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Post Everyone’s a national power!

Thursday August 9, 2007

The last meta-topic we’ll touch on before this season starts is the ultra-subjective group of "elite" or "national power" teams. Stewart Mandel waded into this territory last week and fumbled around, and he really whiffed with his "what does someone in Montana think?" attempt this week.

Many getting involved in this discussion are dwelling, like Mandel, on the related but different question of being nationally recognized. Yes, everyone knows Herschel Walker. Uga is an icon. "Between the Hedges" means something to most knowledgeable football fans. The "G" is sharp and distinctive. None of that makes Georgia a national power on the football field. A powerful brand? Sure..probably even in Montana.

The question of actual power has to be fluid and kept in the current context because it wanes and waxes. History is full of teams and individuals that were once powerful and relevant but aren’t any longer. How a team has done since 1976 doesn’t really have any relevance to me. Power, though not a one-season thing, is still pretty short-term. Personally, I think we use the "elite" label a little too loosely in an everybody-gets-a-trophy kind of way. There are only a handful of programs each season who belong in the national title picture, and it doesn’t make sense to continually be on the outside of that picture and still be considered a national power.

Some will use historical criteria. Others prefer averaging wins over a reasonable period. Championships matter more to some. A coast-to-coast schedule impresses others. I think it’s much simpler and can be boiled down to three guidelines:

  • You must show some level of consistency. FSU set the bar in the 1990s. One phenomenal season doesn’t make you a power.
  • You should be considered at least peripherally in some recent national title discussions. Winning it really helps.
  • You cannot consider yourself a "power", especially in the national sense, when you’re under someone’s thumb.

Georgia fans will recognize right away that I played the Florida card. It’s plain silly to talk about national power status when you’re on the wrong side of such a one-sided series. That means you too, Alabama. It also held a team like Texas up before Vince Young came along. It held Ohio State up under John Cooper. This point alone settles Georgia’s "national power" question for me, but we’ll look at the other guidelines anyway.

Has Georgia’s success been consistent? Last season was the first year since 2001 in which the Dawgs didn’t win at least 10 games. Not bad. But that ten win threshold, particularly in the 12-game era, still means at least two losses per season. They’ve won three divisional and two major conference titles over the same span and haven’t gone more than a single season without a trip to the conference championship game. That’s outstanding in a conference like the SEC. By itself, Georgia’s consistency seems enough to merit national power recognition.

Georgia hasn’t been a part of the national title discussion since 2002. Yes, they started 2004 ranked #3. That faded after a scare at South Carolina and a loss to Tennessee. It was nearly impossible to get above the noise of Southern Cal and Texas in 2005, and Georgia’s chances ended when D.J. Shockley crumpled to the turf against Arkansas. Georgia has certainly been relevant over that time and probably competitive with any team, but it’s hard to make the case that they belonged among the teams mentioned as title contenders.

The Bulldogs aren’t far from national power status. 2007 is very important in terms of consistency- they cannot slide lower than the 9-win total of last season. The national title discussion is already crystallizing around a handful of teams – LSU, Southern Cal, and Michigan with teams like Texas, Florida, and your choice of Big East teams on the periphery. Most importantly, the Dawgs must find a way soon to turn the Florida series. I don’t mean that Georgia must begin dominating the series. Just get it competitive again.

If you forced me to stick to these criteria to say who the elite teams are in college football, here we go: Southern Cal. LSU. Texas. Ohio State. Florida depends upon the consistency they show this year. Maybe Oklahoma (waning?). That’s it. No Notre Dame. No Tennessee. No Georgia. No Cal. Michigan? You’re close, but work on the consistency thing and on beating Ohio State.

There’s no shame to be where Georgia is right now. Most programs would kill for it. Let’s just not call it what it isn’t. Deep down, we know that there is a next step that Georgia has yet to take.

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