Monday, February 06, 2006

Recruiting Round Table

After some commenting back and forth between Doug from Hey Jenny Slater, Nathan from the Golden Tornado, and myself we decided to have a recruiting\thoughts for next season round table. Look for my answers to Doug’s questions over on his site. Nathan may or may not get involved. The basketball team may have killed him. I’m not exactly sure.

1. Unlike most of your head-in-the-sand Tech fans, I think that Mark Richt is a hell of a coach and a fantastic recruiter. He’s had nothing worse than a top-15 class (according to Scouts) since 2002 and two top-5 classes in a row. He’s played for the SEC championship 3 times, winning two, and only had a single season in which he won fewer than 10 games. Yet, at times I notice some unease in the Bulldog nation with the fact that UGA has at least one inexplicable loss per year and have never been in serious contention to play in the BCS Championship game. Are these the fringe fans or is there some legitimate concern in the Dawg nation about Richt’s ability to climb to the next level?

I think there is some concern, yes, and it’s not been limited just to those “fringe fans” – I think you kind of saw it “peak” (which, let me make very clear, is a relative term) after the 2004 season. In all honesty, I can’t say I blame them: When you look at all the superstars who were finishing their Georgia careers in 2004, you just kind of have to scratch your head at how they didn’t end up in anything bigger-time than the Outback Bowl. However, I also think a lot of that sentiment was mitigated to a large extent by the season that came directly after it. I don’t know if there’s a single person out there who didn’t think Georgia had a mammoth rebuilding job ahead of them in 2005, yet we still came through it with 10 wins and an SEC title. When you take that into consideration, I think it’s pretty clear that, whether or not he has any national titles under his belt yet, Richt at least has the program operating on a very elite level.

I don’t want to harp on that 2005 SEC title game too much, but for my part – and I said this on my own blog after we won the last SEC title – I saw that game as a potential tipping point for the Georgia program under Richt. We’d lost the last SEC title game we played, and I was worried that if we lost this one, we’d start to bear that Atlanta Braves stigma, the taint of a team that wins one title and then can’t do any better than runner-up status from there on out. Instead, we blew out LSU and earned what I think is a much, much stronger reputation going forward. Like I said, it showed that we were at a point in the program’s history where even the rebuilding years could be special. The title we won in 2002 showed that we had reached a higher level; the title we won in 2005 showed that we could stay there.

Consider, too, that even the great Wally Butts and Vince Dooley didn’t win titles right away. OK, Butts only needed four years to win his first one, but Vince had been coach of the Dawgs for 17 seasons before he brought home the big trophy, and I don’t think you could find many people in Bulldog Nation who would trade the Dooley years for anything.

I know it sounds like I’m saying “Just give it time, we’ll win the Big One eventually” – and in today’s sports environment, where not only do you have to win at all costs but you have to win right away, that isn’t going to come across as particularly inspiring advice to some people. But we’ve got time; Richt has gotten Georgia back to a level where we’re not looking at one- or two-season “windows,” where if we don’t win a title in that brief period, we’re screwed. At this point, every single season offers a chance for something special. Which is especially exciting when you consider how young Richt is — clearly, he’s got many good years of coaching left in him, and I know I’m not the only one who’s thrilled by the prospect of having a guy who stays for 20 or 30 years and thus ends up leaving a JoePa or Bobby Bowden-style legacy in Athens. With the success that Richt has achieved already, you give him that long and you’ll have some crystal footballs in your trophy case by the time he strolls off into the sunset. I’m willing to wait for that, and as long as Richt keeps the program on its current year-in-and-year-out-competitive level, I think the vast majority of the fan base will be, too.

2. Related to those recruiting classes mentioned in question 1 and especially a second top-5 class in a row: Do you feel that the margin of victory for UGA over Tech in the last two games was far too small for two teams of such supposedly disparate talent levels? Does this show that the recruiting services are mostly a bunch of bullshit, that rivalry games aren’t only about talent, or that maybe the coaching disparity isn’t as big as people think (okay stop laughing)?

Not that the others aren’t, but that’s a really good question. Would I have liked for the margins of victory in 2004 and ’05 to have been larger? Hells yes I would have. (I really would’ve liked to have seen what would’ve happened if David Greene’s stupid thumb hadn’t gotten injured in that ’04 game . . . ) Do I think the narrowing margins indicate a narrowing talent gap between the two teams? Mmmm – perhaps. I don’t know that the talent gap is narrowing quite as dramatically as the scores have been, but I’ll totally agree with you on the recruiting-services-being-bullshit point. Start the petition that exiles Tom Lemming to a remote Pacific island for the rest of his days and I’ll sign that sucker twice.

What I really think the narrowing gap has to do with, though, is the simple fact that the motivation gets bigger and bigger for Tech’s players every single year, while for Georgia’s players that really isn’t the case. The Tech players and coaches are tired of losing to Georgia — you know it, I know it, and the American people know it — and each year they feel more and more pressure to win. On the Georgia side, they don’t have that kind of pressure, and while I don’t want to say that the UGA players are becoming complacent as a result, I do think that in 2005, at least, Tech’s players came into that game hungrier. As for when that motivation will finally be enough to put Tech over the top versus Georgia . . . well, I wouldn’t dare speculate on that.

3. Related to the above, considering that Tech brought in another pedestrian recruiting class, at least according to the experts, do you feel that the days of Tech being able to compete with UGA are gone at least for the foreseeable future?
Not really sure. I wouldn’t dare say something like “Y’all might as well just stay home for the next five/ten/X years,” because that’s a real good way for me to end up looking like a real dumbass at some point. If I were a Tech fan, I would be less concerned with the “star ratings” and the opinions of snake-oil salesman like Tom Lemming — as we’ve both said, and as Calvin Johnson has confirmed, a recruit’s supposed lack of “superstar” status has absolutely nothing to do with his eventual production on the field – and more concerned with how the NCAA sanctions have cut into Chan Gailey’s ability to offer those recruits scholarships in the first place. The quantity of recruits, in other words, as opposed to the quality. Sanctions are a killer, there’s no two ways around it. Put it this way: I don’t think Tech’s ability to compete with Georgia is gone for the foreseeable future, but I think their ability to string together consistent success against Georgia the way George O’Leary eventually did has been severely hampered. Beating Georgia isn’t necessarily an impossible goal at this point, but beating us consistently is going to be a real challenge until the effects of those sanctions wear off.

I’ll pause now so that y’all can make your “Well, you would know all about NCAA sanctions, wouldn’t you” jokes . . . all done? OK, good. Next question.

4. With D.J. Shockley being injured this year and Pope Urban bringing in the only recruiting class higher ranked than yours in the SEC, do you feel as if you missed the boat on being able to consistently win the Cocktail Party? Not to suggest that you’ll consistently lose, but do you think it will be possible for UGA to repeat the consistent level of dominance that UF showed over UGA for the last 16 years?

Oh, boy, don’t get me started on this past season’s Georgia-Florida game. When Shockley got hurt against Arkansas, it was almost as if God Himself had turned into Bill Lumbergh and said, “Oooohhh . . . yeah, love what you’ve done this season and everything, but I’m gonna need you guys to go ahead and lose to Florida again, m’kay? Oh, and by the way, if you wouldn’t mind abandoning any hope of a national title in 2005, that’d be greeeeat. Thanks a bunch.” I’m getting a bleeding ulcer just thinking about it.

No, I don’t think it’s possible for Georgia to repeat the dominance that UF has shown over UGA for the past 16 years, but that isn’t even the issue at this point — I’d be happy with Georgia just beating Florida twice in a row. (Twice in a row, God! I go to church every Sunday, would that have been so freakin’ hard?) Sure, Bulldog Nation would love to start doing to Florida what they did to us for the past 16 years, but really I think we’d settle for just being able to beat the Gators more than once per decade. Do I think this is going to happen anytime soon? Well, I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, but I think we’re going to get back to that point eventually. Nothing lasts forever, and Meyer’s spread-option system has shown some major vulnerabilities in the speed-first environment of the SEC. If we can somehow find a way to take two in a row from those guys, I think that’ll be what starts to even things back up again.

5. Give a quick overall of how you feel your team will fare next year considering the losses, gains, and what you know about the rest of the SEC.

Well, it’s gonna be a rebuilding season, no two ways about it. But again, this past season showed that a “rebuilding season” for Georgia isn’t an automatic ticket to mediocrity. I think it hinges on two things: Finding a capable QB, and toughening up the middle of the defense so that we don’t get run all over like we did in the latter half of the ’05 season. With respect to the first issue, I gotta think that between Joe Tereshinski, Blake Barnes, Joe Cox and Matt Stafford, there’s somebody in that group who can step up, and when they do, they’ll have a ton of blazingly fast receivers to throw to. As for the second, I think we’ve got the talent there, too, we just need to coach ’em up, and getting a reprieve from our semiannual plague of injuries would sure be nice.

I think our main strengths will be a strong (and deep) running game – the importance of which you can’t underestimate in the SEC – and a strong defense. Now, I know I just got through saying that the defensive middle needs to step up a bit, but I think we’ve gotten to a pretty consistent “We don’t rebuild, we reload” level with our defense – who would’ve thought that after losing superstars like Pollack, Thurman, Davis and VanGorder, we’d have a defense in 2005 that in some aspects was even stronger than it had been the previous year? I was one of the few people out there who wasn’t afraid that the Georgia D would automatically revert to Island Of Misfit Toys status after losing those guys, so I’m optimistic that our defense in 2006 will come out swinging even after sustaining some losses. The return of Quentin Moses, in particular, is going to be a huge boost for this unit, not just in terms of production but in terms of experienced leadership.

Now, do I see back-to-back SEC titles on the horizon? Uh . . . no. But I will say this: Of the 12 games on our schedule, the only ones I’d pick out as “budgeted losses” are Florida and Auburn. Of the remaining ten, I’d say seven of those are probable Ws, which leaves Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech as games that could go either way and that I really can’t predict at this point. If we can take two out of three of those – in addition to the other seven – we’re sitting at nine wins with a chance to earn a tenth in a bowl game. Which would give us five straight years of double-digit wins for the first time in team history – something only eight other programs in the history of DI-A football have been able to do – and if you can find a Georgia fan anywhere in the world who wouldn’t be happy with that, please introduce me to him so I can tell him he’s effing nuts.


Anonymous GDawg34 said...

Three things...

First, regarding the question about recruiting service rankings, stars, and the supposed margin of talent between our two teams. While I'm not one of these blowhards who will tell ya that all these rankings and stars and whatnot are completely meaningless (I mean they definitely got Vince Young and Reggie Bush's 5 star rankings right) I will say it doesn't matter AS much if you have the right coaching staff. I don't recall West Virginia's classes being particularly strong the past several years, and we all saw the Sugar Bowl... plus Va Tech never really sets the recruiting world on fire, yet they win. And David Pollack's 2 star fullback status should shatter any notion that they always get it right, considering he turned into one of the greatest, most decorated D-Ends the college game has ever seen.

Next, about two things Doug said. Calvin Johnson WAS a bigtime recruit, which is why it was considered such a coup for Tech to get a guy we wanted badly.

And lastly, while I'd love for you to be right about our receivers' speed, I'll definitely just settle for ones who can actually catch the effin ball. We keep hearing about trackster Demiko Goodman (who turned into a beast in later years on NCAA 06) but I'm beginning to wonder if he'll ever even see the field. If AJ Bryant can stay healthy that certainly won't hurt, but as for incoming freshmen, well... I just won't hold my breath there. Tony Wilson is supposed to be the real deal, and Durham probably has that deceptive, Matt Jones giraffe type of speed... but they're still just freshmen. I have no real basis for it, but I'd look for a redshirt guy like Mike Moore to make a bigger splash before I would those two... although MoMass' freshman year definitely gives me hope. And then there's that Calvin Johnson guy's history too.....

BTW my word verification for this was "hipcum," that's a first, colorful combination I've seen there.

11:43 PM  

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