The phone lines lit up this week, and the message boards had never been more crowded. Yes, the Georgia Bulldogs must have lost a bowl game.
Or maybe it was just another disappointing season. If a team is ranked sixth in a preseason poll and finishes 8-5, then yes, that’s a disappointing season.
Here we are in that same old quandary Bulldogs fans occasionally find themselves in from time to time. They feel this program can be better, can be like Alabama or even Auburn, but yet they like head coach Mark Richt personally so much they just can’t fathom anyone else on the sideline.
But that sentiment is changing rapidly. It’s almost like you have to pick a side now. You’re either a pro-Richt supporter or you wonder aloud now if Georgia could simply do better.
It is a dilemma, since Richt has been successful in his 13 years. Was this year a successful season? Well, it was a winning season. You cannot deny that. But an 8-5 record is not successful, not in the SEC where teams play for national championships.
Richt “lost” me in 2008, when Alabama rolled into Athens on a blackout Saturday and stunned second-ranked Georgia. The early 31-0 lead for Alabama was ridiculous, and even though the Bulldogs bounced back to make it a respectable 41-30 final score, it was an embarrassing performance. After that game, I never really believed Richt could get Georgia over that final hump and make the Bulldogs a national champion.
Richt had a .800 winning percentage as Georgia’s head coach heading into that game. Since then, the Bulldogs have a .656 winning percentage. That’s a big difference. Meanwhile, that game for Alabama arguably propelled the Crimson Tide to the run they have been on ever since, which has included three national titles.
Georgia hasn’t won a SEC championship since 2005. So the past eight seasons the Bulldogs have failed to achieve their main goal. And what has happened in seven of those eight seasons? SEC teams have won seven of the national championships, and Auburn could extend that streak to eight if the Tigers beat Florida State on Monday.
And let’s be honest. The SEC East has changed. Florida is now in shambles. Tennessee has been a dumpster fire for six years. Georgia’s overall record has actually gotten worse as its division has also seen a downturn.
Georgia could have lost this year at Tennessee. The Bulldogs were lucky Florida didn’t come back and beat them in Jacksonville, and then they were lucky again they bounced back against Georgia Tech after being down 20-0. If they had lost one of those three games, the Bulldogs would be 7-6 instead of 8-5.
There were injuries. There was adversity. But the defense was never a championship-caliber defense. Where was the development? Why wasn’t the defense better late in the year compared to early in the season?
This program can do better, but fans must expect the program to do better. What do Georgia fans want, a team that simply wins but yet falls short of the regular high expectations or a team that can mirror what other SEC programs do and compete for a national championship?
Georgia is regularly looked at nationally as the most underachieving program in the SEC. Is that good considering a head coach has been in place for 13 years? Richt is comfortable in his job. He might have no clue how upset fans are, but he needs to understand that after a season like this, people are just not happy.
The longer Richt is there, the higher the expectations should be. But if the fans don’t let the administration, particularly athletics director Greg McGarity, know of their displeasure, there will be a genuine belief that as long as this program has winning seasons, everything is just fine.
Meanwhile, how will Georgia fans feel Monday night if Auburn wins the national championship? How will it feel to see yet another SEC team win it all while the Bulldogs cannot even beat a bad Nebraska team in the Gator Bowl?
Perhaps it will inspire them to pick up the pen and write a letter, or maybe send an email, and let someone in power in Athens know that they are simply not going to take many 8-5 seasons anymore.
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. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.