ATHENS Aaron Murray described watching the BCS championship game on Tuesday night as being painful. And yes, from all appearances we can now conclude that Georgia was not only five yards from being in the national title game, but five yards from Brent Musberger hitting on Murrays sister.
(Incidentally, I didnt find what Musberger said to be rising to the need of an apology. It was a silly moment for the venerable announcer, but I can list hundreds of other things ESPN should apologize for before arriving at that one.)
But the utter carnage we saw on Monday night was another example of why a playoff is not only necessary, but should be instituted right away. Oregon was almost certainly the second-best team in the country, or at least the one team outside the SEC capable of giving Alabama a fight. Look at it this way: If Georgia can overcome its loss at South Carolina and almost reach the title game, and if Alabama can overcome its loss to Texas A&M, then Oregon shouldve gotten a chance to overcome its loss to Stanford.
Under the present, soon-to-be-obsolete system, Notre Dame vs. Alabama had to be the national title game. There was no other logical choice (nations lone unbeaten team, which beat three top 25 teams) vs. the champion from the best conference. And it still ended up being non-competitive.
1. Notre Dame vs. 4. Oregon 2. Alabama vs. 3. Florida
Those are the semis you get out of the soon-to-arrive system, if you go by the BCS standings. (Which will be replaced by a committee in the new system.) Based on the Sugar Bowl, the Gators didnt really belong either, which is why I still think an eight-team playoff is the right number. Still, a four-team playoff would at least have given us Alabama-Oregon, in all probability.
And again, this is why college football shouldnt wait, and should immediately adopt the system thats coming anyway. It wont happen, in all likelihood. Too many contracts, too much bureaucracy, committees, etc. Whereas last year Major League Baseball decided to add another wild card and did so right away. The NCAA tournament expands and doesnt wait either.
College football moves at too much of a snails pace. But at least its moving.
Now that Ive said my piece, on to the mailbag, where as always we begin with people who blow smoke up my butt:
First, I would like to say, I very much appreciate all the hard work you put in this season. You did a great job of keeping us all very much informed throughout the football season. Now to my question. Though I know I am a bit biased, as a Dawg lover and a ND hater, how on earth can your colleagues, and the coaches of America for that matter, in good conscience vote Notre Dame in the top 5 of the final polls?? You would think after the shellacking they just received at the hands of Bama they would be more in the range you voted them in, but #3 and #4 is laughable.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the kind words. Although I have to think youd be less complimentary if I were one of the writers putting Notre Dame over Georgia.
I cant speak for my fellow voters; we vote on our own and dont share notes. I can cite one other voter, Hays Carolyn of the Florida Times-Union, who tweeted that he voted Notre Dame higher based on each teams losses: Notre Dame (12-1) got crushed by national champ. Georgia (11-2) got crushed by Outback Bowl champs. S. Carolina 35, #Dawgs 7. You can't fixate on bowl games when compiling your final ballot. Must look at the whole resume.
I dont think its wrong to feel that way. I dont agree with it, but its fair to feel that way. And in the long run I dont think it matters much between third and fourth (in the coaches poll) or fourth and fifth (in the AP poll, though tied for fifth). Either way, Georgia finished in the top 5 nationally, and years from now few will remember the exact order.
With Murray coming back, will his graduate work last him that long? I thought maybe he was already close to earning is graduate degree....
I asked him about this on Tuesday. Murray said hes going to take a little break from his psychology track and try some broadcasting classes.
I think my time on ESPN the other day got me kinda excited, Murray said.
Still, youre talking about someone who by the time hes done playing football will have owned his bachelors degree for more than 18 months. It used to be unusual for players to be graduate students, but now its becoming the norm.
1. How do the SEC haters not realize the conference is far and away the most dominant one in the country?
2. I'm really excited about our prospects next season with most of our offense coming back, including two stud RBs and the soon-to-be record holder of all SEC passing statistics in the backfield. However, we obviously will have a lot of new faces on defense and will face two tough early season tests with Clemson and South Carolina (As Dabo put it, USC is in California and Carolina is in Chapel Hill). Having said that, how likely do you think it is it that we end up back in Atlanta and finally manage to win?
- Lucas Puente, East Palo Alto, CA
1. Are there really people out there who still feel that way? Youre out there in California, so perhaps you hear it more. But I cant think that anyone honestly feels that way. The evidence is pretty overwhelming. The only way to hate on the SEC is to say the conference is great because it spends all the money, it cheats, the players dont go to class, yada yada yada. But theres no disputing the superiority of the football being played.
2. You nailed it, as far as the opening stretch, and you should include LSUs visit to Athens in Week 4. (Yes, the Tigers have lost about half their team to the NFL draft, but its LSU.) Right now I would lean towards making Georgia the favorite in each of those three games, but can the Bulldogs sweep all three or at least two of them, because as weve seen one loss is in all likelihood survivable. The rest of the schedule has potential pitfalls as well: What if Tennessee is better under Butch Jones? What if Auburn is better under Gas Malzann? Both of those games are on the road. And we havent even mentioned the Florida game.
On the face of it, Murrays return makes the success of 2013 hinge on the defense, and how quickly it can mesh into a decent unit. And decent is all it needs to be if the offense lives up to expectations. As I said this week on Twitter: For all the talent leaving, it still was only an average SEC defense in 2012.
I am just thankful for a good year and a year that has made us relevant again. I thought our offense made the most improvement of all. No longer are we predictable, but we are capable of scoring on every drive. We ran different schemes that even the best defenses have trouble stopping. Our defense did good at times, but for the most part struggled to stop the run. It really was a factor against Alabama and South Carolina. My question is do you think that Grantham's 3-4 might be more focused on putting pressure on the QB and less on stopping the run? Do you think it may need some tweaking this off season to better account for the run?
- Larry W. Tucker
I wouldnt say its a matter of too much focus on the pass-rush: If it were, John Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and others would have had more sacks. The run defense was pretty good in 2011, whether it was up the gut or along the edges with the exception of against Marcus Lattimore. And lots of people had problems with him.
The main problem, as Ive said before, is a combination of the wrong personnel on the field, and not substituting enough. I never really bought the idea of playing John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers together, and early in the season that came at the expense of Garrison Smith. Once Abry Jones got hurt, the lineup of Jenkins-Geathers-Smith became the norm, but that prevented Geathers and Jenkins from getting much rest. Last year, when the run defense was at its best, the two nose tackles were rotating. And it wasnt a scholarship numbers issue: Ray Drew, Sterling Bailey and others were available but didnt play much.
Im not a defensive line coach, or a defensive coordinator, but I would have let Jenkins and Geathers rotate at nose tackle, and only occasionally flex Jenkins out to end. I would have rotated more at end between Jones (when healthy), Smith, Cornelius Washington, Drew and Bailey. The inside linebackers also figure into this, and while there was depth at that spot, there were times this year that the backups hardly played.
It will be interesting to see if this changes much in 2013, due to Chris Wilson replacing Rodney Garner as the line coach. While Garner was in charge of subbing on the line, as I said there wasnt a lot of subbing at inside linebacker either, and Garner said publicly during the season he was going to try to sub more then it didnt happen. It makes you wonder if it was more a Grantham thing.
Who is the leading candidate to start alongside Herrera at the other inside linebacker position? Also, is Josh Harvey-Clemons competing for the strong safety or free safety position?
- Patrick from Tybee Island
Your two questions are intimately connected. Harvey-Clemons could end up being the other guy at inside linebacker, but hed have to put on some weight. He has said he wants to play at safety, but he has also said he didnt learn very much this year at safety so hell basically be a rookie there. I think where Harvey-Clemons ends up is the major question on defense right now, other than Kwame Geathers decision. (At press time, he hasnt announced anything, and my best efforts to reach him or a family member have not been successful.)
If its not Harvey-Clemons at ILB, then the most likely guy could be Ramik Wilson, who has rotated between the inside and outside spots. I also wouldnt rule out Ryne Rankin. Two other recruits Reggie Carter (already enrolled) and Kim Kimbrough (set to sign) could be factors. But remember, Grantham also seems to prefer guys that have been around the know the system. Which means you cant rule out Brandon Burrows either.
Other than the early suspensions, what do you think is the primary reason for the defense underachieving? What do you expect from the defense in 2013?
- Jim Bennett
You mentioned the suspensions, I mentioned the substituting a bit ago. The other factor I can add, and its mainly speculative, is mental: Too many guys assuming theyd just show up and be just as good as in 2011. Thats why Shawn Williams was getting at when he went on his diatribe.
The expectations for the defense should be, in my mind, to be a mid-tier SEC defense. Thats fair considering the amount of players that are leaving, but the ones still around Jordan Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Damian Swann and Garrison Smith is a pretty decent core. (And if Geathers were to surprise people and return, then youve got a big physical nose tackle to build the defense around.) The team also has confidence in Sheldon Dawson to be a No. 2 cornerback, and guys like Harvey-Clemons, Ray Drew, Josh Dawson and Sterling Bailey could do well in bigger roles. The big question is going to be at nose tackle if Geathers leaves, and whether the team can find two safeties that wont embarrass themselves.
What was going on with Shawn Williams and Taylor Martinez? Did something happen early in the game I missed?
- Gordon, Austin TX
Honestly, I didnt see this but considering the two players involved, it shouldnt be surprising there was some sort of back-and-forth. Williams, incidentally, hasnt spoken to the media in some time only once since his famous diatribe. I actually asked him on the field after the game if hed talk to us now that his career is over, and he smiled, tapped me on the arm and said, I might. Then he didnt. Now I cant wait for Pro Day.
Murray has broken several UGA records. What are they? What other UGA records will he be chasing next year? Also, who owns the SEC records in those categories, and are they within his grasp?
Here are the notable ones:
Records Murray has broken:
- Passing yards in a season: 3,893 this season (previous record was 3,525 by Eric Zeier in 1993.)
- Career passing touchdowns: 95 (previous record was 72 by David Greene from 2001-04).
- Pass efficiency rating in a season: 174.82 this season (previous record was Mike Bobo, 155.80 in 1997).
- Passing touchdowns in a season: 36 this season (previous record was 35, by Murray last year, and prior to that it was Matt Staffords 25 in 2008.)
- Career passing yards: David Greene (11,528) has the record, Murray has 10,0091.
- Career completions: David Greene (849) has the record, Murray has 696.
- Single-season completion percentage: Mike Bobo had 65.03 in 1997. Murray came close this year, at 64.5.
And then theres this:
- Career completion percentage: Zeier (59.77 percent) has the record, Murray is at 61.5 percent. So Murray is putting that one on the line by coming back.
Any plans to use Faton Bauta in short yardage and red zone? Like OU's Bell-dozer?
- Trey Young, via Twitter
Nothing was mentioned this year because Bauta was redshirting. And I wouldnt consider it a strong possibility for next year, now that Murray is coming back and talking about trying to improve his running ability. But you never know, especially since Bauta is available to use.
With Murray coming back it seems like we will be an elite offensive team and we have tons of young talent on defense. Do you think we will be stout enough defensively to slow down Clemson and South Carolina early in the season? With all the younger guys likely to see time I'm worried about giving up big plays early in the season but unfortunately it won't be against a bad Buffalo team. That doesn't mean I want to see a veteran in there like Connor Norman just because he's a vet (no offense to him, he's a good special teams player).
The schedule actually works against Georgia this year, as the defense will have to be on its game from the start, rather than getting some time to gel and work out the kinks. Over the past three seasons, Grantham has shown he will rely on veterans who know the system, so based on that youd say the starting lineup against Clemson will include the likes of Norman, Chase Vasser, Mike Thornton and others. But who knows, maybe Grantham uses the spring to work in the current youngsters who havent played much (Harvey-Clemons, Dawson, etc.) and the early enrollees (Rankin, Tray Matthews, Chris Mayes, etc.)
I thought the special teams (with the exception of FG kicking) did very well this year. I am not sure if the stats back this up but our coverage teams always seem to do a great job. In that regard, does UGA really need a special teams only coach?
Along those same lines, Mr. (Marshall) Morgan needs some work. It's one thing to miss a few field goals, but most times he's not even in the neighborhood. It didn't really end up costing the Dawgs this year, but at some point that position has to have some improvement. Are there any other options internally in terms of other kickers?
There are walk-ons, but the main backup this year, Jamie Lindley, is a senior who is leaving the program. There hasnt been any inkling of signing anybody, you have to think Morgan is the guy. He certainly was erratic at times this year, but something to remember: As a freshman, Blair Walsh was 15-for-23, and inconsistent enough that Brandon Bogotay was brought in as a preferred walk-on.
Mark Richt is planning on serving as sort of the place-kicking coach. Who knows what kind of effect that will have. But I do know that Richt agrees with you that there isnt a crying need for an all-encompassing special teams coordinator. And the performance this year while not quite sterling was enough to make it less of an issue.
Heard (ESPN.coms) Chris Low say several times he thinks Richt might hang it up in the next 2-3 years for ministry work. Truth to that?
- Robert Bruce, via Twitter
Well, if I knew if it was true I probably wouldnt bury it at the end of the mailbag. All I can tell you for sure is hes not hanging it up after this season. (Richt has a year-end wrap-up teleconference scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and hes continuing to recruit and work as normal.)
Its always possible Richt will retire to go build homes in the Honduras. That could happen at any time. But what people also have to remember is that Richt believes his current calling is to be at Georgia, be a football coach and affect young peoples lives that way. So until he believes thats not Gods plan for him anymore, Richt will be the coach at Georgia.