Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post More like Clemson every day

Wednesday May 29, 2019

A couple of years ago a former baseball letterman wrote one of those open letters sent to local media about the state of Georgia athletics. Football had struggled through Kirby Smart’s first season, and baseball was at a turning point. The thing to do, the letter-writer suggested, was to follow the lead of Clemson – a program celebrating a football national title and opening glittering new facilities left and right.

The problem with that suggestion was the difference between perception and reality. Even with the higher-profile sports underperforming, Georgia’s overall program was a good 30 points higher in the Directors’ Cup standings than Clemson. But because Clemson football had broken through, the perception, according to this letter, was that Georgia had a lot to learn from its rival up I-85.

I bring that up because this post by Blutarsky reminded me of that letter from two years ago and how things have changed in a way that would meet with the approval of its author. Kirby Smart has things rolling. Basketball just pulled in arguably its best recruiting class ever. Gymnastics seems to be on an upswing. The decision to stick with Scott Stricklin has paid off as the Diamond Dawgs are looking at a high national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. In terms of the overall athletics program though, there’s this reality: “Georgia is 35th in the most recent NACDA Directors’ Cup, which ranked ninth in the SEC. The Bulldogs were 15th in the standings at this point a year ago in the all-sports measurement.”

There are bright individual spots. There always are. Track is a national power. Women’s tennis had a strong season. Several ongoing sports like men’s golf and baseball have an opportunity to earn some hardware. The metric tells us that Georgia’s programs overall are decent with “17 of 21 sports competing in the NCAA postseason,” but it’s not near the usual level of success. I doubt we’ll see impassioned appeals to the media about the state of things this summer. Didn’t you see the latest defensive line commitment?

(Clemson by the way? Down there with Georgia Tech in the 80s.)

Post Want a beer? Get in line now.

Wednesday May 29, 2019

So the SEC is going to review its “decades-old bylaw prohibiting member schools from selling alcohol” at this week’s spring meetings in Destin.

I’m not opposed to the idea of alcohol sales in the stadium, but can Sanford Stadium handle it? I don’t mean the patrons; I’m talking about the neglected infrastructure of areas of the stadium that haven’t been touched since the East stands were added in 1981. I’m trying to visualize how the already-overcrowded concourses of Sanford Stadium would handle beer lines. Navigating the tight East or South concourses for concessions (or anything, really) is already bad enough.

If the plan involves placing beer sales in more open areas in Reed Alley, around Gates 6 and 7, or the West endzone, fine. But this is about revenue, so the temptation won’t be to limit the number of taps or place the majority of them away from where most fans are seated. I have no doubt alcohol sales will happen sooner than later, but I’m going to be very interested in how Georgia implements it. Getting it wrong could be just one more reason to stay at home and enjoy the cold ones from the fridge.

Post Football isn’t brain surgery

Tuesday May 28, 2019

But this is. Yikes.

Freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis underwent emergency brain surgery last Thursday after an MRI revealed a cyst on his brain.

The surgery was deemed a success, and the prognosis is for a complete recovery. He’ll be closely supervised for some time, and he’ll be on antibiotics for the next month. His availability for preseason camp or even the 2019 season is unknown, but that’s a distant concern next to his well-being. Fortunately this condition was caught in time before more permanent damage was done. Brain surgery isn’t ever minor, and Georgia’s coaches and medical staff will take every precaution. We wish Mathis the best in his recovery.

Post Getting production from Georgia’s most experienced unit

Friday May 17, 2019

Georgia’s not going to have a large senior class in 2019. A quick glance at the roster shows about 14 or 15 rising scholarship seniors. That’s kind of the norm now of course, and the class is smaller than it would have been with several early exits. It’s also revealing about the size of next year’s signing class and why Georgia was able to count two 2019 incoming graduate transfers towards that class.

What stands out among this smaller senior class is that a good chunk of them are defensive linemen. Georgia returns six seniors along the DL next year:

  • Michael Barnett
  • Michail Carter
  • Tyler Clark
  • David Marshall
  • Julian Rochester
  • Justin Young

Not all have started or will start, and younger players like Jordan Davis and Malik Herring have made their case for playing time. But a senior class of that size at one position is a wealth of experience for Tray Scott to work with. (It’s also why Georgia has been incredibly active recruiting defensive linemen for 2019 and 2020.) With all of the attrition from the 2018 team and the graduation of Jonathan Ledbetter, this group of rising seniors remains a bit under the radar. Michael Barnett was slowed during the spring of 2018 by a knee injury. David Marshall was making steady progress since a promising freshman season in 2016 and had a really nice game at South Carolina last year. He was injured during the Vanderbilt game, and his long recovery from a Lisfranc foot injury continued into the spring. Carter, Marshall, and Rochester will miss much if not all of spring practice as they recover from injury or surgery. The injury situation has and will continue to impact depth during spring practice and offseason workouts, but everyone should be available in time for preseason camp.

With so many injuries slowing development and opening the door for younger players to claim playing time, how much production can be expected from the team’s largest group of seniors? Though the defensive line has some of the most veteran players on the roster, not many people consider it one of the team’s stronger units. Few on this list can be said to have had a career arc building towards a breakout senior season. It’s tough to even say how many, if any, will start this year. At the same time, nearly all of these seniors have had impact moments in their first three seasons. The trick this season for the players and coaches is developing those moments into the consistency that will turn into opportunities at the next level. You don’t have to remind anyone that the time for that development is running short.

Perhaps the best news is that Tyler Clark will be back. After a promising sophomore season and a nice performance in the Rose Bowl, Tyler Clark was on most lists of Bulldog juniors likely to consider the 2019 NFL Draft. Clark’s production dropped a bit in 2018 (down to 31 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack from 41 tackles, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks), but remember how the defense changed from 2017 to 2018. Georgia was weaker among the front seven, the pass rush wasn’t as effective, and interior defenders like John Atkins and Roquan Smith weren’t plugging up the inside. Blocking schemes could pay more attention to a good player like Clark. The biggest difference in Clark’s stats came in lower *assisted* tackles. Georgia just wasn’t getting much done behind the line of scrimmage, so there was less for Clark to help clean up. We know what Clark can do, and we’ll see if he and any other defensive linemen are freed up to have a bigger impact this year with a big influx of talent elsewhere among the front seven.

Post Keep your seats, everyone

Thursday May 16, 2019

Some good news on the scheduling front as Georgia announced a series with Oklahoma to follow last month’s announcement of future home-and-home series with Florida State and Clemson. Georgia will head to Tallahassee on Sept. 4, 2027 (sure to be a cool, refreshing early September day in the Panhandle), and the Seminoles will come to Sanford Stadium in 2028. The Clemson series will take place in 2032 and 2033, and that’s on top of a 2024 date already set with the Tigers in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff. The Dawgs will travel to Norman in 2023 with a return date against the Sooners in Athens in 2031. Georgia also has home-and-homes set with UCLA (2025/2026) and Texas (2027/2028), and more still might be in the works.

(If the current SEC scheduling rotation is renewed after 2025, and that’s not a sure thing, Georgia would face FSU, Texas, and Alabama in 2027.)

What interests me as much as whom Georgia will be playing is where they’ll be playing.

The trend has been for the biggest nonconference games to be at neutral sites. Of course there are exceptions, but take Alabama: they haven’t played a P5 opponent at home since Penn State in 2010, but they’re in a major kickoff game nearly every year. And why not? Guarantees for the neutral site games are worth millions of dollars, premium seating can drive ticket prices over $300, and a school like LSU can make around $23 million from seven neutral site games. Sure enough, Georgia will play in three Chick-Fil-A Kickoff games in Atlanta between the 2020 and 2024 seasons. Notre Dame’s trip to Athens in 2019 is the only significant home nonconference game currently on the books between Clemson’s 2014 visit and UCLA’s appearance in 2026.

I’m happy though to see a shift back towards home-and-home series. Alabama will host Texas, West Virginia, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma betwen 2023 and 2033. LSU will host Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Clemson. Georgia now has five P5 home-and-home series set on top of its annual tilt with Georgia Tech. I’ve said plenty over the past decade about my preference for big games on campus, but you can’t ignore the financial appeal of neutral site games. With potential paydays of $5-$6 million, a school with its eye on the bottom line would be foolish to turn them down. So why the swing back to home-and-home series in the long term?

It’s nothing but a win for fans. You get a big game on campus and all that comes with it, and it’s included in the season ticket package. There’s no separate priority system and additional premium ticket price on top of what you’re already paying. Fans will also have the opportunity to visit several iconic college football towns and stadiums (even if the visiting ticket allotment is ridiculously miserly.) We know that what fans want can be a secondary concern (to put it generously), so where’s the benefit to the football program? Why go home-and-home rather than a single higher-grossing neutral site game? A few reasons come to mind:

  • Recruiting. You can’t host prospects at neutral sites. No one will make more out of the recruiting opportunity offered by a marquee nonconference game than Kirby Smart.
  • Recruiting, part two. The schedule itself becomes a recruiting tool. As Smart said when these series were announced, the best players want to play in big games and big venues. Georgia will have a high-profile nonconference game nearly every year from 2022 through 2033.
  • Your strength of schedule (real or perceived) is improved in two seasons rather than just one.
  • You sustain renewable season ticket sales in anticipation of these games.

As long as fans are selling out the home schedule, some neutral site games can be big revenue boosters. But what if there are more and more empty seats for home games? If there is a nationwide slump in college football attendance, and there seems to be, the incentives begin to change. In the SEC the loss of a season ticket represents the loss of a multi-year revenue stream if the ticket isn’t picked up by someone else. Georgia’s not in that position – yet. There’s still a cutoff for new season tickets. Other schools aren’t as fortunate, and signs of lagging demand are there.

Georgia’s in a position to shore up its demand for renewable tickets, but it means playing better opponents at home. The motivation to buy season tickets goes away if the best games are moved off-campus and aren’t part of the season ticket package. In the eight seasons between 2026 and 2033, Georgia will host UCLA, Clemson, FSU, Texas, and Oklahoma in addition to whatever the SEC slate brings to town. Fans will want those tickets even if it’s just to sell in the secondary market, and the surest way of getting those tickets is by renewing season tickets each year.

Of course ticket demand will be high for these games themselves, but that would be the case if they were held off-campus. If all Georgia cared about was selling tickets to these games, it wouldn’t matter if they were played in Athens or Atlanta. But by attaching these games to the season ticket package, Georgia is able to more or less sustain its season ticket revenue, and the requisite donations of course, even in years without a top-quality home schedule. Fans with renewable season tickets are more likely to hold on to them from year to year if it means guaranteeing a spot for these big nonconference games in the future. A neutral site game might pay out more on a game-to-game basis, but it’s less impressive next to the income represented by sold-out season tickets. There is big money in a steady and strong season ticket renewal rate year over year (and the donations that come with it.)

It’s tough to buck a nationwide attendance trend, and even a more attractive home schedule might not be able to stem the tide of decline. The schedule is just one factor in attracting fans – schools must consider the stadium, amenities, parking, the game day experience, and any edge they can find in competing for entertainment dollars, and these games are still years away. Improving the schedule is a positive step though when combined with a successful team, and it’s something many fans are already anticipating as Kirby Smart continues to build the program into a national contender.

Post Hoop Dawgs backcourt takes shape

Tuesday May 14, 2019

Point guard Sahvir Wheeler, a national top 100 prospect out of Houston, signed with Georgia last week. The signing adds to one of Georgia’s largest and highest-rated classes in program history.

Wheeler’s signing would make news on its own at Georgia in most any year, but you can’t help but place it in the context of Anthony Edwards. Accepting that Edwards will only be at Georgia one year, Crean must maximize Edwards’ production in that year. The window to elevate the Georgia program and raise its profile in the eyes of elite prospects is open now, but it can close just as quickly. What that means in terms of recruiting is that Crean must surround Edwards with the right supporting cast. It would be nice if Claxton returned, and additional post players would help to round out a wonderful class. In the past week though, Georgia has assembled the backcourt it will need to make the most of Edwards’ talents.

Edwards is a capable enough player that he could run the point and be perfectly competent at it. Frankly it would be an upgrade at the position for Georgia, and I still expect to see Edwards handle the ball quite a bit. But Edwards is projected to be at his best as a 2 guard – a shooting guard. Ideally someone else will run the point and allow Edwards to find his shot or penetration lane within the offense. In Wheeler Georgia has found that point guard. Even better, they’ve added depth to the point where Crean will have options. Georgia also announced the addition of Donnell Gresham Jr., a graduate transfer from Northeastern. Gresham might’ve been a stretch as the primary point guard solution, but he’s a great fit when packaged with with Wheeler to round out the backcourt.

Georgia’s backcourt was hit by offseason attrition, but these guard signings provide some clarity and allow you to begin to visualize a reasonable and deep rotation. Wheeler and Gresham can run the point, though Gresham could be looked at more as a combo guard. Edwards will step right in at shooting guard, but Georgia also has experienced shooting guards in Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris with combo guard Tye Fagan also returning. That depth also allows Crean to consider some quicker three-guard lineups, pair Edwards with the sharp-shooting Crump in a smaller lineup, and weather stretches in which Edwards might have to sit.

Crean has one or two scholarships remaining depending on Claxton’s decision, and it’s likely that any more additions will come on the frontcourt. The backcourt seems pretty well set now, though the challenge is obvious: with so many newcomers in key roles, a lot will be asked of them right away. Freshmen focused on adjusting to the college game must also find their role within a roster experiencing unprecedented turnover in a system that’s still new at Georgia. This team will sink or swim right away with Georgia Tech and the Maui Invitational on the schedule in the month of November. It’s encouraging to see so many pieces coming together, but can Crean get them to mesh in time for this impact class to get the early wins it needs to become an NCAA Tournament team?