ATHENS — Mark Richt spent Sunday at the Georgia football offices but not looking at film of the loss to Georgia Tech. He and his staff were recruiting, hosting five official visitors and meeting to plan recruiting trips.
Georgia’s season isn’t over, as there still remains a bowl. But the coaching staff’s immediate focus is on the future and improving on this year’s 9-3 record.
There are mitigating factors: The Todd Gurley suspension, and the first year of a new defensive staff. Still, Richt indicated that expectations should be and still are high.
“It’s hard to sit here and act all giddy about what happened,” Richt said of this season. “I mean we want to win the East and win the SEC. And we want to be a team competing and winning some national championships. Obviously there were some things that were a little different that we had to manage.
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“I know we are on the right track. I mean I am so very excited about what’s going on here at Georgia and what’s happening with our recruiting and our staff and how we have established some things that have been outstanding, or will continue to be in some cases, and I think we’re getting our players to buy in 100 percent, and when we keep doing that and keep recruiting like we are, great things are gonna happen.”
Richt was then asked how close he feels Georgia is to again being a national championship contender.
“Well, I mean how close were we to going to Atlanta and having a chance to get in the thing?” Richt said. “We were probably closer than we think.”
Indeed, Georgia entered Friday with a shot to play in the SEC championship and an outside shot of getting into the College Football Playoff. But Missouri’s win Friday over Arkansas ended those hopes, and Georgia Tech sent the Bulldogs into the bowl season on a terribly sour note with Saturday’s 30-24 decision.
But a big part of Richt’s optimism lies in what his staff was doing Sunday. Georgia’s recruiting class currently ranks third in the nation, per the 247Sports Composite, trailing only Alabama and Florida State. It already includes one of the nation’s top overall prospects, defensive tackle Trent Thompson of Albany, and the Bulldogs are still in contention for a number of other elite prospects, including defensive end Josh Sweat of Norfolk, Virginia.
The Bulldogs also received their 25th commitment for this year’s class Sunday, junior college linebacker Chuks Amaechi. As for current members of the team, a number face decisions on whether to turn pro. Gurley is expected to turn pro despite his ACL surgery. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins also will consider it. Offensive tackle John Theus is leaning toward returning, and if Kolton Houston receives a sixth year from the NCAA, the offensive line will have four starters returning.
BOWL FATE UNKNOWN
Richt said he had no idea on Georgia’s bowl destination, saying he was “at a loss” because of the new selection format.
Most likely, the Bulldogs are headed to either be the Citrus (in Orlanda, Florida) or the Outback (in Tampa). But this year’s new bowl selection process throws a wrinkle into things, as the playoff selection committee will select the four teams for the playoff, and the eight teams for four more top-tier bowls, with no limit on SEC teams in those bowls.
Then the SEC will work to assign teams to its affiliated bowls, starting with the Citrus, then the Outback and down the line. Georgia’s loss Saturday almost certainly knocks it out of consideration for one of the selection committee bowls. But the Bulldogs will be tied with Mississippi for the fourth best overall record among SEC teams.
MORE ON THE SQUIB CALLRicht reiterated that it was his decision to squib kickoff near the end of regulation was his own. He consulted on it with Mike Ekeler, the co-special teams coordinator whose responsibilities include kickoffs.
“But that was my call,” Richt said. “That was my call.”
GURLEY AND MARSHALL
Gurley had surgery Tuesday, preventing him from attending Saturday’s game. But he has been around the team enough to give an indication that he’s feeling about as well as expected.
“Todd’s actually doing very well. His spirits are good. He’s got a positive attitude towards his rehab,” Richt said. “He didn’t have a massive amount of pain relatively quick. But there’s always the pain of the rehab itself that you’ve gotta go through. He’s in good hands, and he’s working hard.”
Meanwhile, fellow junior tailback Keith Marshall is expected to seek a medical redshirt after not playing beyond the third game this season. That’s been fairly obvious for a while, but Richt has been slow to confirm it.
“More than likely he would be a candidate for that at this point,” Richt said Sunday.