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Bill Shanks: Richt facing must-win situation

Georgia fans probably never thought a late September game in Mississippi State would be the biggest game of the season.

But it will be when the Bulldogs visit Starkville this Saturday.

In fact, it could be the biggest game in Mark Richt’s 10-year tenure as UGA’s head coach.

The Bulldogs are 1-2, and the way they played last Saturday against Arkansas has many wondering if a below .500 mark will be the norm for this team this season.

Everybody likes Richt the man, but Richt the coach has people up in arms right now. He has been given a longer leash because people like Richt the man. But no one player or even a coach is bigger than the team and the program, and fans pure and simply don’t like to lose.

Since 2006, Richt’s Bulldogs are 20-14 versus the SEC and 10-11 against the SEC East. That’s about as mediocre as you can get.

That’s not just losing to Florida, who has defeated Richt seven times in nine years. That’s also losing to the other four teams in the division.

Jim Donnan’s record in the five years he was UGA’s head coach, from 1996 through 2000, was 25-15 against the SEC and 14-11 inside the division.

And it’s not like Richt has cleaned up the program, with nine arrests this year and the best player on the team suspended for a third of the season. So “making young boys quality men” doesn’t really hold water anymore.

Georgia should beat Mississippi State this week, but the other Bulldogs in the SEC are probably going to beat somebody they shouldn’t beat this season. And with A.J. Green still out and knowing the way Georgia has played the past two weeks, the program from Athens could be a likely candidate.

If Georgia loses this weekend, the Bulldogs could be facing a sub-.500 season for the first time since 1996. They will then play at Colorado, host Tennessee and then Vanderbilt before going to Kentucky. It’s possible Georgia could go 3-2 in the next five games starting with the visit to Starkville.

That would put Georgia at 4-4 going into Jacksonville. Even though Florida doesn’t look dominant, you can’t assume UGA would beat the Gators, at least not now. You can assume Georgia will beat Idaho State after the Florida game.

So if Florida beats Georgia, and unfortunately the Gators usually do, the Bulldogs could be looking at a 5-5 record going into the final two games of the season against Auburn and Georgia Tech.

And those two games could determine whether Georgia is above .500, at the break-even mark, or will have a losing season.

Sure, Georgia has lost two straight to top-15 teams in South Carolina and Arkansas. The Bulldogs have been without their top player, and they’ve been hit once again by an injury bug.

But at the end of the day fans aren’t going to care about all of those things. Fans saw an awful offensive line last week, and that was supposed to be the strength of the team. But that’s only the start of the worry.

Georgia has serious issues on offense, defense, player evaluation, player development and strength and development.

Even the punter hasn’t looked great this season.

This is all on Richt. These things shouldn’t be happening after 10 years.

Georgia has talent, but there just isn’t enough talent. The Bulldogs had too many mediocre recruiting classes. Oh, they were rated high when they signed, but some didn’t pan out, some weren’t developed, and some didn’t last long on campus.

It’s one thing to recruit a Matthew Stafford or a Knowshon Moreno. That makes for good headlines. But the rest of the recruiting class has to be solid, as well, and too many of Georgia’s lists show that just hasn’t happened.

And now Richt is on the hot seat. He has to win Saturday to avoid a three-game losing streak for his first time as UGA’s head coach. If the “other” Bulldogs win, this is going to be a very long season for Richt and the Georgia team.

Talk sports with Bill from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “The Bill Shanks Show” on Fox Sports 1670 AM and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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