Loss will bring about questions

sports@macon.comJanuary 4, 2012 

On the surface, Georgia’s 2011 season will look successful. The Bulldogs were 10-4. A 10-win season doesn’t happen every year, which is something that head coach Mark Richt will undoubtedly remind us about for the next nine months.

But the Outback Bowl on Monday in Tampa, Fla., against Michigan State was a description of the entire season in many ways. There was a lot of good, as we saw in the first half when the Bulldogs shut out the Spartans. There was a lot of bad, with more inconsistency at running back and questions about the coaching.

And then you get to special teams. Brandon Boykin did what he has done all year -- be a force in punt returns with an impressive 92-yard touchdown. But then place-kicker Blair Walsh did what he has done all year -- miss field goals.

It’s not all on Walsh. Many can be blamed for Monday’s loss. You can blame Richt for being too loyal to Walsh and making more odd decisions. You can blame offensive coordinator Mike Bobo for an awkward offensive game plan. You can blame running backs for not being able to play. You can blame Aaron Murray for a few awful passes.

These are the things, however, that are keeping Georgia from being a great team. The Bulldogs were good in 2011, but even Richt said Monday that it was simply a good season and not great.

They bookended the season with losses, and in between, the Bulldogs had a 10-game winning streak against a number of bad/mediocre teams. They won those 10 games, but let’s be honest -- they were lucky against Vanderbilt, Florida and Kentucky and not particularly impressive against Mississippi and Tennessee.

Thank goodness for the Auburn game, right Georgia fans?

Critics are going to correctly say that Georgia didn’t beat anybody good this year. All of Georgia’s wins came against teams outside the latest top 25 rankings, while the four losses came against teams in the top 12 of The Associated Press poll.

Perhaps this is just the normal progression for a team coming off a 6-7 season. Maybe to expect more than this would be foolish. But it’s ironic that the same questions that were in play to begin the season after Georgia started 0-2 are still being asked after the Bulldogs lost the final two games of the season.

There is no way anyone can feel good about the Georgia running game right now. The Bulldogs are going to once again have to lean on a freshman running back next year to be productive. Georgia can’t count on Isaiah Crowell, who stayed hurt and has other questions that make you wonder if he’ll even be around in September.

Some fans are asking about Murray’s ability to be a true big-time quarterback. He can look very good, as he did Monday throwing some long passes. But then he can look awful, as he did when he threw two interceptions. He threw for a lot of yards and touchdowns, but many still wonder if Murray can get it done.

And then there’s Richt, who is going to get a contract extension. That’s how college football works. Coaches have to get security in order to recruit future talent. But now he’s going to face a season in which the expectations are going to be sky high. When teams win 10 games, fans are going to want more, and rightfully so.

Richt can get by with gloating about a 10-win season now, coming off a six-win season last year. But that won’t work if that’s all he can brag about in 12 months.

Georgia has an easy schedule next season. The Bulldogs probably will win 10 games again. But can they beat South Carolina, which may be even better next season? Can Georgia win the conference, which would be expected if it wins the division a second straight season? Can Georgia beat anybody that is actually a good team?

After what we saw Monday, I can honestly say that I don’t know. For a team that won 10 games in 2011, Georgia seems to still have a lot to prove.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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