4 things: A holiday wishlist for Georgia and college football
ATHENS — Georgia needs a break, and college football needs to get its house in order.
Those are two inescapable truths with the college football season coming to a close in a couple of weeks.
Most everyone except the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff is almost ready — if not past being ready — to hit the reset button.
Coach Kirby Smart said last summer the team that adjusts to the different circumstances best would win, so no one should be surprised that Nick Saban has led Alabama to a historically successful season.
Saban, at 69 years old, is still a step ahead of the competition, beating Covid-19 this season as well as every opponent in his path.
And yet, Georgia held a 24-20 halftime lead over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, with former walk-on QB Stetson Bennett providing an early spark, reminding everyone how close a Georgia takeover might be in the SEC.
Here’s a Christmas Day wishlist of things, the first two for Georgia:
1. The return of great players
Smart supports all of his players’ decisions when it comes to whether or not they declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft or return for another season to enhance their stock.
Saban and Alabama have extremely talented players take advantage of the insurance policies available to return for their senior seasons, many of them working their way into guaranteed first-round NFL draft slots.
Where would the Crimson Tide be without tailback Najee Harris and left tackle Alex Leatherwood this season?
Georgia QB JT Daniels is the most pivotal player on the Georgia offense, and barring unforeseen happenings, he’s expected to return.
A Daniels’ return would be a stocking stuffer like no other.
The Bulldogs might have the most explosive offense in the SEC next season if the USC transfer maintains his efficiency and Smart allows for more passing volume.
A strong defense will be just as important for Georgia to capture its first national title since 1980, and it all starts up front.
That’s why the future of 6-foot-6, 330-pound nose tackle Jordan Davis is being monitored so closely. Davis suffered a fractured elbow against Kentucky and hasn’t had the sort of season some believe he’s capable of having.
Could Davis come back to improve his NFL draft stock, win the Outland Trophy, and anchor a national championship defense?
Only if he wants to.
2. More home games
Georgia had just three home games this season and six games away from Sanford Stadium.
Athens has arguably the best game-day setting in college football, and Sanford Stadium is one of the cleanest and most aesthetically pleasing football coliseums in the sport.
Perhaps it wasn’t always that way. Perhaps there was a time the old Gator Bowl Stadium in Jacksonville seemed like a more attractive setting for football.
Some fans might still like Jacksonville’s game-day tailgating, with NASCAR-styled RV spots, vacated city block parking lots, and the shadows of highway underpasses serving as the prime locations.
But more hope for trips to Athens’restaurants, taverns and downtown shops, and campus strolls on the warm, inviting UGA campus
The practicality of playing Florida in Athens will ultimately lead to a home-and-home.
Smart has pointed out the great value to having another home recruiting weekend, as well as the financial impact to the university’s home community,
Jacksonville takes in an additional, $35 million annually pre-Covid-19.
The current contract runs through 2023, and whoever takes over as Georgia AD can score immediate points with the head football coach by ensuring UGA’s designated “home” game with Florida is not played in Jacksonville beyond 2022.
Finally, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the SEC to assign Vanderbilt an extra road game in Athens next season to compensate for the Commodores’ failure to finish out the 2020 season as scheduled in Athens.
It’s a fight normally mild-mannered, outgoing Georgia AD Greg McGarity started that the next UGA AD needs to finish at the SEC spring meeting, or before.
3. Pre-determined playoff system.
The current College Football Playoff system is in place through the 2025-26 season, making for more politics and controversy in years to come.
Cincinnati, Georgia’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl opponent, had the best case to be in the CFP this season with its 9-0 record.
We already know Notre Dame and Texas A&M aren’t the best, because they lost to two of the teams in the playoff and didn’t even win their respective conferences.
But in the defense of the Irish making the field, even with a 24-point loss to Clemson, one might still consider them one of the four best.
Flashback to 2018, when Georgia lost in the SEC Championship Game to a previously unbeaten Alabama by 7 points and got left out in favor of Big 12 champ Oklahoma.
Noted ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Paul Finebaum strongly made the case the Bulldogs were superior to the Sooners. But a committee that includes ADs from Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Florida was part of a decision to leave out UGA.
The idea the Sooners’ AD wouldn’t have a self-interest in discussions is dubious. Particularly when the CFP came up with the unprecedented concept of “protocol” as a determining factor to cancel out the “Four Best” rule that enabled Alabama to get into the 2017 playoffs with a double-digit loss to Auburn and no conference championship game appearance.
So where was the “protocol” for unbeaten Cincinnati this season, as a conference champion, to be selected ahead of one-loss Notre Dame?
Smart, who rarely breaks the company line, correctly pointed out after the 2018 CFP fiasco that “every year it’s going to be a different” criteria, and it has.
4. College Football Playoff Commissioner
It’s time for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to get a promotion, as it appears he’s the most qualified to represent the best interests of college football on the national scale.
Things got out of hand this season with conferences manipulating the rules midstream in the best interests of maximizing their respective leagues’ images and interests.
The Big Ten, for example, changing its minimum number of games needed to qualify for the Big Ten title game to protect Ohio State was evidence of the bias administrators are willing to show for the sake of self-interests.
The ACC wasn’t far behind, canceling the final regular-season games of Clemson and Notre Dame to protect its two top teams from potential injuries and upsets.
In both cases, the conference strategies worked, with Ohio State beating Northwestern in the Big Ten title game to claim one spot, and the Tigers avenging an earlier season loss to the Irish to give the ACC two CFP spots.
The SEC could be scrutinized for not going with the pre-determined schedule rotation of opponents, ensuring Florida did not have to face Alabama in the regular season — and doling out a schedule where the Gators and Tide were joined by Ole Miss as the only three teams without scheduled back-to-back road games.
But at the very least, the conference schedule was trotted out in front of all the league representatives and approved before its application.
As challenging and inconvenient as this Covid-19 season has proven to be, it has served to bring several college football issues to the forefront, as well as serve as a reminder that one can’t legislate human nature.
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