plan and force Georgia to make plays downfield. That challenge lends itself not to Lambert but to other quarterbacks on the roster. There could be risks – the inconsistency of Ramsey or the inexperience of Eason – but the alternative is a stagnant offense against an opponent that can put up some points.

The less likely Chubb and Michel can play a significant role in the opener, the more likely we are to see Eason. Lost production from the backfield will have to come from the passing game, and I think we’ll need more than we saw towards the end of 2015. Kirby Smart, as a new coach, has the goodwill to take that kind of risk in the opener, and he’ll then have two winnable games to prepare the offense for what could be the toughest stretch of the season.


Post Richt revisionism

Saturday June 4, 2016

The Senator is correct – if you need an alternative approach to player discipline after the Baylor and Mississippi State stories this week, Dan Wolken’s piece on Mark Richt is right up your alley. Richt sometimes took some heat for his decisions, but that was because those decisions were often more transparent than they would have been at other schools. Georgia faced many of the same incidents that other programs face: drinking and drugs, weapons, and unfortunately even domestic violence. Wolken does a good job highlighting the differences in Richt’s approach that made it very unlikely Georgia would ever face the ugly consequences that Baylor experienced.

If I have one disagreement though it’s the implication that it was Richt’s approach to discipline that was a bridge too far with Georgia fans. It wasn’t the “warped mindset” of win-at-all-costs fans that brought about a change here. He’s right – many fans did take pride and “puff(ed) out their chests” because of how the program operated and the man in charge of it. At the same time, that pride all too easily became a crutch and an excuse for the program’s lack of greater success. How could Georgia compete with [] when we insisted on such higher standards? At least we do things the right way…

If only that were the problem with Richt.

Wolken presents the internal struggle faced by Georgia fans this way: “Georgia fans will forever be torn over their devotion to the so-called ‘Georgia Way'(*) and their burning desire to be a little more like Alabama.” It’s a false choice. Richt’s way of doing things was not antithetical to the effort we’re seeing from the new staff on the recruiting trail. You don’t have to sell out your values to avoid a staff on the verge of, in their own words, mutiny. There’s nothing unethical about coming to play with a full roster or consistent special teams.

Let’s put it this way: Richt was not fired for the things he did “the right way.” He was fired because he didn’t do enough of them.

Disciplinary issues were, if anything, a secondary concern. Certainly there was some frustration with Georgia players disciplined for offenses that might’ve earned them a lesser (if any) penalty at another school. It was also frustrating to see several of these players end up on opposing sidelines. Add in frustration with the administration, University policies, and local law enforcement. All of that frustration was (is) very real, but it contributed very little to the motivation behind a coaching change.

This isn’t the first time Wolken hasn’t quite hit the mark on dissatisfaction with Richt, but he’s certainly not the only one who sees the coaching change as a rejection of Richt’s way of doing things. I don’t, and focusing on the Georgia Way vs. Alabama Way dichotomy loses sight of the much more fundamental issues that led to the end of the Mark Richt era at Georgia.

(*) Just what “The Georgia Way” is deserves its own post – it’s come to represent everything from the truly good to a snarky epithet used when the program shoots itself in the foot (again).


Post The worst part of the donation/ticket increase

Saturday June 4, 2016

I’m OK with the idea of an increase – it’s been over ten years, and Georgia has lagged behind much of the SEC. The kind of program we want costs big money. And, yes, most of that increase will go to things that fans won’t (directly) see or benefit from.

The kicker to me has to do with a story from May:

Smart likes the idea of beginning a season against a top opponent to put his players on a big stage. It can also add more attention to the program than it otherwise may get to start a season.

Even as the cost to attend home games rises, many of the more attractive games going forward are likely to be off-campus. For Smart, it makes sense for the reasons outlined above. He saw the benefit of the big neutral site games while at Alabama. It also makes sense for Georgia’s bank account: neutral site games come with premium ticket prices and bring in more money than a home-and-home series would with the same opponent.

Fans will be asked to contribute more for what’s likely to be a lesser home schedule. You’ll have the usual SEC slate, and Tech will visit every other year, and more attractive opponents in Athens are likely to be few and far between. Alabama under Nick Saban has hosted only one power conference opponent at home: Penn State in 2010. (That’s no knock on their schedule; they almost always have a challenging opener.) Georgia will have a visit from Notre Dame in 2019 which was arranged before Smart took over. But if you want to see some of the better non-conference games on Georgia’s future schedules, be prepared to travel and pay on top of your increased donation and season tickets.


Post The next frontier in staffing?

Tuesday May 10, 2016

Put a few recent Kirby Smart quotes together.

First this one:

“We could literally work our window, we have a 14-day window where we can do camps, we could work every day somewhere else and never have them at our place.”

Then this one:

“What people don’t get is that you don’t have to send your whole staff. You can send one coach. You can send five coaches. We’re going to have representation at a lot of them, but which ones specifically I can’t tell you.”

And finally

“‘Where do I send my coaches. Where do I send my support staff? Where is it a priority to send them?.'” he said. “We’ve only got so many guys who can go out, so where do we send them?”

It’s pretty clear that most coaches (with a few high-profile exceptions) were just fine with the satellite camp ban. But the ban has been lifted, and coaches – Kirby Smart included – are lining up to participate, if only to play defense against rivals and competitors coming to town. As Smart explains, you have a scarce resource (the availability of coaches) and a skyrocketing supply of opportunities that will only increase under the current rules.

Smart’s mention of “support staff” interests me though. If these camps prove fruitful, bigger programs will tackle this camp issue the way they tackle most issues: money. The head coach will attend a few select camps, assistants – individually or in groups – will work several others. But for the large number of smaller camps where just having a presence would do, I could see these programs hiring dedicated staffers to represent the program. (It’s a happy twist that SEC schools would love to see the ban back in place but are among the few with the resources to hire staffers and attend more camps.)

This idea isn’t completely out of left field. Some Georgia die-hards might remember Ray Lamb who worked as the program’s director of high school relations under Mark Richt. Lamb conceded that “the NCAA reduced the role I was in to virtually nothing,” but a similar staffer (or group) charged with cultivating relationships with these camps could take on the additional duties still allowed by the rules that were part of Lamb’s job. It could be an accomplished coach from the high school ranks like Lamb who would be known among the camp organizers. It could also be a recent alum with his eye on a coaching career and a name that’s familiar to prospects.

I don’t know what NCAA regulations would have to say about this idea. Smart mentioning support staffers leads me to believe that there is at least some opening for consideration. There are of course rules about which coaches can and can’t recruit off campus, but these are instructional camps. We also don’t know if these camps will prove to be worth the trouble. I have my doubts – the real work is done on campus and during the recruiting process. But if there’s something of substance to be had there, big programs are already spending money on more trivial things than getting additional face time with prospects.


Post Georgia’s best team of the past 25 years (and an appreciation of Gary Gibbs)

Friday April 29, 2016

Bill Connelly’s gone back through at least 1991 re-ranking teams using the S&P+ metric. It’s been a fun read. There are national stories to revisit, you can chart the rise and fall of SEC powers, and of course there’s the Georgia angle.

What was Georgia’s best team since 1991? It wasn’t 2007 (10th in the national S&P+ rankings) or 2012 (7th) or even the SEC championship teams of 2005 (7th) and 2002 (5th). Jim Donnan’s best team, 1997, came in 12th, a finish that would be eclipsed in five of Mark Richt’s first seven seasons.

Georgia’s best team, according to this metric, was the 2003 SEC East championship squad (*). That team finished in a three-way tie for the division title and advanced to the title game thanks to its high BCS ranking. The 2003 Dawgs finished with three losses with two coming against eventual national champion LSU. But that team still earned a #4 spot in the S&P+ rankings thanks in large part to the best Georgia defense since…you tell me.

Connelly helpfully provides the offense and defense S&P+ rankings along with his overall list, and it’s no surprise that the 2003 defense was the second-best in the nation behind only LSU. That was a nasty defense from the opening shutout at Clemson to the dominant second and third quarters in Knoxville to Odell Thurman chugging his way 99 yards down the sideline against Auburn. That defense was packed with playmakers and future pros from the defensive line to linebacker to the slobberknocking secondary.

The 2000 rankings also caught my eye. That was a strange year with a polarizing coach and quarterback, a star tailback in the doghouse, a devastating loss in the second game of the season, midseason quarterback turmoil, and a year-end collapse that led to a coaching change. Not the most stable of seasons.

The 2000 defense was talented (hence Donnan’s infamous “55 years” comment) but still very much symptomatic of the season’s instability. It was led by the third coordinator in three years after the disaster of 1999 (61th rated defense.) It relied on a converted wide receiver to start at safety. It was put in difficult spots by an offense that ranked only 41st.

But with the offense in turmoil and the head coach under fire, the 2000 defense was still tenth in the nation (again, according to S&P+.) Things slid on defense towards the end of the year as they slid across the board, but it all comes back to the Tennessee game. The Dawgs don’t snap the decade-long losing streak without, as Larry Munson called them that night, “the beautiful defense” making stop after stop.

The defense was led that year by Gary Gibbs, a former Oklahoma head coach who had been out of coaching for several seasons. Donnan had worked with Gibbs at Oklahoma on the great Sooner teams of the 1980s and brought in a known veteran coach with a more professional reputation to follow the (putting it kindly) contentious Kevin Ramsey experiment of 1999. Hiring Gibbs worked – in just one season Gibbs improved the defense from 61st to 10th in the S&P+ ranking.

Unfortunately Gibbs’ improvement on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the unraveling on the other side of the ball. It did lay a nice foundation for what was to come. The defense only slid to 17th in 2001 in Brian VanGorder’s first season as coordinator, but it really came into its own with defenses ranked #5, #2, and #3 from 2002-2004. Since those three seasons though, only the 2011 defense (S&P+ 8th) was more highly rated than Gibbs’ only showing in 2000. He’d go on to coach an SEC champion unit at LSU in 2001 before making the jump to the NFL.

(*) – As good as that 2003 team was, it was only the 47th best team of the 2000s. While Georgia was consistently good enough to have the 8th best program of the 2000s in average S&P+ percentile rating, there haven’t been any truly great Georgia teams on the level of 2005 Texas or 2001 Miami that we hold up as some of the best of the 2000s. We talk about a few of those teams – 2002, 2007, 2012 – being a couple of plays or breaks away from playing for larger things, but even those very good teams would have been punching above their weight.


Post It was just Southern Hospitality

Saturday April 23, 2016

Pity Kirby Smart – all the guy wants to do is talk and coach football, and in four months he’s had to devote unnecessary time and energy to blowups over transfer policy, the state legislative process, and now entertainment contracts. And to be sure some of the distraction falls back on Smart. Every little thing is not Something That Has to be Handled. Making it seem so gives agency to the energy sucks all too willing to turn every news item into the next frustrating distraction.

At most places the news that artists often have boilerplate appearance riders wouldn’t move the needle very much. But Georgia isn’t most places, and so the Ludacris contract must become a commentary on everything from Georgia’s open records law to the management of the athletic department. That might be a difference from Smart’s previous employer, but dealing with this different and often dysfunctional landscape is still part of the adjustment.

That this contract has become another distraction is unsurprising. It’s the natural conclusion of a deal that got rubber-stamped in the panic after a promoted pre-game concert was canceled and then saved just days before the event. It’s not as if the University had never hosted a Ludacris performance on campus with a very similar rider. For that Homecoming performance in 2010, shortly after Greg McGarity became athletic director, the University Union or Homecoming committee or whoever signed off on the contract, scratched a few offending items, and the show went on.

And for something so unimportant. Look – I was glad Ludacris performed and enjoyed what I could make out over the sound system pointed in the opposite direction. But as Smart admitted, the show “probably was overrated” in terms of drawing fans. I can’t see anyone making up their minds to attend G-Day based on a 15-minute appearance announced two days prior.

You can only guess how or if they’ll try to top 93KDay next year, but we can imagine that a pregame concert won’t be a part of the plans.


Post 93KDay

Monday April 18, 2016

sanford-panorama

There’s a phenomenon with landfalling hurricanes called a storm surge. You’ll get a gradual rise of water as the storm gets closer, but as the center approaches there can be a sudden and much more dramatic rise.

That’s what it seemed like on Saturday as the crowd filed into Sanford Stadium. There was a steady stream of fans filling the first two levels during warmups and then the surge happened. In about 15 minutes shortly after 3:30, the crowd went from an impressive spring game showing of 70,000 or so to an overflow crowd of about 95,000. Fans who couldn’t find seats were perched on the stair tower leading to the 600 level. More fans were on the bridge. Others had to be turned away at the gate.

The game gave us a few things to talk about on the football side – the quarterback battle, the emergence of a few wide receivers, the promising use of tight ends, and some concern about a thin defensive front and pass rush. But really the story of G-Day was the crowd. It was sensational and made an impact on past, current, and future Bulldogs. It became an event. The challenge was made several months ago by the new coach, and fans met the challenge. We forgot our cynicism for a day and bought in, sending the message to Kirby Smart that the support was there. Now it’s his turn.


Post Luda saves the day

Thursday April 14, 2016

Just a few days after announcing that the planned pre-game entertainment for G-Day had fallen through, someone stepped up and delivered a heavyweight. It’s a shame he won’t have but 15 minutes.