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Post Georgia 37 – Arkansas 10: Bennett, defense avoid disaster

Tuesday September 29, 2020

The 2019 season started with a comfortable win at Vanderbilt and then some forgettable blowout nonconference wins to set up the big Notre Dame game. Georgia was out ahead of Vanderbilt 21-0 so quickly that most of us tuned out and began to anticipate that visit from the Irish. There wasn’t much need to look for warning signs, though managing only second half field goals against a bad Vanderbilt team might’ve been more than opening game jitters. Lack of explosive plays and offensive malpractice wouldn’t slap us in the face for a couple of weeks.

The 2020 team and the conference-only schedule have done us a favor: the existential problems facing this team were laid bare right from the start. A true crisis at quarterback and an unsettled offensive line threaten Georgia’s attempt at a fourth-straight SEC East title.

D’Wan Mathis’s debut didn’t last a half. The redshirt freshman never settled into the job, and a big hit clearly affected him. Kirby Smart is correct that many other things contributed to the slow start on offense, but Mathis did few positive things to get things going. I’m glad he was able to get some experience later in the game with the outcome settled, and he seemed a little steadier in a lower-pressure situation. Mathis’s best throw of the day was wiped out by a penalty. That 28-yard sideline pass to McIntosh in the fourth quarter had perfect touch and hit the receiver in stride for a big play.

But the pressure on the quarterback is only going to increase with the quality of opponent. Replacing Mathis with Stetson Bennett had a calming effect similar to Jake Fromm’s entrance against App. State in 2017. Bennett isn’t Fromm. He’s also not Buck Belue coming off the bench to beat Georgia Tech in 1978, though the mop of hair might have you seeing double. To be honest, it felt more like 2006 when Tereshinski and Cox were keeping the seat warm for Stafford. (Also not claiming that JT Daniels is Stafford in this scenario.) Against Arkansas Bennett’s steadying influence under pressure was enough to get the offense going and dispatch an overmatched opponent.

That steadying influence was the difference. It’s not that the offense was all that more productive in the second half. Behind Bennett the offense stopped shooting itself in the foot. Scoring opportunities and field position that came up empty earlier were converted. The touchdown pass to Pickens might have the most important play of the game. Another botched snap on 1st-and-goal made it appear that Georgia was going to waste another scoring opportunity. Facing 2nd-and-goal from the 19, Bennett stayed calm and found a wide-open Pickens who curled back outside to race for the endzone. It’s likely Georgia would have still won, but Georgia would have still trailed midway through the third quarter if they had to settle for a field goal there. After that score and Bennett’s tough 2-point conversion, Georgia never looked back.

Monken’s Debut

Of course it wasn’t the start Todd Monken wanted for his offense. Zoom installs can only do so much, and Monken had to put together an offense with new starters at nearly every position. The numerous penalties and unforced errors made it difficult to evaluate what the offense was trying to do. Once the offense settled down, we began to see a bit of scheme taking shape. Tailbacks were noticeably involved in the passing game, and that was part of a bigger development: 12 different players caught a pass. Pickens had his big touchdown pass, but Jackson looked encouraging as the team’s leading receiver. Bennett was able to spread it around, and Pickens wasn’t the only one getting open and making important receptions.

After several years of Jake Fromm work the sidelines, one of the bigger changes we saw was Bennett finding success across the middle. The seam route to Washington got the late first half scoring drive going. He again found paydirt throwing to a tight end on Fitzpatrick’s touchdown. A nice 20-yard pass to Landers in a small window converted a 3rd-and-10. That was followed up with another pass across the middle to Jackson.

They are what we thought they were

While the offense struggled to mesh so many new pieces, the defense showed off the depth and experience of one of the nation’s top units. There was a costly blown coverage early, but the defense combined with effective special teams to prevent further damage until the offense got going. We saw speed as any Arkansas attempt to get outside was snuffed out quickly. We saw discipline as every Arkansas trick play and attempt at misdirection was blown up. We saw physicality as the Arkansas interior running game went nowhere. If there was a weakness in the defense, it was against crossing routes when the pass rush failed to materialize. That was an issue early in the game with a couple of third down conversions. Even the best defenses are going to have trouble covering if there’s no pass rush, and the Dawgs occasionally had trouble getting much pressure rushing four.

Georgia’s defense should be good enough to carry them in most games, but we saw last year that it’s not going to get them very far towards their bigger goals. If you leave such a razor-thin margin for the defense, one breakdown might just be enough. South Carolina had a single explosive pass play last year, and that was all the offense they needed. Asking even the nation’s best defense to be perfect each week is a big ask, and if the other team is able to add points with defense or special teams, your safety net has just been pulled out from under you. That’s not a winning strategy for a team with playoff aspirations.


Kendal Briles brought an up-tempo style of offense of offense to Arkansas, and Georgia was prepared for it. Even with frequent substitutions and situational packages, the Dawgs were able to provide an object lesson in the downside of tempo. 11 Arkansas possessions failed to move the chains. The result was a possession advantage for Georgia of over ten minutes. Though Georgia’s own offense wasn’t especially up-tempo outside of the final drive of the first half, the Bulldogs ran 89 plays – yes, 89. Contrast that with, say, the Texas A&M or Notre Dame games a year ago in which Georgia ran 59 plays.

Be vewy vewy qwiet

One big thing that worked in Georgia’s favor was the crowd. At under 17,000 fans it was a non-factor. I wrote last week about the challenge of getting a team up to play in front of a limited crowd, but there’s another side to that coin. Home underdogs can feed off a frenzied crowd. Things were bad enough for Georgia and its quarterbacks in the first half, but there was never a sense of things snowballing out of control. The mistakes and missed opportunities were more like failed practice reps. It’s much easier to remain composed without a hostile SEC crowd building in volume with each series of futility. A German soccer coach said of playing in front of empty stadiums that “without spectators, it comes down more to the quality of players.” That was certainly the case as Georgia’s talent and depth took over.

  • I flagged Jake Camarda as a player to watch this year because of past inconsistency. He was magnificent on Saturday. Georgia’s offensive struggles were even more frustrating given the outstanding field position created by defense and special teams.
  • Tyson Campbell played well in his return as a healthy defensive back, and DJ Daniel was also solid at cornerback. The performance of Campbell and Stokes on the outside put the star position more in the spotlight. I thought Mark Webb had the better day at star; Stevenson was picked on for some completions.
  • As ragged as the offense was in the first half, it was impressively precise on the quick drive before halftime. Bennett orchestrated it well and started by finding Darnell Washington down the seam. Robertson made a couple of nice catches along the sideline and quickly got out of bounds.
  • The offensive line settled in for the second half, but center issues still have to be worked out. Warren McClendon was an upgrade at right tackle and might have won that job.
  • Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint’s tackle on an Arkansas’s kickoff return is a great way for a freshman to earn more playing time. His tackle pinned Arkansas deep and put pressure on the Razorback offense. Contrast that poor field position with McIntosh’s nice return after the Arkansas field goal that gave Georgia a short field to begin the drive that gave them the lead.
  • Even with plenty of talent on the roster, freshmen were used early and often at key moments. It’s clear that Burton and Rosemy-Jacksaint figure into the plans for the passing game. Washington is already a physical presence at TE. You have to smile at being able to rotate someone like Jalen Carter in on the defensive line.
  • Freshmen didn’t figure as heavily into the running game. Milton and Edwards both saw playing time, but most carries went to White, Cook, and McIntosh. Cook had a fantastic block on the long pass to Landers, but he wasn’t able to break many runs or receptions despite getting the ball in space. He also had a costly fumble. White looks much smoother this year and showed the ability to make people miss if a hole opens up. Unless there’s a big step forward by another back, it’s pretty clear that the fortunes of the Georgia running game this season lie with Zeus. Overall it was a disappointing day running the ball against a defense that struggled to defend the run last season.

I credit the team for not falling to pieces or getting too off-script when things weren’t working. Eliminating unforced mistakes will go a long ways towards a more productive offense, and we saw some of what’s possible in the second half.

Post 20 disjointed thoughts about a disjointed 2020 season

Saturday September 26, 2020
  1. Nothing is guaranteed. It wasn’t a given that we’d get here, and each of the ten games we’re able to see is a gift. I’ve written plenty about my personal decisions regarding the season, but I’ve always been more optimistic about the season itself. That’s not because of some cold indifference to the realities. The SEC has the resources to study and minimize the risks; many other conferences and teams do not. That doesn’t mean that the league has avoided localized outbreaks. It just means that the protocols have been put in place to manage those outbreaks. In doing so the SEC is in a position to forge ahead with a compelling schedule while being in a position to take advantage of the improved testing and other advances that have allowed other leagues back in the pool.
  2. I’ve been especially impressed by Kirby Smart’s navigation of the offseason. Georgia has had coaching changes, attrition, injuries, and of course positive tests. At no point did you ever get the sense that he was out of step with the moment. Smart’s statements about player safety and the program’s response to social issues have avoided the tone-deaf missteps we saw at other programs. Georgia has had its share of positive tests, but the response was to follow the protocols in place, avoid panic and hysteria, and push forward. The result is a team that has largely held together since early June and been able to prepare as much as SEC and NCAA guidelines allowed.
  3. In a way, the uncertainty of this season is a bit thrilling. We’ve never done a season like this before, and there’s no analogue for what we’re about to see. There’s a single bye week but no break at all from the SEC grind. In Georgia’s case, that’s especially true through the first half of the season. Things could get wild, and that’s before we talk about more serious matters like canceled or postponed games and rosters thrown into chaos by quarantine.
  4. In strictly football terms, I’m excited for this season because of the format: ten SEC games. If the league is able to make it through the schedule, we should see something special. The plan is to return to scheduling-as-usual next year, but hopefully we’ll get too much of a good thing this year to ever want to go back. People talk about an asterisk for this year’s champion, but the team that emerges from a 10-game SEC slate will be more worthy than any previous team.
  5. I will miss playing Tech. I know that game means less to an increasing number of fans, but it’s a series that needs to resume after this season.
  6. With several other conferences announcing their return, the playoff committee will have quite a job. They’ll have to weigh teams playing a different number of games at different times of the fall with few intersectional games to aid comparison between conferences. If we get to that point, there will be enough outrage and talking points to fuel weeks of punditry. Just enjoy the season. The ten-game SEC season is the main course. If there’s more beyond that, great.
  7. D’Wan Mathis will start at quarterback.
  8. I’m less confident that Mathis will finish the season as the starter. That’s not a knock on him. We’re still waiting for J.T. Daniels to be cleared. Mathis could take the decision away from the coaches ala Jake Fromm in 2017. We could see shared playing time like 2018, though hopefully Monken’s rotation would have more purpose and tactical reasoning behind it. If we do see multiple quarterbacks, the best case is that Daniels can be slowly worked in. Even if he’s cleared, he’s still a year removed from knee surgery (and has had cleanup work since.) It’s much better if he can be used when and if it makes sense and not because the team’s hand is forced. Worst case is Mathis flops and Daniels must be rushed along. Scratch that – worst case is that Mathis struggles, Daniels isn’t cleared or ready, and Georgia must turn again to a true freshman.
  9. Count me among those who expects Monken to be an upgrade. I’m not looking for anything specific scheme-wise from Monken. He’s been around long enough to have a varied toolkit. I’m most interested to see how the pieces come together. Is he able to run what he wants with new starters at every position but center? Is he making the most of Georgia’s talent advantages and doing what he can to compensate for disadvantages? Does so much change on offense manifest itself in turnovers, sacks, penalties, or miscommunication with players and coaches not on the same page?
  10. Monken’s not the only new coach on offense, and I’d like to see the differences Matt Luke brings to Georgia’s offensive line. For the bowl game his only concern was cobbling together a functional line. Now he’s had some time to get to know and evaluate his unit. Pittman was a wonderful coach and recruiter, but he also had a preference for a large, physical line that suited Georgia’s straight-ahead power style of play. The pendulum might swing back under Luke towards a lighter line that might work better with Monken’s more open and faster-paced offense. This isn’t so much a good/bad question as it is curiosity about how a new coach tries to solve a slightly different set of problems.
  11. I’m bullish on Zeus. He has the skills and size to be a powerful SEC tailback, and the second year after an ACL surgery is almost as bankable as the second-year coach effect. I’m not as sold yet on Cook. We’re told he just hasn’t been used properly, but he’s also had several opportunities to make big plays. It hasn’t clicked yet. With the changes to the offense, there aren’t many excuses left. Hopefully he thrives, but younger backs like Milton are waiting for their opening.
  12. Georgia lost six defensive linemen from last year’s roster, and there’s still more excitement about that unit than I’ve seen in years. I see why – there’s a ton of experience, bona-fide stars like Herring and Davis, and Travon Walker was one of last season’s top freshmen. Any list of newcomers to watch in 2020 leads with Jalen Carter. Tray Scott has quietly upgraded the defensive front year after year.
  13. The overall talent on defense is staggering. The questions then become about roles and the best ways to deploy that talent. Roquan Smith and J.R. Reed became invaluable not only for their individual contributions but also for their roles orchestrating the defense on the field. Even among a galaxy of stars, someone like Nakobe Dean might shine brighter this year. The bright middle linebacker saw plenty of time behind Crowder and Rice as a true freshman and is in a position to become that next defensive leader.
  14. One thing I’d like to see from the defense is for one or more of the outside linebackers to emerge with an all-conference season. The depth is ridiculous with Ojulari, Smith, Johnson, Grant, Anderson, and now Sherman. These are all special players with unique skill sets (just watch how Anderson is used when he’s in the game.) I’d just like to see someone have the kind of season where it’s tough to take them out of the game.
  15. I’ve already mentioned Jalen Carter, but we’re also hearing good things about freshmen receivers Jermaine Burton and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. Georgia will need early contributions from those freshmen receivers as Blaylock is out for the season and the tight end position unsettled.
  16. Why is the TE position unsettled? We’re still not sure of its role in Monken’s offense. This might be one of those instances I mentioned above where what Monken wants to run is constrained by personnel. Tre McKitty is out in the short term. Seldom-used John FitzPatrick as the likely starter. Great expectations came with the signing of 5* Darnell Washington from Las Vegas. He’ll play, but he’s still getting into playing shape.
  17. I’m not as concerned with the offensive line as I am other areas of the offense. There’s plenty of experience despite four new starters. It’s still a big job to replace two first-round tackles. Salyer has the pedigree to be just fine at left tackle, but there aren’t many options if he’s not up to the job.
  18. “Explosive” is this year’s “havoc.” After last year’s South Carolina debacle, I noted that “not all successful plays are equal.” The explosive runs that had defined Georgia in 2017 and 2018 disappeared. Though the running game could still get nearly 5 yards per carry, the lack of explosive runs meant that the offense had to work its way down the field in smaller chunks. That was too much to ask, and we all saw the results. With no real threat to break big plays in either the running game or the downfield passing game, the offense suffocated.
  19. It looks as if Jack Podlesny has won the placekicking job (again, for now.) It’s good to see some special teams coverage in among the daily QB updates. We’ve seen some spectacular special teams failures in the first three weeks, and Georgia is only replacing the placekicker, both returners, and the special teams coach. These are the areas that might seem like a nuisance at Arkansas but can turn games against Auburn or Alabama.
  20. I admit it’s been tough at times to get my head around the upcoming season and to put nearly the same energy into it especially knowing that I won’t be there in person to see it. There are enough reminders that nothing, including our beloved college football, is close to business as usual. I’ve come to grips with that – there are circumstances, issues, and causes that can’t and shouldn’t go away just because the season is going forward. In a year where we’ve been forced to take things a day at a time, I’m grateful that this day is finally Game Day. May we have many more.

Post Getting their ass ready to play

Thursday September 24, 2020

Playing with no or few fans in the stands is the ultimate noon kickoff. Schools will do whatever they can to artificially create noise and a homefield advantage, but my takeaway watching the first couple of weeks of football has been that nearly every game has the vibe of those sleepy noon starts regardless of the start time. (The exception was Notre Dame’s home opener. It’s no coincidence that Notre Dame’s ticket policy limited attendance to students and the university community.) That means that teams will generally not have a raucous home environment and must, as Kirby Smart put it before the South Carolina game last year, “get (their) ass ready to play” on their own.

We haven’t had much experience with this phenomenon in the States, but European soccer teams play in front of empty crowds occasionally – most often as punishment for unruly or abusive fans. They’ve also played without fans this spring and summer during the pandemic. An ESPN study found that empty stadiums eroded homefield advantage in the German Bundesliga. “The vibe is a little bit off to be fair,” admitted one player.

The lack of fans might even affect how the games are officiated. Refs are human and, right or wrong, can get caught up in the crowd reaction. Sports Illustrated cited a study from Sweden concluding that “the favorable calls conferred on the home team dropped by 23%–70%” depending on the type of foul. Even more, “they noted that the same referees overseeing the same two teams in the same stadium behaved dramatically differently when spectators were present.” Few calls are as exposed to fan reaction as pass interference, so it will be worth watching who does and doesn’t get those calls this year.

These studies dealt mainly with completely empty venues, and there’s not enough experience yet with crowds the size we’re likely to see across the SEC. It’s not likely that homefield advantage will evaporate, but I think the noon game paradigm is the right way to approach preparation. Georgia has been on both sides of that coin: we all remember last year’s South Carolina game or the 2016 games with Nicholls and Vanderbilt, but there’s also the upset win at Auburn in 2006 or Nick Chubb’s breakout game at Missouri in 2014. The Dawgs have generally been able to focus on the game at hand under Kirby Smart, but there won’t be the frenzied home crowds or even the road takeovers that have become the norm.

The good news for Georgia? “Without spectators, it comes down more to the quality of players,” claimed one German soccer coach. Georgia doesn’t lack for quality players. That said, those players have to be ready to go. Whether it was the horrific faceplant of the Big 12 or Tech knocking off FSU in week 1, less-talented but motivated road underdogs can knock off sleepwalking home favorites without the home crowd to wake things up. Those road teams can isolate and focus on the “business trip” routine. Preparing players to match and surpass the energy level of their opponents will be even more important this year than it usually is, and it will all have to come from inside the team.

Post Viewing the 2020 season through six players

Wednesday September 23, 2020

These six probable starters might or might not end up being the best or even most important players at their positions, but they’re interesting starting points for thinking about some of the bigger issues facing this year’s team.

Tyson Campbell: There aren’t many questions on Georgia’s defense, but the secondary is seeing the most turnover on that side of the ball. Lewis Cine seems set to replace J.R. Reed at safety. Cornerback is a little less settled. Despite overall good depth in the secondary, Divaad Wilson’s transfer and an injury to Kelee Ringo leaves coaches with fewer options at cornerback. We know Eric Stokes is set on one side, but the other cornerback spot is still up for grabs. DJ Daniel has the experience to do the job, but Campbell is itching to show why he was a five-star national top 25 prospect in 2018.

Campbell lost the starting job as a true freshman in 2018 to Stokes. He was again expected to start in 2019 and replace Deandre Baker, but a nagging turf toe injury sidelined him for a good chunk of the season and led coaches to rely more on Daniel. Daniel is back, as is Tyrique Stephenson, so it’s not a given that Campbell will start as a junior. We should expect to see a lot more of him though now that he’s unencumbered by injury.

Georgia’s rush defense was among the best in the nation in 2019, and many of those front seven defenders return. The passing defense wasn’t far off; they were 8th in pass efficiency defense. Still, it might’ve been a little lucky that Georgia faced a slew of backup quarterbacks later in the 2019 season. If the rush defense is stout again, the pass defense will be the true measure of how good this defense can be. If that other cornerback spot firms up this year, that creates extra time for people like Nolan Smith, Jermaine Johnson, and Azeez Ojulari to get to the quarterback. Beyond that, success on passing downs will determine whether the defense earns its reputation. Can they get off the field on third down? Can they take advantage of down and distance to create turnovers? Can they prevent explosive throws over the top? If Stokes’s presence forces quarterbacks to look elsewhere, the opposite cornerback figures to be picked on. That’s the opportunity for Campbell. Is the third time the charm?

George Pickens: Pickens lived up to his five-star billing – you know him from his acrobatic catches, his dominant first half against Baylor, or his arrangement of a meeting between a Tech defensive back and the wall of Bobby Dodd Stadium. His flair for the spectacular and his unquestioned physical ability makes him one of the most exciting Georgia wideouts of the past ten seasons.

The question is whether Pickens is ready to go from the occasional highlight to being a more consistent and reliable leader of the receiving corps. The fortunes of Georgia’s passing game ebbed and flowed in 2019 with Lawrence Cager’s health. Pickens was able to pick up some – though not all – of the slack, and of course the quarterback had his own issues. As much as Fromm leaned on Cager in big midseason moments, Cager’s absence late in the year meant that Pickens emerged as Georgia’s leading receiver. Pickens’s 12 receptions and 175 yards against Baylor saw him run away from the pack.

Pickens was rarely dominant, but that’s a lot to ask for from a true freshman in a struggling offense. He had a single game with over 100 receiving yards and was largely held in check from the Florida game through the end of the regular season. The good news is that the trend is positive. Six of his eight touchdown receptions came in the last half of the season, and he scored in each of the team’s final four games. Arguably his best football came against quality opponents in a game and a half of postseason play. Those 16 postseason receptions are the encouraging part – Pickens had a combined two receptions against Notre Dame, Florida, and Auburn while posting better numbers against weaker opponents.

Five of Georgia’s top seven receivers in 2019 are gone or unavailable in 2020. The two who return are senior Demetris Robertson and Pickens. Robertson, another former five-star prospect, has found it more difficult to become a standout after transferring in from Cal. There’s a group of returning receivers with experience but little production. Kearis Jackson made a splash right away at Vanderbilt but injured himself on his best play. The speedy Jackson could get a look at some return duty and as a slot receiver. Matt Landers has battled some bad drops, but his size and consistent effort continue to earn him playing time. Will that cut it in the new offense? Tommy Bush is another tall target who battled injuries in 2019, and we’re not sure yet what his upside can be.

Whether or not Pickens, Robertson, and the others can step up, Georgia will still rely on one of the nation’s top receiver signing classes. The Bulldogs brought in five receivers. Four rated among the top 150 players in the nation. Speedster Arian Smith had offseason surgery, so it might be later in the season until he sees the field. Three of the others – Justin Robinson, Jermaine Burton, and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint – could be early contributors. They might not have the impact Pickens had but as a group could be key to Georgia’s passing game success.

Trey Hill: What an offseason of change for Georgia’s offensive line. Coach Sam Pittman is gone, three starters were drafted by the NFL, and another abruptly transferred to Tennessee. That leaves Hill as the lone returning starter from a unit that has been considered the identity of the Georgia offense since 2017. But Kirby Smart is rarely caught unprepared, and the program managed such a major transition about as well as it could.

Former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke was brought in before the bowl game to replace Pittman and did well to assemble a shorthanded group. It might be more important that Luke was able to hold onto another impressive recruiting class of linemen. Georgia saw a single defection from the class, and key commitments at tackle and center remained on board. That group of signees is part of another reason why Georgia can survive so many changes from a year ago. The losses hurt, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Consistent quality recruiting along the offensive line over the last several classes means that Georgia won’t be scrambling and rushed to play those true freshmen. Though four starters must be replaced, all but one of the replacements have starting experience.

Though Ben Cleveland, perhaps the lone Mark Richt commitment left in the program, has started games since 2017, Hill’s 18 starts are tops among Georgia’s linemen. He wasn’t a natural center and has had shaky moments, but he’s grown into the role and will now have to lead a new group of linemen playing for a new position coach protecting a new quarterback in a new offense. Georgia has signed other centers since Hill took over. Clay Webb and, most recently, Sedrick Van Pran are available in reserve, but the stability and experience Hill brings to an important position is one of the few elements of continuity on an overhauled offense. Georgia will face some of the more difficult defensive fronts in the conference early in the season, so this reconfigured line won’t have long to get it together.

Zamir White: Who was Georgia’s leading returning rusher heading into the 2012 season? Isaiah Crowell (850 yards) was dismissed. Carlton Thomas (361 yards) graduated. That meant that Brandon Harton, whose 247 yards just edged out Richard Samuel’s 240, was Georgia’s top returning tailback heading into 2012. Harton had seen mostly garbage time duty in 2011, but injuries to Crowell and Samuel thrust Harton into the spotlight against Kentucky. He responded with 101 yards against the Wildcats to help Georgia clinch its first SEC East title since 2005.

Georgia’s tailback situation changed dramatically in 2012. Gurley and Marshall arrived to begin a run that arguably surpassed the 1980s as the golden age of Georgia tailbacks. Over the next seven years Georgia didn’t only have standout tailbacks; they weaved a depth chart that ensured there was a proven and productive back in place for the following season. The Gurley/Marshall era overlapped with the Chubb/Michel era which overlapped with the Swift/Holyfield era.

The next transition seemed to be set up with the 2018 signing of Zamir White and James Cook. A series of knee injuries delayed White’s debut, and Cook never really found his role in Georgia’s power offense. White eventually got his chance in 2019, but carries were tough to come by, and coaches were slow to place much of a load on someone coming off two knee surgeries. With Swift and Herrien sidelined for the Sugar Bowl, White posted his season high in carries (18) and yards (92) with one touchdown against Baylor. White ended the season with 408 rushing yards – the fewest yards for Georgia’s leading returning tailback since that pivotal 2012 season.

As with 2012, the tailback position is at a crossroads entering 2020. White and Cook are expected to lead the pack, but they won’t be the only options. Kenny McIntosh earned some tough yards as a freshman. Five-star Kendall Milton will arrive from California as the next heralded Bulldog tailback prospect. Daijun Edwards stood tall in the meatgrinder of south Georgia prep football. It’s less likely that 2020 will follow 2012 though. Milton and Edwards, while solid prospects, don’t carry the expectations of Gurley and Marshall. More to the point, White and Cook are better than the returning backs in 2012. White is ready to step into the lead back role and can hopefully follow Chubb’s lead of a strong season two years after knee surgery. Cook has the tools to thrive in a more open offense. He’ll also be a receiving option out of the backfield, and he is expected to be in the mix to return kicks.

Georgia has had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2014. There are two or three backs capable of continuing that streak, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Zeus.

Malik Herring: It’s been a while since the Georgia defensive line has produced a star. In fact, Georgia hasn’t had a defensive lineman drafted since John Jenkins in 2013. Promising prospects like Trenton Thompson and Tyler Clark had to go the free agent route. That drought should end soon, and it is likely to start with Herring. Herring really began to make a name for himself in dismantling Tech’s option attack in 2018, and he quietly became an important – and consistent – standout on Georgia’s improved defensive front in 2019. Georgia’s linemen tend not to get a ton of stats in the 3-4 scheme, and Herring is no exception. But the advanced stats say that Herring does his job well. ESPN considers him the top returning edge defender in the SEC.

Jordan Davis is the plug in the middle. Travon Walker is poised to move from a third-down role to an every-down matchup problem on the opposite side. It’s going to be tough to keep freshman Jalen Carter off the field. It’s Herring though and his ability to control the edge that could set Georgia’s defensive line apart. The defensive line could and should take a step forward in terms of visibility this year, but the real value is the opportunities that a disruptive defensive line create for the wealth of havoc-creating talent at linebacker.

Jake Camarda: Right…Monken’s offense is never going to punt. Just in case, Camarda deserves a bit of scrutiny as one of the more veteran members of Georgia’s special teams. He wasn’t quite able to shake his inconsistency as a sophomore; a 27-yard punt shanked out of bounds a midfield was nearly disastrous against Notre Dame. Even with that inconsistency, Camarda might be the one area of special teams that’s fairly stable.

The big question is placekicking. Camarda might not only figure in punting. He’ll be looked at, along with incoming freshman Jared Zirkel, to replace Rodrigo Blankenship as placekicker. Camarda handled PK duties in high school and was more than competent. If Zirkel isn’t quite ready yet, Camarda could become twice as important. Walk-on junior Jake Podlesny is another option at placekicker.

Georgia will also see new returners in 2020 after a very unremarkable 2019. A stingy defense meant there weren’t many kicks to return, and Brian Herrien was the most productive kick returner. Most punt returns were handled by Dominick Blaylock or Tyler Simmons. Neither return unit scored in 2019, and there were very few explosive returns to help a struggling offense with good field position. James Cook returned four kicks in 2019, and he seems to be the leading candidate to handle the job in 2020. Punt returns might be even more wide-open. Kearis Jackson is the only returning player with punt return experience, but some of the speedy newcomers could also get a look.

We don’t really think much about specialists until things go wrong or unless they have special moments like Blankenship or McKenzie. Let’s hope for the latter.

Post The twilight of the paper ticket

Friday August 28, 2020

The pandemic has served to hasten the move across sports to digital ticketing. Tickets at Georgia and other schools will be delivered to and managed on the ticketholder’s phone. From a public health standpoint it makes sense. Digital tickets are contactless at the gate, and selling/transferring tickets on the secondary market doesn’t require a face-to-face meeting.

It’s necessary but unfortunate that the days are numbered for the paper ticket. The arrival of the sheet of season tickets in August was a day many fans anticipated. Each year’s design was a little different and more elaborate. The bigger point is that the ticket was a tangible memento of the game and our presence at it.

I was reminded of Scott Duvall’s (of the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday podcast) table project that showcased his collection of ticket stubs. You can point to any spot on the table and dive into the history, stats, stories, and memories represented by that ticket. I expect many of us have a collection of stubs whether tucked away in a box in the closet or even turned into a showcase like Duvall’s. Most of the tickets are run-of-the-mill home game tickets, but the 2007 Blackout game or the 2013 LSU game is worth highlighting. Maybe there’s a special place for that Rose Bowl or Notre Dame ticket. That 2002 Alabama or 1997 Florida game? That’s in there too.

As Duvall predicted, “the proliferation of electronic and print-at-home tickets will surely slow the pace of collecting more (stubs.)” That proliferation hit the afterburners this year, and there’s no going back. There are too many benefits to the issuer to go digital: digital tickets are harder to counterfeit, easier and cheaper to produce and deliver, and they can be tied to a team-managed gameday experience.

Pro teams are well out in front of this trend. Tickets are tied to a team app that manages everything from parking to concessions to movement throughout the arena or stadium. Alabama made news last year for using this location tracking to monitor how many students stayed until the bitter end.

Once tickets and the gameday experience are routed through a team-controlled app, marketers will have plenty of data to mine. As the CEO of the group that owns Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium put it, “I will know when you come in, and what you buy and when.” That sounds more menacing than it’s meant to, but the truth is that there’s a lot of valuable information wrapped up in the preferences and behaviors of top-dollar customers. As Georgia caters more to Magill-level fans and seeks to move more fans into that tier, data is key to reaching those people.

For now it’s just ticketing that’s moving to the digital platform. It won’t be seamless; older and lower-income fans might not have the technology to use these tickets, and accommodations will have to be considered. During the pandemic it might mean that some people are unable to attend games. For those of us who have that box of stubs, we won’t be adding much to it. Sports fans are still sports fans, and our deep attachment to nostalgia won’t disappear. We’ll just need something a little less tangible to trigger it.

Post Why I opted out

Thursday August 27, 2020

In April I posted a few thoughts about my decision to renew season tickets for the 2020 season during the early stages of the pandemic. I concluded that “renewing season tickets now bought me time to watch and wait and make a more informed decision months from now.”

The time for that decision is now. Georgia and the SEC plan to play football. The league is leaving attendance policies up to the individual schools based on local regulations, and most schools, including Georgia, will be at around 20% capacity. With a month or so to reallocate tickets under the new arrangement, Georgia had one question for its donors and season ticket holders: are you in or out? Fans had until yesterday, August 26th, to decide whether to opt in to the pool of applicants for tickets or opt out for the 2020 season.

It was a difficult decision, but I have opted out and will miss home games for the first time since 1990. In my April post, I outlined a few criteria I had in mind for attending games, and I don’t believe that we’re there yet. I’m encouraged by the trends in Georgia as we come down from a summer peak, but there is still considerable community transmission. Our therapeutic toolkit has improved since the spring, but the most promising treatments are still in trials. It’s possible (and likely) that the numbers and available treatments will be even better in a month’s time as we kick off, but we’re being asked to make a decision now based on information at hand.

There’s more to it than just the medical risk. For many of us the social element of gameday is as important as the action on the field. It’s an opportunity to bring together friends and groups from around the state (and beyond) and rekindle family bonds and traditions that span generations. It’s a cliché that football is a religion in the South, but gameday sure does seem like a ritual.

We don’t know yet whether tailgating will be allowed. (On-campus tailgating, that is. Off-campus tailgating won’t be under the University’s control but will still have to follow state and local regulations for gatherings.) It’s safe to say though that the social element of gameday will be disrupted. You and your friends could receive tickets to different games. You won’t be sitting in the same location around the same group with whom you’ve gone through the highs and lows of each season. You will park, go to the game, maybe catch a bite in town, and head home. We’ve all probably gone to a game in that way before, and it’s pretty much how I attend basketball games. It’s not how most of us prefer to spend a football Saturday. Those changes are understandable and necessary just to have anyone in the stands this year, but for the trouble, the risks, and the uncertainty of seat location and game, the at-home setup – or watching the game at a private and distanced tailgate – sounds pretty good this year.

Georgia’s refund policy made the decision easier. The policy allows us to convert this year’s sunk costs into priority points or a refund. More importantly, I’ll keep my seat location and priority going forward regardless of my opt-in/out decision. I chose to convert my donation since it is meant to support all of Georgia’s programs and not just football. Others need the refund, and it’s the minimum of decency to offer that option without penalty for the 2021 season.

Much has changed since April. We’ve learned a tremendous amount, but that’s led to other questions. One thing that’s remained unchanged is this: as things reopen and events resume, we can control our participation. We each have our own risk tolerance and financial situation, and its our responsibility to make our own decisions based on the best available information. I’m glad that Georgia’s policy allowed some flexibility with very little downside, and I would have been disappointed with the program had a less generous policy been offered. I’ll very much miss attending games if they’re played – I’ve been to every home game since I enrolled. I’ll miss just as much seeing the usual crew and reuniting with my extended family inside and outside of the stadium. I see those as small sacrifices for myself and my family to navigate safely through this pandemic. You might disagree, and please bark twice as loud for me.

With my decision over and done with, I just hope they can play safely. Wear your mask.

Post Why students should, but won’t, get most of 2020’s tickets

Sunday August 23, 2020

If I had one issue with the ticket plan, it’s this: I was disappointed to see that only 3,000 tickets will be reserved for students. I understand why: the first half of Greg McGarity’s letter outlining the new ticket policy clearly laid out the financial stakes, and as many people as possible need to be paying the full $150/game. Students also won’t contribute as much to the struggling Athens economy that depends on home games. There are still some very good reasons why students should get a larger share:

  • Students are in a much lower-risk group than the typical fan. Of course COVID-19 has affected all age groups, but on average those around college age are much less likely to face severe disease or worse if there is transmission among the crowd.
  • Donors will be able to be right back in their same seats next year and beyond. Students, on the other hand, have a limited time to enjoy the experience of attending a game as a student. Student tickets are already constrained by a lottery. Alumni can recall how their passion for watching Georgia football and their lifelong relationship with the program was cultivated in the student section. Even fewer students will have that experience now.
  • Students are more likely to make noise. With attendance limited, you want to maximize the impact of those who are in the stands.
  • If tickets were limited to students, groups of fans without tickets would be less tempted to come to Athens to tailgate or score a ticket.
  • Perhaps most importantly, students won’t have to travel to the game. By the first home game, students will have been in Athens for at least six weeks. Their loose networks of contacts will have stabilized. Local initial outbreaks might have settled down. Other fans will travel in from areas with varying levels of outbreak. Tens of thousands of people descending on Athens from all corners of the state four times during the fall will establish potentially new networks of transmission when those fans return home.

I trust that a lot of thought has been put into keeping the gameday experience as safe as possible for those who are able to attend. Of course any policy comes down to compliance and enforcement, and we’ll see how that goes.

Post Limited capacity ticket plan announced for the 2020 season

Thursday August 20, 2020

They’re going to try. We know what the modified SEC-only schedule looks like, and now we know that a limited number of fans will be able to see it in person. The SEC will allow each school to set its own attendance policy subject to state and local regulations. The only common guideline is that only 500 visitor tickets will be allocated for each game, and those tickets will likely be held in reserve for the visitor’s family members and official traveling party. In other words, road games won’t be part of the new ticket application.

Georgia’s policy is similar to others we’ve seen. Tickets will be kept to 20-25% of capacity with social distancing enforced. Masks will be required outside of the seating area. Tickets will be allocated in blocks of four. This means roughly 20,000 tickets will be issued for each of Georgia’s four home games, and that figure includes tickets set aside for visitors, students, guests, faculty, administration, and all of the other usual uses. The rest of the tickets will be offered to donors, and they’ll have the option to request from one to four games based on contribution level with no guarantees. The general public will not be able to order tickets directly through Georgia.

Of course with capacity reduced, the policy also includes information about refunds and options for 2020 Hartman Fund donations and season ticket orders. Fans will have to decide to opt in or out of the new ticketing system to help UGA gauge demand and allocate the tickets. Fans will also have to decide what to do with the money already deposited for the 2020 season. Fortunately there are options regardless of the decision to opt in or out.

The big takeaways of the policy were:

  • Your seat location and priority level won’t be affected if you choose to opt out. This is very important for those who might have reservations about attending games.
  • 2020 donations and season ticket payments won’t roll over to 2021 but can be refunded or turned into a tax-deductible donation for 3x Hartman Fund points.
  • Unless your annual donation is over $5,000, you will be able to request at most one home game this year, and it’s not a sure thing. They’ll use the same system used for road games and postseason tickets, and demand at the top levels will determine how many tickets are available lower down the priority system.

I’d like to see who actually ends up using the tickets. Tailgating and games likely won’t be the elaborate social and networking opportunities we’re used to. No one will get more than four seats, and they won’t be in the location you’re used to around the same people. If (on-campus) tailgating is limited or prohibited, you’ll park, go to the game, and leave – maybe after grabbing a bite to eat. Will attending a game be less appealing with the social element stripped down?

Certainly there are some younger donors in the Magill Society, but a large share of Georgia’s top donors are older fans in more vulnerable age groups. Will they simply distribute their tickets to younger relatives or try to make some money reselling their tickets? Will they simply pass and open up tickets for donors at lower priority levels? I’m interested to see how that secondary market develops. Will there be much excess demand for those scarce 20,000 tickets? With Auburn and Tennessee coming to town, I expect there will be.

It’s also worth pointing out that even this revised policy is subject to change. It’s not likely that more tickets will be issued, but it could certainly go the other way if conditions merit. Venerated events like the Kentucky Derby and the Masters have announced that they’ll proceed this fall without fans or patrons. The schools would prefer to salvage as much ticket revenue as possible, but if it comes down to holding a game with no fans versus no game at all, the stands will be empty.

Post 2020 schedule, take 2

Tuesday August 18, 2020

Georgia’s revised conference-only 2020 schedule was released Monday night. It’s surreal to write about a schedule that stands a fair chance of further revision or outright cancellation, but it’s what we have for now.

Even if it ends up never taking place, the 10-game SEC slate looks mighty attractive, and it’s going to be tough going back. Give me Tech and maybe another P5 nonconference game, and you’ve got a compelling schedule in the years to come. The revised home schedule isn’t great, but the original schedule wasn’t much to look at either. Tennessee and Auburn are still on there, and a visit from Mike Leach’s MSU Bulldogs replaces Georgia Tech and a couple of forgettable contract games.

Here’s the complete SEC schedule, and here’s Georgia’s slate:

Sept. 26: at Arkansas
Oct. 3: Auburn
Oct. 10: Tennessee
Oct. 17: at Alabama
Oct. 24: at Kentucky
Oct. 31: Bye
Nov. 7: vs. Florida (Jax)
Nov. 14: at Missouri
Nov. 21: Mississippi State
Nov. 28: at South Carolina
Dec. 5: Vanderbilt

  • Attention will be focused on the front of the schedule, and consecutive games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Alabama jump out. What might be more important to Georgia’s season is the midseason stretch from Alabama through Florida. There will be three straight games requiring out-of-state travel, and Kentucky has proven to be a credible threat in the division. Alabama and Florida need no hype. By that point in the season, you’ll also have the early wear and tear begin to take their toll – remember how much the fortunes of 2013 changed from September to October.
  • In 2019, Georgia’s November SEC schedule was widely described as a “gauntlet.” The four-game stretch from Florida to Texas A&M featured three opponents ranked in the top 16 of SP+, and Missouri was still a respectable #36. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. Missouri and Mississippi State will still be working through first-year coach issues. We know better than to overlook South Carolina, especially on the road, but Georgia should once again be favored. If Georgia comes out of Jacksonville on top of the division, they’ll be heavy favorites to finish the job.
  • Yes, that’s only four home games out of ten. It’s Georgia’s turn as the home team in Jacksonville, and the Bulldogs won’t have any of the nonconference games that would have filled out the usual home slate. Georgia will have to travel out-of-state for six of its ten games.
  • That itinerary means that Georgia will go six weeks in the middle of the season without a true home game. That’s not unusual; the game in Jacksonville often means an extended road trip during October even in normal seasons. There will also be the usual pre-Florida bye week during the road trip.
  • Since this is all improvised, several traditional dates were sacrificed. Georgia-Auburn moves to the beginning of the season, but that was expected in the original schedule. The Iron Bowl is no longer the last game of the season. Alabama’s “Third Saturday in October” opponent is now Georgia rather than Tennessee. Georgia-Florida won’t be a Halloween trick or treat, but the November 7th date is more in line with when the game was played prior to 1992.
  • A schedule release usually leads us to think about travel plans. Georgia hasn’t been to Fayetteville since 2009. For the first time in years, the Kentucky trip is in October. Keeneland’s Fall Meet will run through October 24th, though attendance details haven’t been released yet. Columbia, SC might even be pleasant in late November, and it will be nice to avoid the furnace that is a mid-September game over there.
  • It might be best to hold off planning elaborate road trips. The SEC will limit visiting teams to just 500 tickets, and there almost surely won’t be tickets sold to the general public.
  • I hope your WLOCP reservations were refundable. Maybe you’ll just extend your plans another week.
  • The Jacksonville NFL schedule wasn’t much help in divining the date of the WLOCP. Jacksonville will host the Georgia-Florida game and an NFL game on consecutive days. That’s quite a long night for stadium operations people, but it would be made easier if organizers aren’t expecting many people at either event.
  • It’s small potatoes in the scheme of building a schedule from scratch during a pandemic, but I do hope Georgia’s administration at least tried to preserve the date in Jacksonville. It’s the only neutral-site game in the conference, and so it’s the only game for which both sets of fans would travel. Even if fans aren’t allowed at the game (or are limited), a lot of people have money wrapped up in the weekend of October 31st.
  • When schedules began moving around in the spring and summer, a tantalizing possibility was a double-header with a big Georgia home game and the Masters. Now we know that Georgia won’t host a home game on November 14th (they’ll play at Missouri), and Augusta National won’t have patrons at the Masters. You’ll be watching both events from home.

Post Decent – not great – draft for Georgia

Tuesday April 28, 2020

This year’s unusual NFL Draft was a welcome gulp of water while we are parched for live sports. It was hardly a return to normalcy, but it did give us a reason to look ahead to a time when sports and football would be back. I kind of liked the virtual format. Seeing all of the prospects in their homes surrounded by family gave the event a more raw and humanizing touch relative to the slick production the league had prepared in Las Vegas.

The Bulldogs had seven players drafted including two first-rounders. The seven players selected matched 2019’s total, and Georgia had one more player selected in the first three rounds this year than a year ago. Georgia’s draft showing could be called…fine.

A second straight season with seven draft picks seems like good news, but at the same time expectations might have been a little higher. The hype factory at the AJC speculated about a record draft, tying or surpassing the program-best eight picks. Instead it was a tough night for some of Georgia’s higher-profile draft entrants. Jake Fromm slid from high-round projections to the fifth round. He won’t be a lock to make the Buffalo squad. The lack of scouting opportunities outside of the combine due to the pandemic surely hurt Fromm as well as injured players like Lawrence Cager. Fan favorite and Lou Groza award winner Rodrigo Blankenship seemed like a lock to sneak into the late rounds, but he remained undrafted as other specialists came off the board. Defensive leader J.R. Reed also went undrafted.

Georgia’s defense might have relished the “no-name” label applied to the squad that led the nation despite no superstar standouts, but that anonymity also continued into the draft. Tae Crowder, selected with the draft’s final pick, was the only member of the productive defense to be drafted. In fact, let this sink in: Georgia has had more offensive linemen (4) drafted in the past two seasons than defensive players (3).

(How fantastic and improbable was it to see Crowder drafted? He was a converted tailback best known for his recovery of a squib kick in the Rose Bowl, earned a starting job at inside linebacker, and held off several 4* and 5* prospects as he became a Butkus Award semifinalist. Now he’s the only player drafted from the nation’s top defense. Kindley is a similar story. He didn’t switch positions, but as Georgia got better and better at recruiting offensive linemen, it was always assumed that the 3* Kindley would give way. He didn’t, and his left guard spot was one of the more stable positions on the offensive line.)

If there was a sure winner based on Georgia’s 2020 draft results, it was someone no longer associated with the program: three of Sam Pittman’s offensive linemen were among Georgia’s draft crop. Four of the five starting offensive linemen on the 2018 team have been drafted. That’s a testament to what everyone saw with their own eyes: Pittman was able to harness the resources available at Georgia to elevate the program’s offensive line recruiting. Kirby Smart identified that as a need from his opening press conferences, and the draft results speak to Pittman’s and Smart’s success. It also sets a bar going forward for Matt Luke.

When a program leans as heavily as Georgia does on its production of NFL players as a selling point for recruiting, the draft is the scoreboard. Numbers will be scrutinized especially relative to Georgia’s peers. National champion LSU had a record-tying 14 picks. Alabama, after a “disappointing” season that left them out of the playoff, produced nine picks – all in the first three rounds. Georgia’s seven selections placed fifth among all schools, tied with Clemson, Florida, and Utah.

The drafts of the past two seasons saw a large drain of talent from the offense at all positions. The pendulum should swing back towards the other side of the ball in 2021 as the offense retools and younger players from the 2018 and 2019 defenses become draft-eligible. Georgia has had three consecutive recruiting classes rated #1 by Rivals, and they’ll begin to become draft-eligible in 2021. Fans expect to see that influx of talent pay off in wins and titles, but it’s also important for Kirby Smart to see those top-rated classes turn into not just draft picks but *high* draft picks.

Georgia’s 2020 NFL Draft Picks

  • Andrew Thomas (1st – NY Giants)
  • Isaiah Wilson (1st – Tennessee)
  • D’Andre Swift (2nd – Detroit)
  • Solomon Kindley (4th – Miami)
  • Jake Fromm (5th – Buffalo)
  • Charlie Woerner (6th – San Francisco)
  • Tae Crowder (7th – NY Giants)

Post Deciding to renew

Friday April 24, 2020

Marc Weiszer wrote a piece last week about season ticket renewals during these times, and I was happy to contribute my perspective. I was surprised to see renewal rates so high, and I expect Greg McGarity is also (pleasantly so). As I shared with Weiszer, our decision to go ahead and renew came down to a couple of points:

  • We considered ordering tickets as a moderate-risk bet that there would be football this fall.
  • The possibility of a refund if the season were canceled (or played without fans) lessened the risk.
  • We like our location(s) in the stadium and didn’t want to be displaced after 20+ years.
  • We are grateful to be able to place that kind of a bet right now.

The last point is difficult – I know so many are struggling right now either with immediate needs or with crippling uncertainty hanging over them. That renders any other consideration meaningless. Georgia has been flexible with dates and payment options, but in the end season tickets are an expense that’s suddenly become an extravagance for many people. Even if the season is canceled and refunds issued, many can’t tie up money for that long.

There’s one scenario for which we had to accept some risk: what if they decide to open the stadiums and we aren’t comfortable returning?

There’s no question that things are going to be muddy for a while even after this first wave of infection passes. There will be no clean break and no “over”. Until there is a vaccine, the job will be playing whack-a-mole against isolated outbreaks of an easily-transmitted virus. Meanwhile, much of the nation is under intense pressure to reopen. Sports will be a big part of that reopening. There’s a symbolism to the return of sports, but there are also real financial considerations. We’ve seen the panic of schools faced with the loss of the football season that funds the whole operation. We’ve heard about the campaigns to support arena and stadium staff. We know what kind of economic impact sports has on small towns like Athens.

I don’t suggest (Mike Gundy aside) that leagues would willingly put athletes or fans at risk, but their standards and risk aversion will necessarily be colored by the pressures they face to play ball. Gabe DeArmond pointed out that it’s not news that coaches want to play. It will be news when someone with a financial stake in the game says that we shouldn’t play. Blutarsky recently touched on a question I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks. Coaches and administrators want business as usual – or at least to get back out there as soon as possible. Fans sorely miss sports. The real question though is much more personal: when will you be comfortable being packed shoulder-to-shoulder with 92,000 random fans who have traveled in from across the southeast?

The change of the past month has been swift. In early March, I was sat among fans from Tennessee to South Carolina to Mississippi at the SEC women’s basketball tournament. Sure, we knew to wash hands a little more carefully and be suspicious of coughs and fevers, but the games went on. A little over a month ago Georgia played a men’s basketball game in Nashville. It all ended abruptly that week: first the NBA pulled the plug. (Rudy Gobert was irresponsible, but how many lives did his recklessness indirectly save?) College conference tournaments began postponing and then finally cancelling games. The NCAA tournament wasn’t going to take place. Within a week the SEC had ended spring sports. Now we’re separated from friends and loved ones, and a simple trip to the grocery store is fraught with peril. That’s a severe and sudden psychological and behavioral shock, and it’s not easily reversed.

I told Weiszer that I wouldn’t attend games under current conditions. That implies limited testing and an unproven toolkit of therapeutic responses. The hope (and the assumption) is that we’ll be working under a different paradigm later this year. That means more widespread testing to identify and contain outbreaks, contact tracing, and more proven therapeutics that will reduce the risk of mortality or even severe illness for those who are infected. Most every plan forward outlines those elements as requirements along the long road from shelter-in-place to a vaccine. The extent and effectiveness of those remedies will determine which pieces of society can safely resume and at what level.

The “how” of sports returning doesn’t concern me so much. It’s something I’d like to see very much, but it’s not really under my control. Whether it’s an abbreviated schedule, a delayed start, a season without fans in the stands – those are all just ideas based on our current understanding of how things might work. It’s good to think about those things now, and you’d expect any decent organization to have an array of plans available in order to be flexible when the time comes to reopen. Certain administrators and pundits have taken heat for pessimism about playing this year, but a lost year is a possibility that can’t catch anyone off-guard. Time (and the virus) will help to instruct us about under which circumstances sports may return. The same applies to travel, retail, tourism, entertainment – any activity that brings people into shared spaces.

What I can control is my participation. That’s the agency any of us has in whatever comes next. You’ve likely seen the survey that found that over 60% of fans wouldn’t be comfortable returning to the stands until a vaccine is available. It’s possible that many respondents were spooked by the sudden onset of the pandemic and might moderate their views as time goes on. It’s still very likely that fans will be slow to return in person even as games get underway. I expect we’ll see the same in other areas of life as things are allowed to reopen.

Public health regulations might allow games to occur. Students might return to campus, and other necessary conditions might be met. Each of us will still have our say in whether we feel safe enough to attend. At most I’ll lose the cost of a ticket. It would hurt to miss something I love dearly. Fortunately I don’t have to make that decision right now. As Weiszer writes, we’ll “now have the months ahead to see what a Bulldogs football season might look like in 2020.” It’s foolish now to make forecasts whether or not there will be a football season and what form it might take. Renewing season tickets now bought me time to watch and wait and make a more informed decision months from now. I hope progress is such that there’s an easy decision to make.

Post Not spring football – football in the spring

Friday April 17, 2020

While most public statements are optimistic about a normal college football season in the fall, we also know that most every sport is kicking around alternative plans. There’s too much money at stake; games will be played in some form if authorities give the go-ahead. That might mean games with no fans in the stands. It might mean a delayed start to the season. Coaches have raised alarms and proposed solutions to the amount of time necessary to prepare for the season. One suggestion even moves the season to the spring of 2021.

That idea does raise plenty of questions and issues, but, again, there will be desperation to fill the coffers. The implications of a “season-ending injury” are certainly worth thinking about. I wonder what a roster for a spring season might look like:

  • How many top seniors and draft-eligible underclassmen will skip all or part of a season that extends into spring semester? Unless the NFL also delays its 2021 draft date, the first three months of the year are dedicated to focused draft preparation once the college season ends. Workouts, combines, all-star games for draft-bound players, pro days – all of these pre-draft activities occur early in the year. Basketball (especially women’s basketball), baseball, and softball have drafts much closer to the end of the season – sometimes even before the college postseason is over. Those players play complete seasons, but we know that the physical demands of football make it a different animal. Who will want to go from the grind of a college season straight into NFL OTAs if the lack of a recuperation and conditioning period hurts their chances of making a roster spot?
  • Would early enrollees be eligible to play in spring games? Currently they may participate in bowl practices before classes begin, but they can’t play in bowl games. If they’re enrolled and taking classes at the start of the season, what would distinguish them from any other member of the team?

Post Adjusting to the new normal

Wednesday March 25, 2020

Interesting piece from Seth Emerson about the resources (and limitations) of keeping Georgia’s football program up and running while we are all asked to be at home. Athletes, along with all other students, must rapidly adapt to online courses. They won’t have access to on-campus facilities for meals and conditioning (unless they are rehabbing an injury.) Communication between staff and players is governed, and detail-obsessed coaches won’t have the kind of oversight they’re used to. At this time of year before spring practice the contact with players is primarily done by the strength and conditioning staff. Even that contact is regulated.

There are some exceptions, as (Georgia compliance director Will) Lawler explained: “If they ask and say: ‘Hey, I’m here at my house, I don’t want to go to a gym, can you give me some body-weight workouts?’ or something like that. You could provide it to them. But you can’t require it. There’s no reporting back. There’s no any of that. There’s some flexibility. This thing kind of moves pretty quickly.”

My first thought on reading that quote: it sure is nice to have not one but two experienced strength coaches on staff now. Both Scott Sinclair and Scott Cochran have years of experience developing individualized offseason workouts for football teams. Now that’s all Georgia, or any team, is allowed in terms of player development. With gym equipment likely limited or unavailable altogether, creativity will be tested. I know Cochran was brought in to be an on-field coach, but I would expect him to be a valuable resource for Sinclair in this unusual time.

Cochran’s expertise could be valuable in another way. The offseason program requires steady monitoring and accountability even for the most self-disciplined athletes. Now at home and isolated from that support structure, it’s easy for things to slide and bad habits to form. Cochran hasn’t had much time to get to know the team, but one of his key roles at Alabama was as the motivator and the guy that kept players pushing past their limits. His energy and constant reinforcement will help keep things moving in the right direction.

Did you see the video featuring several coaches encouraging students to finish out the spring semester? An appropriate and necessary message for the student body of course, but there’s a self interest too. The NCAA might come up with all sorts of waivers and exceptions by the time students return to campus, but for now they’ll have to be in good academic standing and on track. With the spring and summer semesters moving online, much of the academic calendar will have passed by the time football players report back. Without on-campus tutoring, class checks, counseling, and other academic resources, the need for academic discipline and self-motivation while in isolation will be as great as it is for player development.

Post 2020 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Wednesday March 4, 2020

A familiar name is back on top of SEC women’s basketball. South Carolina took a small step backwards in 2019 after a dominant four-year period, but they’ve come roaring back in 2020 with an undefeated conference record. As much as 2017 was the breakthrough season for Dawn Staley and her Gamecocks, this year’s edition might be more well-rounded with few weaknesses. South Carolina enters this year’s SEC tournament in Greenville as the overwhelming favorite. It would be a shock if they didn’t reach the finals. If there’s to be much drama this weekend, it’s likely to come in the early rounds as teams jockey to become South Carolina’s championship game opponent. Four teams tied for third place with 10-6 records, and they could all be involved in head-to-head knockout games in Friday’s quarterfinals.

The SEC might not have many of the nation’s best teams, but some of the nation’s best individual talent will be on display in Greenville. Rhyne Howard and Chennedy Carter are among the nation’s top five in scoring. Rennia Davis has a flair for the dramatic big play. Chelsea Dungee, and really any Arkansas guard, can take over a game. Unfortunately teams have had to deal with injuries to many of those same star players. Howard and Carter missed significant time during conference play, forcing Kentucky and Texas A&M to lean on their supporting casts to remain near the top of the standings. LSU’s Ayana Mitchell was lost for the season, and the Tigers have had mixed results since. The good news is that Carter and Howard are back in form, and SEC fans will get to see Carter in postseason action for the first time in two seasons.

It’s also been a year of youth. It’s not just top teams South Carolina and Mississippi State showcasing impact freshmen (though they certainly did.) Teams from Missouri to Florida to Vanderbilt introduced players who will be handfuls for the next three seasons. Only one of the league’s top ten scorers is a senior, and three of the top 11 are true freshmen. That’s a positive for the future of the league, but it’s also meant that most teams don’t have the seasoned depth to make much noise outside of the conference. The SEC could get as few as six or as many as eight NCAA tournament bids this year, though only South Carolina and Mississippi State look to be first round hosts. Much of the spotlight in NCAA women’s basketball has shifted west this year. UConn isn’t as dominant outside of their conference. Notre Dame will miss the NCAA tournament. The Pac 12 though has been wild with a pair of national title contenders and enough good teams to cause chaos. Baylor is just cooling their heels waiting to defend their 2019 national title. The SEC hasn’t made many waves nationally this year – except for the powerhouse in Columbia.

Georgia’s Path Through the Tournament:

Wednesday: Bye
Thursday / Second Round: vs. #8 Alabama: Noon ET SEC Network
Friday / Quarterfinals: vs. #1 South Carolina: Noon ET SEC Network
Saturday / Semifinals: 5:00 pm ET ESPNU
Sunday / Finals: 2:00 pm ET ESPN2
Complete Bracket Here

The Field

(LY – last year’s finish, PS – coaches preseason projection)

1) South Carolina (7-22, 16-0) (LY-2nd, PS-2nd): We warned last year that if you couldn’t beat South Carolina in 2019, it might be a while. The Gamecocks still finished second in the league, but they were upset by Arkansas in the SEC tournament and “only” reached the Sweet 16. They’ve added the nation’s top signing class and quickly find themselves back on top of the SEC and the nation. They recorded the program’s first win over UConn and beat both the Huskies and Baylor by double figures. They’ve had only a couple of stumbles with an early loss to Indiana and a close call at home against Mississippi State, but this is a complete team that’s improved over the season.

Dawn Staley has done a wonderful job of mixing the young infusion of talent with her two senior leaders. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan spent her first two seasons in the shadow of A’ja Wilson, but she’s developed into a well-rounded senior who can score inside or outside, rebound, pass, and defend. The offense flows through point guard Tyasha Harris. Harris can create offense and scores 12 points per game, and she set the program record for assists.

Staley augmented that senior duo with four ESPN top 100 5* freshmen. Three of them have started all 30 games for the Gamecocks. Relying on that many freshmen in key roles might have been the reason why the coaches didn’t project the Gamecocks to win the league, but this group has been up to the job. Guard Zia Cooke might eventually replace the senior Harris as the floor general, but with Harris running the show Cooke has been free to do damage as a combo guard. Cooke leads the team in three point attempts and makes, but she also leads in free throw attempts. Cooke isn’t afraid to drive to the rim and draw contact. Forward Aliyah Boston was both the SEC Freshman of the Year and Defender of the Year. She was an imposing figure inside right out of the gate and has the most blocks in the conference. Boston isn’t just a defender; she’s even with Herbert Harrigan as the team’s leading scorer and shoots an efficient 61% from the floor. Brea Beal is what you want from a wing: someone who can play on the perimeter but is also at home posting up inside to take advantage of her size.

So South Carolina has perimeter offense, interior offense, a rim protector, the league’s best distributor, good wing play, depth, and one of the game’s best coaches. That’s why they enter the tournament perfect in the league and the odds-on favorite to beat the field for their fifth tournament title in six seasons.

2) Mississippi State (25-5, 13-3) (LY-1st, PS-3rd): A step back was inevitable. The final pieces of a core group that played for two straight national titles broke through to win an SEC tournament title last season. The roster has all but completely turned over since that incredible three-year run. It says something about the foundation Vic Schaefer built that the Bulldogs could lose so much talent over two seasons and only fall back to a solid second place finish in the SEC and a borderline top ten national ranking. MSU hasn’t been as dominant as they’ve been in recent years, but they’ve had more than enough on most nights. A narrow loss to Stanford was their only non-conference blemish. They came within two points and a controversial call of beating South Carolina in Columbia. A rematch with the Gamecocks on a neutral court (as much as Greenville, SC can be “neutral” for South Carolina) might be interesting, but the Bulldogs have shown that they’re not a lock to reach the finals.

Jordan Danberry is the link to those historic MSU teams. She was granted a fifth year of eligibility after an NCAA appeal and is a graduate student. Danberry is second in the SEC in steals and chips in 12.5 PPG. She’s the lone senior though, and the team’s top two MSU scorers are underclassmen. Jessika Carter emerged as a worthy heir to Teaira McCowan at center. The sophomore leads the team in rebounding and blocks and scores nearly 14 PPG. MSU also has an impact freshman: forward Rickea Jackson is the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Bulldogs. Much like former star Victoria Vivians, Jackson is a long athletic forward who can score anywhere on the court. Also like Vivians, Jackson led the team in scoring as a freshman and will be one of the SEC’s top players years to come.

The Bulldogs lost three conference games including a two-point heartbreaker at South Carolina. Other teams have pushed them, and the Bulldogs can go through droughts in the halfcourt offense. They were 1-8 from outside in an upset loss to Alabama, and the team’s perimeter scoring usually depends on the streaky shooting of Chloe Bibby. As one of the league’s top teams in generating turnovers, they rely on transition for explosive offense. More often than not, they get it. They’re set up for another finals clash against South Carolina, but this Bulldog team has shown just enough vulnerability that you can’t quite pencil in that rematch just yet.

3) Kentucky (21-7, 10-6) (LY-4th, PS-4th): Matthew Mitchell’s team has only finished out of the top four twice since he took over the program. SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard’s midseason fractured finger raised the difficulty level of another top four finish. Thanks to a win over Mississippi State, the Wildcats were able to emerge from a four-team tie with the highest seed. It’s tough to say that Howard’s absence cost Kentucky a shot at a higher finish. Losses to Florida and Arkansas were certainly winnable games, but Kentucky fell to LSU and Vanderbilt with Howard in the lineup.

An upside to losing a star like Howard is that other players have no choice but to step up. Kentucky has six players shooting at least 33% from outside. Only Arkansas shoots better from outside. The team as a whole takes care of the ball, and Kentucky is third nationally in turnover margin. Howard also leads the team in rebounds, but four players have pulled down at least 100 boards. There’s no question that Howard is the star, but this is still very much a team that’s better than the sum of its parts. Forward Keke McKinney has become an emotional leader of the team after battling her own injuries. Sabrina Haines is shooting 40% from outside, and senior point guard Jaida Roper has been the veteran hand guiding the whole operation.

The Cats are fun to watch just to see so many moving parts working together, but occasionally this year the system has ground to a halt. Kentucky will have to avoid those lapses in order to advance through a fairly difficult bracket. Mississippi State would love to get another shot at a Kentucky team that beat them earlier in the season, but a quarterfinal against a very desperate Tennessee team might come first. The Wildcats just edged the Lady Vols thanks to a career-high 37 points from Howard. Does Howard have it in her to carry this team deep into the weekend?

4) Texas A&M (22-7, 10-6) (LY-3rd, PS-1st): The Aggies were preseason favorites due in large part to the return of Player of the Year candidate Chennedy Carter. Carter had an excellent junior season and finished second in the SEC in scoring, but she missed seven games during conference play with an ankle injury. A&M lost the game in which Carter was injured and went only 4-3 during her absence. Carter returned in a big way with 37 points in a win at Tennessee, and it seemed as if the Aggies were back on solid footing. They fell to Alabama and South Carolina in the final week, and that stumble means a much more difficult path to the finals relative to a third place finish. They still earned the double-bye and will advance to Friday, but they’ll be challenged right away in the quarterfinals. Arkansas upset the Aggies in the SEC semifinals a year ago, and the clash of styles between Gary Blair’s deliberate inside-the-paint squad and Arkansas’s bombs-away approach is always interesting.

Fortunately for the Aggies the players behind Carter were experienced and capable enough to prevent complete collapse without their star. N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson are among the SEC’s top ten in rebounding. Kayla Wells remains another strong scoring option at guard. This is very much a Gary Blair team: they don’t shoot a ton from outside, but they hit a decent percentage. They win with defense, protecting the rim, and owning the glass on both ends of the court. Throw in a typical night from Carter, and it’s a very successful formula. If Carter is out or having a poor night, as she did in the loss to Alabama, A&M will struggle to keep pace with teams in the top half of the league.

5) Arkansas (22-7, 10-6) (LY-10th, PS-5th): The Razorbacks were the surprise story of the 2019 tournament. They began as the #10 seed and pulled three upsets en route to the championship game. The offensive firepower of Arkansas was never in doubt, and they were able to put it all together for a deep run. Mike Neighbors’s team built on last season’s strong finish for a very respectable 2020 season that represents the program’s highest SEC win total. They didn’t vault to the top of the standings, but they have remained a borderline ranked team all season and proved that last year’s tournament run was no fluke. A couple of surprise losses to Georgia and Florida kept them just on the outside of the top four. As devastating as their offense can be, defense has been shaky at times and can have them on the wrong side of an up-tempo game if the offense isn’t in top form.

Chelsea Dungee continues to be one of the more dangerous scorers in the SEC, but she hasn’t had to match the ridiculous productivity she had a year ago. Arkansas spreads the scoring around and has three of the top eight scorers in the league. Any of the “Splash Sisters” (Dungee, Amber Ramirez, and Alexis Tolefree) can lead the team on a given night, and it’s a defensive nightmare to find and cover all three in Arkansas’s fast-paced offense. The Hogs lead even South Carolina with 84.4 PPG, and they lead the SEC in three pointers made and attempted as well as three point percentage. They can score inside off of rebounds or transition, but Arkansas will live or die with the outside shot.

6) Tennessee (20-9, 10-6) (LY-8th, PS-7th): With one former Lady Vol standout ousted after last season, Tennessee turned to another former Pat Summitt point guard to turn the program around. Kellie Harper survived the usual attrition after a coaching change and held on to a good signing class. The Lady Vols started strong with a 17-4 record and a 7-1 mark in the SEC. That record was a bit of a mirage as quality wins were few and far between. Tennessee dropped five straight in February as the conference schedule became more difficult. They righted the ship and closed the regular season with three straight wins, but even those wins featured a couple of too-close-for-comfort games against Vanderbilt and Auburn. The Lady Vols enter the postseason with 20 wins, but they’re still not on solid footing for the NCAA tournament. LSU is the lone quality win in their pocket and their only success against the top half of the league. A Friday matchup with Kentucky presents a great opportunity to enhance their credentials, but a loss on Thursday could be devastating.

Rennia Davis has had a productive junior campaign and leads the team in scoring. The Lady Vols are another team that leans on impact freshmen. Tamari Key’s 78 blocks lead the SEC. All-Freshman guard Jordan Horston is a matchup nightmare at 6’2″. But aside from Davis’s 18.3 PPG, there’s not a lot of punch to this team. There are a lot of good, if not great, pieces, and only three players average over 10 PPG. It’s no surprise that a Summitt pupil would continue Tennessee’s long tradition of relentless rebounding and matchup zone defense. The Lady Vols are the SEC’s tallest team, and they use their length to their advantage to disrupt passing lanes, alter shots, and secure rebounds on both ends. It’s become a broken record though – you’re not sure what you’re going to get with Tennessee, and their annual Bubble Watch is still very much a thing.

7) LSU (19-9, 9-7) (LY-9th, PS-6th): The Tigers lost star forward Ayana Mitchell in an early February game against Texas A&M. They were able to hang on for the upset win, but it’s been tough going since. LSU is 3-4 in games without Mitchell, and they’ve dropped four of their last five heading into the postseason. LSU has had some big wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, and a sweep of Texas A&M, and those wins should be enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. They’ve also fallen to Missouri, Georgia, and Auburn and could be vulnerable to an athletic Florida team in their SEC tournament opener. LSU was a low-scoring team even with Mitchell, and they rely on good defense and slow tempo to grind out wins. Forward Faustine Aifuwa has had to become the primary interior presence. Without Mitchell’s scoring, the backcourt has had to take on a larger role. Awa Trasi came on near the end of the season. Leading scorer Khayla Pointer is a classic penetrating guard. In typical LSU fashion, this isn’t a great team shooting the ball from outside, but they’ll generate offense with defense, score inside of 15 feet, and make an opponent earn everything they get.

8) Alabama (18-11, 8-8) (LY-11th, PS-11th): At the end of January Alabama was near the bottom of the conference at 2-6. They eeked out a one-point win at winless Ole Miss, avoiding a loss that might have sunk their season. That escape at Ole Miss was a turning point. Alabama went 6-2 in the second half of the conference schedule, losing only road games at Kentucky and Georgia by a total of five points. They enter the SEC tournament as one of the league’s hottest teams and are on a four-game winning streak that includes upset wins on the road against Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Even at 2-6 they had some very close losses including a buzzer-beating heartbreaker at Tennessee. This is a much-improved team, and they’ve gained confidence now that they’ve put a few wins together. The month of February took the Tide from a Wednesday play-in game to the precipice of the NCAA tournament. Alabama is one of the mythical “first four out” according to ESPN’s bracketology, and that leaves them with some very clear motivation in Greenville.

The Tide are led by a fleet of athletic wings and guards who can attack the basket or hit from outside. The offense runs through point guard Jordan Lewis who returns after a season-ending injury a year ago. Lewis is the team’s leading scorer but has also dished out 113 assists. Even at 5’7″, Lewis ins’t afraid to go to the rim. She’s the team’s third-leading rebounder and has attempted 150 free throws – almost twice as many as any other Alabama player. Forward Jasmine Walker is a dynamic wing who leads the team in three-point shooting but also rebounding. Cierra Johnson hasn’t been the force she was in 2019, but she’s still a capable scoring guard. The Tide also have a physical inside presence with Ariyah Copeland who can make teams pay for extending their defense.

9) Georgia (16-13, 7-9) (LY-7th, PS-10th): The Lady Dogs are right about where they were expected to be. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a topic for a separate post. For the second straight season, the Lady Dogs will need to win the tournament to continue their season. If that doesn’t happen, it will be the first time in program history that Georgia has missed consecutive NCAA tournaments. Georgia has been capable of high-level wins in games at Arkansas and LSU, but home losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, along with unremarkable nonconference results, all but ended Georgia’s hopes of an at-large bid.

Joni Taylor’s team is led by its large junior class. A lone senior, Stephanie Paul, contributes but is limited by chronic knee pain. A top 15 freshman class hasn’t really developed as hoped. The team usually needs a good night from three of its juniors to have a shot. Gabby Connally has been the team’s leading scorer, but she’s had to play out of position all season at point guard. All-SEC defender Que Morrison was lost for the season in late February. The story of the season has been the February emergence of center Jenna Stati. The Maryland transfer is scoring 11.5 PPG, but she’s averaged over 20 PPG in the last seven games and scored at least 15 points in 8 of the last 9 games. Her contribution has led the Lady Dogs to a 4-2 record to end the season even with Morrison sidelined.

There are some wildcards who could carry Georgia into the quarterfinals. Shaniya Jones is a streaky shooter who could put up double figures in a matter of minutes. Wing Maya Caldwell often has the opportunity for open jumpers. The team has been playing well enough to cool off a hot Alabama team and will almost always play with great effort defensively, but Georgia must do the little things to advance: hit layups, manage their foul load, and value possession without turnovers. Those haven’t been sure things this season, and that’s why the Lady Dogs are in the position of having to win the tournament.

10) Florida (15-14, 6-10) (LY-13th, PS-14th): Florida made measured progress this year and escaped the bottom four. Wins over Arkansas and Kentucky (minus Rhyne Howard) helped the team surpass meager preseason expectations and avoid a game on Wednesday. Much of the team’s progress has to do with the emergence of freshman wing Lavender Briggs. Briggs leads the team in scoring with nearly 15 PPG and is second on the team in rebounding. Fellow freshman Nina Rickards gives Florida another perimeter weapon. Forward Zada Williams is capable of a big game, but Florida has several quick players with good size who can cause matchup problems. Their issue this year has been putting the ball in the basket as they lag in shooting, free throw, and 3pt percentage. The Gators were 4-4 in February and could present a challenge to a reeling LSU team on Thursday.

11) Missouri (8-21, 5-11) (LY-5th, PS-9th): The Tigers lost a strong senior class that featured Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter, and their rebuilding year has been much tougher than expected. A win over LSU in January was the bright spot of the season, and they looked to be turning a corner in early February with a close loss against Arkansas and a win over Georgia. Losses in four of their last six leave them among the four teams playing on Wednesday. They should be able to get past Ole Miss, a team they swept during the regular season, but their season will likely end against Tennessee. Amber Smith was poised to take over as team leader following Cunningham and Porter, and she has had a solid season. But it’s been a pair of freshmen, Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank, who lead the team in scoring. That bodes well for the future, but it also helps to explain the slide this year.

12) Vanderbilt (14-15, 4-12) (LY-14th, PS-12th): This is progress, right? Vanderbilt doubled both their conference and overall win totals from a year ago. That still leaves them near the bottom of the standings, but they’re out of last place and will be wearing their home whites in an SEC tournament game. The Commodores raised a few eyebrows with a 10-3 nonconference mark that included a win over Washington and respectable losses to Rutgers and UConn. They started 2-1 in the SEC with convincing wins over Auburn and Georgia, and Stephanie White’s fourth season began to look much different from her first three. Reality set in over the rest of the conference slate: Ole Miss was their only other win for almost two months. Vandy has been playing better of late though. They had close single-digit losses at both Tennessee and LSU, and a fourth quarter outbust powered them to an upset of Kentucky on the final day of the season. Freshman forward Koi Love has been a great find and forms a productive frontcourt with Mariella Fasoula, but the team has struggled outside the arc. Jordyn Cambridge leads the conference in steals.

13) Auburn (10-17, 4-12) (LY-6th, PS-8th): It’s been a disappointing season for Auburn after a trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago. Junior Unique Thompson is a first team All-SEC selection and averages a double-double, but the Tigers have struggled to find her much help. Thompson and lone senior Daisa Alexander are the only upperclassmen on a team with 11 freshmen and sophomores, and Terri Williams-Flournoy’s squad took it on the chin during this rebuilding year. There are signs of improvement: in February the Tigers took Mississippi State to overtime, beat LSU, and lost to Tennessee by a point in the season finale. They won’t be afraid of a quarterfinal game against Arkansas if they can get past Vanderbilt, a team with which they split the season series.

14) Ole Miss (7-22, 0-16) (LY-12th, PS-13th): Coach Yo struggled to find a breakthrough win this season, and it’s unfortunate that the team’s most newsworthy moment came from scoring two points in the first half against South Carolina. To their credit, the team has continued to fight and has come close to several wins. They’ve lost to Georgia by seven, Florida by two, and Alabama by just one point. Ole Miss will welcome a solid recruiting class to Oxford next season and should soon be a much more competitive team.

Post How other sports handle one-time transfers

Friday February 28, 2020

I’ve been waiting for a piece like this for a while. The one-time transfer exception seemed like a good idea a year ago when everyone was up in arms about the transfer portal. Since most sports operate that way already, I thought it was reasonable to ask how they managed.

It would be interesting to see coaches interviewed from other sports who have had to deal with unrestricted transfers for years…These coaches live in this world already and could provide some good insight on how to manage a program.

Nicole Auerbach did just that. It’s at The Athletic and behind the paywall, but what she finds shouldn’t surprise anyone. Recommended reading.

The key takeaway is that these coaches have adapted to their transfer process, and there are just as many ways to stretch a different set of rules. Coaches don’t explicitly recruit players who haven’t announced an intent to transfer. Instead the backchannel work is done with a club coach or other third party, and the player magically has a destination not long after they announce their intent to transfer. The transfer market will have to be considered as another source for improving the roster even more than it is today. Coaches will have to balance a full recruiting class with the flexibility of keeping a few scholarships in reserve for transfers. Yes, adjustments will be required, but “none of these coaches are turning over huge portions of their roster each year.”

One scenario I hadn’t considered was suggested by a soccer coach. He “can absolutely envision a world where high-major or elite Power 5 football coaches tell a recruit that he’s not quite good enough to play at School X right now, but he could be after a good season at School Y. Those coaches could maintain the relationship with the recruit and circle back a year later, eventually adding him as an up-transfer.”

Is that not the next evolution of blue/grayshirting?