That’s one way of looking at Georgia. The other way is to set aside the past two seasons.
This isn’t the quite the team that destroyed Michigan, that rallied past Alabama and Ohio State, that obliterated poor TCU. These Bulldogs have faced one ranked opponent – Kentucky, which is ranked no longer. They trailed South Carolina, which has won once since, in the second half. They were tied with Auburn, winless since, with three minutes left.
This time a year ago, the hot topic was whether Georgia ‘22 was better than Georgia ‘21. Nobody regards Georgia ‘23 as an upgrade over its predecessors. The Bulldogs remain No. 1 in the polls, though media voters give them a smaller share of first-place votes than coaches’ survey allots. ESPN’s football power index tabs seven teams above them. Oddsmakers just declared Michigan the new favorite to win it all.
There’s growing sentiment Georgia won’t make it through the next month unbeaten. The team that has faced one ranked opponent is set to encounter three in November, and that’s after the Jacksonville hostilities against a Florida that no longer looks incompetent. These Bulldogs, goes the increasingly conventional wisdom, are living off their past. A new reality is set to descend.
That’s the other way of looking at Georgia, the less charitable way. But wait.
Isn’t doubting them the greatest charity anyone could offer Smart and his men? What happened the one time this season when Georgia seemed engaged – after the narrow escape at Auburn with a buoyant Kentucky coming to Athens?
Halftime score: 34-7.
Final score: 51-13.
Total yardage: 608-183.
The absence of Brock Bowers is huge. He’s Georgia’s best player. He might be any college’s best player. But, if we read recruiting ratings correctly, the Bulldogs aren’t devoid of talent. This team ranks third nationally in total offense. Some of that is due to Bowers. Some, not all.
As focused as their coach is, as attentive as the Bulldogs might try to be, this schedule’s softness had to affect them. They knew they didn’t need to be at their best to win, and sometimes they weren’t. They’ll have to play closer to capacity – without Bowers, capacity is diminished – to be unbeaten come Thanksgiving.
But how tough are these next weeks, really? If we take each upcoming opponent – Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee – as a separate entity, would you pick any over Georgia? All have lost. Two have lost twice. The one-time losers will come to Athens, where the Bulldogs haven’t been beaten in 1,473 days.
There are two ways of looking at Georgia. One is to see the Bulldogs, riding so high for so long, as ripe to be unhorsed. The other is to be concerned that a program capable of successive national championships has gotten pretty good at rising to whatever arises. This observer envisions four competitive opponents each taking a shot – and all four failing.
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