Media Day – singular, not to be confused with the SEC’s interminable Media Days – marks the semi-official kickoff of college football. (Toe won’t meet leather until Sept. 1.) This is our attempt to beat the rush, cut to the chase and address the elephant in the room, and here we cease with the metaphors.
Can Georgia run -- I lied about the metaphors -- the regular-season table?
First, some history. The Bulldogs have had four unbeaten/untied – for you young’uns, college football used to have ties – regular seasons. The first came in 1896: Georgia went 4-0 against Wofford, North Carolina, Sewanee and Auburn. The second was in 1946 and involved Charley Trippi. The third and fourth involved Herschel.
So: 126 seasons, four of which ended unblemished, none since 1982. (Which saw Georgia lose to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.)
The 1920 Bulldogs tied Virginia 0-0. The 1927 team tripped over Georgia Tech. The famous Rose Bowl team of 1942 lost to Auburn in Columbus. The 1981 team, which I consider the best band of Bulldogs ever, lost at Clemson when Buck Belue threw five interceptions and Herschel lost three fumbles. Mark Richt’s best team – the 2002 SEC champion -- was undone by Florida in Jacksonville. The point being: Going undefeated is hard.
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Georgia was 10-0 last year and ranked No. 1 by the College Football Playoff committee when it went to Auburn. It lost 40-17. Had the Bulldogs held their lead against Alabama on Jan. 8, they’d have become the national champ with the second-most lopsided loss.
This is college football. Weird things happen. Nick Saban has six national titles, but only two unbeaten regular seasons, the latter of which – 2015 – saw the Crimson Tide beaten by Clemson at 0:01 of the title game. Urban Meyer, man in the news, has three national titles, none coming in an unbeaten season. (His undefeated runs came with Utah and with an Ohio State that was barred from postseason.) Only once since 2010 has the BCS/CFP winner finished unbeaten, and that was Florida State in 2013; its title-winning touchdown came with 13 seconds remaining.
And yet … as of today, which game on Georgia’s schedule – we won’t look ahead to the SEC title tilt or the playoff – looks like a loss? They face two teams ranked in the top 25 of the USA Today coaches’ poll: Auburn must come to Sanford Stadium; LSU, ranked No. 24, was picked in the SEC media poll conducted last month to finish fifth in its division.
South Carolina and Florida drew the 26th- and 27th-most votes, but those are teams Georgia beat by an aggregate 49 points last year. Those are really the only four games that can be deemed testing. As it stands, Georgia figures to be favored in every game, and not by a little. The first point spread released for Georgia-South Carolina had the Bulldogs a double-digit favorite – on the road.
Yes, Georgia has holes to patch – Roquan Smith might have been the nation’s best player last season, and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were splendid – but Kirby Smart’s past two signing classes have ranked No. 3 and No. 1 nationally. With D’Andre Swift and the freshman James Cook, the Bulldogs aren’t starved for runners. If Cal transfer Demetris Robertson’s hardship waiver meets NCAA approval, Georgia would add a 5-star receiver. The quarterback who led the Bulldogs to the championship game is a sophomore, and there’s no assurance he’ll hold his job all season. The freshman Justin Fields is a major talent.
Spoiler alert: I’ve already picked Georgia to go 12-0, and I’m not often right. (Sometimes I am. I picked the 2002 Bulldogs to go 11-1 and win the SEC.) Nothing I heard here Friday dissuaded me in the slightest. Smart on his players: “They’ve done a tremendous job responding. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
Then: “What’s going to separate us from 13 other teams is what we do before our first game.”
Then: “We’ve got so much competition at every position. ... We got a ton of competition in this camp. You guys (the media) have a depth chart, but we don’t even have a depth chart because we’ve got so much competition.”
I say again: I’d be surprised if Georgia loses before December. And I’m starting to think it mightn’t lose beyond that. I know about Alabama. I know about Clemson. But these Bulldogs look really, really good.