Mailbag: The thanks for football edition

semerson@macon.comNovember 21, 2012 

ATHENS - It's the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least that's what I'm told by the radio, which once again is belching out Christmas songs way ... too ... early. I know, it's played out to complain about this, but this year it got worse:

Thanksgiving is earlier than usual. Normally it's the final Thursday in November, but we're still nine days from the start of December. (The day of the SEC championship game.) The result of this is a bit of Christmas Creep, where radio stations try to sneak in Nat King Cole, Wham and other assorted groups. In fact, is there anyone that hasn't released a Christmas album at some point? I'm pretty sure 2 Live Crew's "We wish you an (expletive) season, you (expletives)" touched us all.)

And I say this as someone who likes Christmas music. But ... at the appropriate time. Preferably, not until December, but at minimum not before Thanksgiving. Not too much to ask, is it?

Harrumpf. Anyway, it's always the season for the mailbag, and with the time of year as busy as it ever is, let's get into it.

Seth: Love your writing and reporting. I had a horrible nightmare that Georgia managed to beat Georgia Tech and Alabama, but Murray was injured in a practice leading up to the National Championship Game. In this scenario (or in a scenario where Murray goes out early in National Championship Game), would Richt pull Mason's redshirt, or has Parker Welch shown enough that they'd give him the opportunity to play. I guess my real question is, with the next two, perhaps three games being as critical as they are, what is the backup situation?
- Evan Smola, Chicago

That’s a question that really hasn’t gotten enough attention, and I say that as someone who’s written a couple stories about it. I wrote one as recently as last week.

Mason told me recently the plan is that if Murray gets hurt during a game, then Welch (or LeMay) goes in at first, they evaluate Murray, and if he’s out for the game, then they decide. The coaches have declined to get into what exactly the situation has to be for Mason to play, so I really can’t offer up anything but speculation. Which I’d rather not do.

It’s really a fascinating situation, and if the scenario you describe happens, or something similar to it, I think the only people who know for sure what will happen are Mark Richt and Mike Bobo. That’s it, that’s the list.

1-Seth, Happy Thanksgiving. It looks like Bulldog nation received an early Christmas present this weekend. Possibly a chance to control our own destiny this late in the season is great. However, having seen us get hosed out of playing for the BCS game in 2007, let’s say I’m a little cautious about our chances, even if we run the table. Which brings me to my question…Does Mark Richt have a PR person? God love him, but even if the Dawgs beat Tech and Alabama, he will be asked some difficult questions on national TV and he hasn’t proven himself all that good at stating his case for the BCS voters. There will be several coaches interviewed on TV and all will be making the case that A) Oregon/KState/FSU is more deserving to play ND and B) Georgia isn’t. Please tell me that Coach Richt has someone who is semi media-savvy to craft for him answers to all the BS questions Mark May or Kirk Herbstreit will be posing to get somebody other than Georgia into the final game. Richt saying “That’s a good question Kirk, we’ll just have to let the voters decide” is not going to cut it with so much on the line. 2-Second question, if you’re thinking of deep frying a turkey in your garage, when is the appropriate time to call the fire department? All I know is the video needs to be recording the minute the fryer is turned on.
- Paul in St. Louis

1-Richt isn’t going to need to push Georgia’s case if it wins out, or at least that’s the way it looks. I checked with two BCS analysts on whether there was any change for Oregon (or anyone else) to leap Georgia. Jerry Palm of gave me a flat “no.” Brad Edwards of ESPN said:

“If there is a chance, it would require Auburn to beat Alabama and Stanford to lose to UCLA, thereby opening the door for Oregon to win the Pac-12 title and boost its schedule strength. I see no way that Georgia vs Alabama wouldn’t be a de facto national semifinal if both teams are 11-1.”

So there you go.

2-My suggestion is that you proceed with that deep fryer process only after you’ve double-checked that your homeowners insurance is up to date. Speaking of which, thanks for reminding me.

First of all, thank you for the excellent work and have an wonderful Thanksgiving. I have been very impressed with the Stanford offensive line. In your games observed and attended this year, what are the best units; ie, offensive line, backs, defensive backs, etc, you have seen this year.

Second question and in this one I am showing my ignorance. Who is the trumpter in your call for mailbag? Gabriel, Moroni, ????
- Rodney Pridgeon, Huntsville, Al.

I’ll keep it to best units I’ve seen in person, and go through them in order: Georgia’s quarterback, Georgia’s running backs, Tennessee’s receivers (tied with Georgia’s), Tennessee’s offensive line (yes, believe it or not) South Carolina’s defensive line, Georgia’s linebackers, South Carolina’s secondary, Florida’s special teams.

I honestly don’t know who the trumpeter is. I’d guess it’s Gabriel, but to be honest I just looked for a good photo on the wire that signified “summon the questions” and that’s the best I could do. I’ll be on the lookout for a better one.

1- Could this be one of the more mediocre Heisman ballot's in recent memory? Who is your vote right now.

2- Where do you stand on the NHL lockout? Is Gary Bettman the worst commissioner is sports history? He makes Bud Selig look competent.
- Eric Kreibel, Athens

1-It depends on how you look at it. Frankly if Johnny Manziel weren’t a freshman I’m guessing he would be the runaway winner right now. He may be anyway. The fact Manziel came out of nowhere and didn’t have an established reputation may also contribute to the idea this isn’t a strong field. Essentially he’s having the year Matt Barkley was expected to have. (Without the rushing stats). The Heisman Trust has asked voters not to publicize their votes, and I’ll honor that. But the previous few sentences may show you which way I’m leaning. (Emphasis on leaning.)

2-Gary Bettman vs. Donald Fehr … oy. I haven’t followed the lockout too closely, but what I’ve read makes me think the owners are more in the wrong. And yes, Bettman has to go on the list of worst commissioners. On some level he was fighting against the grain of history, as was Selig, as their sports have been overwhelmed by football and basketball in demographic advantages. But Bettman made it worse, especially by allowing teams from small but loyal hockey markets (not just Canada, but Minnesota and Hartford) to go south. Literally, go south, to the U.S. As we’ve seen, it hasn’t worked, and – don’t hate me, Atlanta sports fans – hopefully the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg is a sign of things to come.

In an effort to provide you relief from all of the championship-related questions, I wanted to ask for some help on a question that has been on my mind: Looking ahead to next year, can you give us a breakdown of what the starting roster will most likely look like and what our key questions will be after this season? It would be great if you could take into account who will probably leave in the draft and the incoming class of recruits and their likelihood of starting. I know we are really far out for this question so I understand if you want to shelve this for the future.
- Jackson

Oh my. I won’t be able to provide a projected starting lineup or anything like that, because we don’t know who’s coming back, and there’s a lot of key decisions in recruiting that will have a bearing on that. For instance, if Georgia can get Laremy Tuncil out of Florida, then he may very well be the starting left tackle next season.

And the Murray question on offense will loom large. Most people expect him to return for his senior year, but if he doesn’t then that changes a lot. But if he returns, you’re looking at a loaded offense.

Defensively, as everyone expected there will be massive turnover, since I have yet to speak to anybody who expects Jarvis Jones or Alec Ogletree to return. But it’s not totally bleak, considering the presence of Jordan Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Garrison Smith, Damian Swann – and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who I expect to get a lot more playing time next year. Then a lot of incoming recruits have a real chance to start right away.

Just watched the Indiana game. Think Bob Knight likes shooting 3s? Also, what offensive sets does Mark Fox like to run? They appeared to run a lot of low post screens, but settled for mostly bad 3s when they couldn't get the ball down.
- Gordon Smith, Austin, Texas

This was a 3-point shooting team last year, which lived and died with the outside shot. I’m not sure that will change too much this year because the nature of the personnel hasn’t changed; it’s still deficient in the post. What Georgia may have learned, since the disaster that was last week, is how to overcome that with some screens and ball movement to create something resembling decent inside shots. You’re correct, that you can’t just keep hosting 3s. They need to be able to take inside shots, even if they make less than half of them, because it will open up the offense for more open 3-pointers.

It bears noting that the Bulldogs looked MUCH better in those two games in New York. They lost, but led at halftime against No. 1 Indiana and No. 11 UCLA. And while Indiana pulled away in the second half, the game with UCLA stayed close to the end. That’s a mark of progress, and it will be interesting to see whether it carries into the net few games, where the competition is back to the level of Southern Miss and Youngstown State.

Very quietly (if that is possible), Aaron Murray is having an excellent year. This is a big IF, but IF he can lead UGA to wins in its next two games, is it time to consider the argument that he might be the most successful quarterback in UGA history? He owns (or will own) several UGA passing records, he will have matched David Greene's success in SEC Championship play, and will have a shot to lead UGA to its first NCAA Championship since 1980, all with a year of eligiblity left? Would like to hear your thoughts
- Josh Cahill, Milton

I agree with you. Principally, I agree with you that it’s a big IF, but also that getting to the BCS title game – win or lose in Miami – is a step beyond what Greene did. At a minimum it equals Greene’s biggest team accomplishment, an SEC championship, and as you point out Murray already is ahead of Greene statistically.

Murray won’t ever equal Green’s winning percentage, thanks to that freshman year mark of 6-7. (Much of which wasn’t his fault.) But an SEC championship, or two, would cancel that out.

I have heard there are some minor differences between the way Southern and Tech run their offenses. Besides throwing the ball more, could you explain any of those idiosyncrasies that may be helpful to know heading into this week?
- "Dawgs13", Atlanta

It’s a good question, but one that’s hard to get a firm grasp on. Grantham, when asked that this week, talked in non-specifics, saying: "They still have similar concepts as far as running the fullback and trying to get the ball on the edge with the quarterback, and those kind of things. They just try to do get to it a different way, whether it be with motion or formations or things like that."

In other words, the playbook is different, so you won’t see the exact run plays. Georgia Tech also passes more: The Yellow Jackets are averaging 136 passing yards a game, more than twice more than Georgia Southern.

What exactly are head coaches talking to each other about in the pre-game time?
- David, Athens

That's a great subject for a feature down the road. I've never really spoken to any head coaches about that, but I suspect it's a bunch of small talk, and discussion about families. The coaching business is small enough that a lot of these guys have known each other for years. These are guys that understand each other and the pressures of the job, so they might be comparing notes on that too. They could be complaining about their boss, just like we do, or about the fans or media.

I'd love to be invisible so I could eavesdrop on the pre-SEC championship game conversation between Nick Saban and Richt. That is, if there is one other than to say hello.

Seth, you're a Maryland grad, right? What are your thoughts on the move?
- Chad Peltier, via Twitter

Your alma mater, Maryland, is moving to the Big 10. I don’t understand how this benefits either party. Frankly, I think both football and basketball are currently stronger in the ACC. Is this a preemptive measure because they see other teams (namely FSU) jumping ship? Please enlighten us.
- Chris D. Lee, Carrollton

Sigh … From a personal perspective, this is sad. Maryland was a charter member of the ACC, and I grew up watching games on Tobacco Road. It was a part of the culture of Maryland, and now 59 years of tradition is gone. Most of my fellow alumni and fans feel the same way: This move is made with little glee, and any passion about it isn’t in favor, it’s against. Texas A&M was excited to get into the SEC. Missouri was at least excited to get out of the Big 12. Nebraska was too when it got in the Big Ten. Rutgers is ecstatic to excite the Big East.

But Maryland is by no means excited by this. So why do it? Well, it’s debatable. But beyond the money – which is the main reason, and the second reason, and the third reason – the fact is the ACC I grew up with is gone. Adding Florida State in 1991 was fine. But when the league raided the Big East in the early 2000s, it made football the priority – and then didn’t get better in football. And it took away what was best about basketball, which was every team playing each other twice a year, home-and-home, and then an intimate, exciting ACC tournament at the end of the year.

The ACC was a great league when it was known for being the best basketball league in the country, and occasionally some good football. But then it made the play for football … and look what happened.

That’s the only thing that makes this separation palatable: Maryland would not be leaving the ACC of the pre-2005 days. The current one, however, is easier to depart. Which leads to the other part …

There’s a chance this will be a breaking point that ultimately leads to the four 16-team conferences. If that happens, the only question is whether the ACC or Big 12 is left standing. The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 are safe. A year ago, it looked like it would be the Big 12 to implode. Now it’s the ACC in mortal danger.

People at Duke, for instance, are worried that North Carolina could be plied away by the Big Ten, which also may have its eyes on Georgia Tech. (Big markets, big cable subscriber fees.) As for the SEC, I’ve always felt that N.C. State and Virginia Tech made sense from a demographic and cultural standpoint. Not saying it will happen, but keep an eye on it.

I spotted Goldberg come through the DawgWalk. Do you know if he did anything with the team before the game? Or was he just riding coattails that day? And, I was hoping Sanford Stadium would have started chanting....."GOLDBERG! GOLDBERG!". It would have taken me back.
- Jim in Blackshear

This, I have to be honest, escaped my notice, and I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone on the team about it. If anybody out there has an answer for Jim, please feel free to chime in.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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