Junkyard Mail: Neutral-site games, stadium improvements, Thomas Brown hire, QBs, basketball and more!

UGA and UNC will meet in the Georgia Dome.

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UGA and UNC will meet in the Georgia Dome.

Let’s get straight to some Junkyard Mail. …

Dylan Turner writes: Bill, I’m having trouble nailing down how I feel about Georgia playing North Carolina in another of those neutral-site kickoff games. On the one hand, I’m tired of Alabama always coming into Atlanta at the beginning of the season and hogging the national limelight and scoring recruiting points. And it’s cool to see the Georgia-North Carolina series, once a fixture of our Dawgs’ schedules, brought back to life, even if it’s only one game. On the other hand, I’d much prefer to see the Tarheels and Dawgs play a home-and-home in Athens and Chapel Hill, and I’m not crazy about watching Georgia play in Atlanta for anything other than the SEC title. I also think it’s unfair to the city of Athens to lose a Georgia home game. Color me conflicted. Your thoughts?

Much like yours, Dylan. In terms of the UGA program, I think playing for the Old Leather Helmet trophy in the Chick-fil-A game is overall a bonus, and is probably something Georgia should do every five years or so. Financially, the UGA Athletic Association will pocket about $4 million (more than they make off a home game). And Greg McGarity indicated back in January, when he first hinted this was in the works, that a concert might be scheduled for Sanford Stadium to make up the loss of the income from a home game to the Athens community, as was done in 2013 with Jason Aldean. So I think everything works out for the best in that regard.

Brothers Bill Dooley (left) of UNC and Vince Dooley of UGA met for the 1971 Gator Bowl trophy. (Gator Bowl Association)

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Brothers Bill Dooley (left) of UNC and Vince Dooley of UGA met for the 1971 Gator Bowl trophy. (Gator Bowl Association)

I'm also excited about UGA and UNC playing again for the first time since the 1971 Gator Bowl clash between the brothers Dooley, Vince and Bill. My son has degrees from both institutions, so we have a family interest, and UNC was a frequent opponent for the Dawgs from the 1940s through 1966. Among nonconference opponents, they rank only behind Georgia Tech and Clemson in the number of times they've played the Bulldogs, with UGA leading the series 16-12-2.

However, I'm less sanguine about watching the Dawgs at the Georgia Dome. It may be closer to me than Athens, but I'm not thrilled about the fact that in order to have a lower level sideline seat like I have at Sanford Stadium, it will cost me $145. And that's assuming I have enough priority points to get that level, which I probably don't, since there'll only be about 6,500 of them, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. Lower-level end zone will cost nonstudents $125. More than likely, I'll get some of the 23,000 upper-level tickets that make up more than half Georgia's allotment of 42,921 for the game, but I'll have to pay $85. So I end up paying $40 more per seat and having to sit in the rafters of the Georgia Dome, which I've done a number of times before and, let me tell you, it's not a great way to watch a football game. So,like you, Dylan, I'm conflicted.

Meanwhile, on a related point Scott Thompson writes: Hey Bill, I enjoy your blog. Do you not think it is very odd that UGA has not locked up the 2017 kickoff game in the new Falcons stadium? It looks like Bama will open it against FSU. I honestly can’t believe that McGarity/Richt would let Bama into that grand opening game. That would be larger than life for Dawg fans to enjoy the first football game in a billion ++ dollar stadium with an open roof on Labor Day weekend 2017. What are your thoughts on this seemingly missed grand opportunity?

I have to disagree with you, Scott. Not only do I think two years in a row opening with a neutral-site game in Atlanta would be too much, but the following week, Sept. 9, 2017, Georgia travels to South Bend to play Notre Dame. I’d say that’s enough national nonconference buzz for one season. As for the kickoff game moving to the new Falcons stadium in 2017, I’m betting the seating options won’t be much better there than at the current Dome, and the prices probably will be worse.

Is upgrading the Sanford Stadium Sky Club really more important than fixing the stadium's awful restrooms? (Georgia Bulldog Club)

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Is upgrading the Sanford Stadium Sky Club really more important than fixing the stadium’s awful restrooms? (Georgia Bulldog Club)

Jim P. writes concerning the news this week out of the UGA athletic board’s meeting: Bill, What caught my eye was they felt the need to spend $3 million to refurbish Sanford Stadium’s Sky Club while spending $705k to upgrade stadium concessions. In your recent column on Sanford’s problems, concessions came up big as pet peeves for you and many ticket holders. Don’t get me wrong, $705k is a lot of money, but the approval for the Sky Club puts it to shame. After all, 90,000+ are accessing concessions around the stadium, while maybe 2,000 (I don’t know the exact figure) have access to the Sky Club. Maybe the $705k will solve all the concession ills. I doubt it, though it can’t hurt. I don’t know what is so desperately needed to refurbish in the Sky Club. I’m sure satisfying the big money donors that sit there, who make up for the cost in larger donations.

Anything they can do to improve the concessions situation at Sanford Stadium is a plus, but I have to say I’m not a fan of them spending $3 million making the sky suites nicer while the restrooms that the rest of us are forced to use are just plain disgusting. Maybe if the athletic board occasionally were forced to leave the rarefied atmosphere of the corporate bunker and come down and mix with the hoi polloi as we use those outdated, overwhelmed facilities and step through sewer water in the concourses, they might put greater emphasis on meeting the real needs of that stadium instead of continuing to cater to the sky box elite.

(By the way, courtesy of a promotional deal between the AJC and the athletic association I joined some Blawg contest winners in viewing one game from a sky box at Sanford a few years back. The food was nice and the atmosphere congenial, but sitting in a glass box listening to the game piped in to you is not a very enjoyable way to watch college football, in my humble opinion.)

It's difficult to determine how close the Dawgs are to the scholarship limit until classes begin in August. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

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It’s difficult to determine how close the Dawgs are to the scholarship limit until classes begin in August. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Jim Carroll writes: Bill: A couple of years ago, our Dawgs were at about 63 to 66 scholarship players. As I remember, we were almost as low as USC, who was on probation and operating with a reduced scholarship limit. We were having to play a large number of walk-ons on special teams. In short, we had serious depth problems. One of the reasons for this was that we usually undersigned by 5 to 7 scholarship athletes per year. I realize that other factors contributed as well; however, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, etc. was doing much better at operating at the 85 limit. The last two classes have been reasonably large considering early enrollments. Where are relative to the 85 limit given this 29 signee class?

At this point of the year, that's pretty much an educated guessing game, Jim. I saw one online estimate earlier this week that had UGA currently with 88 due to be on scholarship, three over the limit. But as Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton noted when I placed the question to him, "some of the websites will predict what our number is on the 85 from time to time but [they] could be close or not. That number can fluctuate by the day depending on how many walk-ons are on scholarship, anyone transferring out, transferring in, medical disqualifications, etc.  The most accurate number is available in August, first day of class."

Patrick Yaggy writes: Hi Bill, My first reaction concerning Thomas Brown’s hire is positive; he was/is a DGD and I like the idea that we seek out and take care of our own talent. My next reaction is much different.  I’m concerned that hiring from within Richt’s sphere of influence does not bring enough fresh ideas and independent thought.  If we want to break the string of near misses (i.e., good but great, great but not championship), we should be looking outside our comfort zone like with Pruitt’s hire. Pruitt has already shaken things up and caused us to question and change a lot of the way we do business in just his first year. While it is too soon to form an informed opinion about Pruitt, I think most would agree we’re heading in a good direction. Let’s hope this is just a philosophical reservation and not one that is actually indicative of what Thomas Brown brings to the table.

Thomas Brown had a lot of success in his one year as Wisconsin's running backs coach. (University of Wisconsin)

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Thomas Brown had a lot of success in his one year as Wisconsin’s running backs coach. (University of Wisconsin)

I think the Brown hire is a very good one. If he works half as hard at coaching as he did as a player, he'll kick up an already high staff work ethic several notches. And, while I know some are concerned about switching Bryan McClendon from running backs coach over to wide receivers might disrupt the success of Nick Chubb and company, I'd say that's a pretty slim chance. In Brown's one year coaching the running backs at Wisconsin, the Badgers' talented backs don't seem to have missed a step. Melvin Gordon posted the second-best season ever by a running back with 2,587 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns. He and sophomore Corey Clement combined to run for 3,536 yards to break the single-season Football Bowl Subdivision record for rushing yards by teammates that had been set the year before by Gordon and James White (3,053 yards). Under Brown, the Badgers had a school-record 644 rushing yards vs. Bowling Green and 581 vs. Nebraska, and their average of 6.91 yards per rushing attempt ranks as the fourth-best mark in FBS history. As Gordon said about the transition to Brown, "I think we work a lot better together [now] than we did. … He's a players' coach, too. He understands, he just says to talk to him, his door's always open to us. Great coach, I love his drills." On the subject of fresh ideas, I think that's perhaps more important at the coordinator level (where Pruitt is) than as a position coach. In fact, I think Brown's familiarity with Georgia and Richt's system (in addition to playing there, he spent the 2011 season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at UGA) is likely to be a plus.

I had a note this week from Glenn Crawford, who was bothered that Columbus was left off the list of this year’s cities being included in the UGA Day coaches’ tour. Glenn, who’s a third-generation Bulldog from Columbus and whose first Sanford Stadium memory is the 1965 flea-flicker to beat Bama, then sent a similar note to Meredith Gurley Johnson, who is executive director of alumni relations for UGA. She wrote back to him that “It is true, the UGA Day event will not take place in Columbus this year. The tour has reduced locations this year from 12 to 7. Columbus will surely be back on the tour in future years, just not this year. We encourage alumni and friends to drive over to the Atlanta or Macon events, if possible.”

To which Glenn replies: My thoughts are the cities of Atlanta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah should never be missed. Let Charlotte and the others be rotated. This is the first year since it was started, I guess by Dan Magill, with Wallace Butts as the coach, that we haven’t had a stop in the second largest city in the state. I guess it’s just the traditionalist in me. Times change and I guess the traditions are not as important to the rest as they are to me.”

I have to agree with Glenn that leaving Columbus off the list seems like a strange choice.

Brice Ramsey got valuable playing time in the Belk Bowl. (John Kelley / UGA)

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Brice Ramsey got valuable playing time in the Belk Bowl. (John Kelley / UGA)

Keller Latty writes: We all know Brice Ramsey has the physical tools to excel in the SEC. With a new OC implementing a different system with very similar concepts, I think the competition for the starting spot has intensified. Obviously we will learn a lot in the coming months but, who, in your opinion, takes the first snap of the season if you had to guess today? It sounds like Jacob Park established himself as a leader on the scout team last year, along with performing exceptionally well. Although BR is the more prototypical QB, I think JP has a better shot than many people realize and is my pick for the starter. Thoughts?

It will be interesting to see the spring competition at quarterback between Ramsey, Faton Bauta, Park and even redshirt-freshman walk-on Sam Vaughn, but if I have to pick at this point who is most likely to be Georgia's starter for the first game of the season, I'm going to go with Ramsey. He may not have gotten as much playing time behind fifth-year senior Hutson Mason as many of us would have liked, but playing as much of the bowl game as he did, even with the mistakes, definitely gives him an edge over the others. I'm certainly not counting the others out, and I wouldn't want to place money on Ramsey still being the starter at the end of the season — we know he has the arm, but it remains to be seen if he has the game sense and poise to play QB in the SEC. Still I'd say the starting job is his to lose unless one of the others clearly steps up as superior in the spring and August practices.

Could Mark Fox wind up back on the hot seat if the Bulldogs miss the NCAA tournament? (John Kelley / UGA)

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Could Mark Fox wind up back on the hot seat if the Bulldogs miss the NCAA tournament? (John Kelley / UGA)

UnderDawg writes: Bill, I’m really concerned that Georgia’s basketball Bulldogs are playing their way out of what, at one point, looked like pretty much a guaranteed ticket to the NCAA tournament. And, if that’s the case, I’m wondering whether that puts Mark Fox squarely back on the hot seat (and maybe makes him wish he’d gone ahead and signed that contract extension he was awarded at the end of last season). In fact, might a collapse that wound up with the Dawgs missing the Big Dance be enough to prompt Greg McGarity to run out of patience and go ahead and dump Fox now? What do you think?

Despite two straight bad losses to lower-tier teams at home that tumbled Fox’s hounds from the 20s to the 40s in RPI, I was somewhat surprised to hear the same thoughts from a couple of other fans this week, Under. I have no way of knowing whether such a scenario is at all likely (I tend to think not), but I don’t believe the Dawgs are playing for Fox’s job just yet. However, if they don’t make the tourney, I’d say they will be next year. Lack of depth is really hurting them right now with this string of injuries to starters they’ve had to work through, but what’s been disappointing (to Fox as well as the fans) is how poorly the healthy team members played this past week. If that continues, it’s going to be tough for Georgia to make the NCAA tournament. And if they don’t, Fox’s seat definitely heats up.

Putting a whole different spin on Fox’s situation is John Ellison, who writes: There is still time to straighten out the [basketball] season after two horrible loses. I know, injuries have hurt. I’m wondering if Fox doesn’t have other plans. It seems to me that if a contract was really given to him to sign, he would have signed it very quickly if he wanted to stay. Georgia basketball being what it is, I don’t think we can do any better or much worse than Fox. I care about all Georgia sports, but my friends that graduated from Georgia, just don’t care about basketball, saying, they don’t think the school cares so why should they … really sad!!

I think your friends are wrong about UGA’s commitment to basketball. And I don’t believe Fox not having signed his contract extension yet has anything at all to do with how good the team was doing earlier in the season and how poorly it played in the past two games.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.