ATHENS – A little over a week before signing day in 2013, Georgia was quietly confident that it was about to sign Laremy Tunsil, the five-star offensive tackle from Florida. The Bulldogs had been leading for Tunsil for months, in fact. It was assumed by many he would be going there.
Then Tunsil went on a visit to Ole Miss.
And then, well, he didn’t go to Georgia.
It was a short time later that Hugh Freeze issued his infamous tweet, daring anyone to report violations to Ole Miss compliance department. He has since deleted it. And on Wednesday the NCAA, as part of its long-running investigation, issued its notice of allegations.
Tunsil wasn’t the only player that picked Ole Miss over Georgia – or other schools. He’s just the most notable, considering last year’s NFL draft night fiasco, and the void he left when he didn’t sign with Georgia.
But what if he had? An alternative history:
What actually happened: Georgia lost the season opener at Clemson, 38-35, with quarterback Aaron Murray being sacked four times, including one that resulted in a fumble, setting up a Clemson touchdown. Georgia’s starting right tackle was Kolton Houston, who because time off from the controversial NCAA suspension was playing his first competitive football game since 2009. The starting left tackle was Kenarious Gates, a former guard.
What might’ve happened: Tunsil would have been starting his first-ever college game, and at left tackle, but it would’ve allowed Gates to slide inside or to right tackle, and Houston to come along more slowly. It’s a good bet Georgia would have given up less than four sacks, including perhaps the one that resulted in the fumble, and generally given Murray more time to throw.
What actually happened: Georgia lost at home to Missouri, 41-26, with the critical play being the sack that resulted in a fumble and touchdown return by Michael Sam, making it 28-10. In all, Missouri sacked Murray four times, the same amount as the Clemson game.
What might’ve happened: Tunsil, by now comfortable at left tackle, would have helped protect Murray’s blind side, and many who were with the program at the time believe they would have won that game.
What actually happened: Georgia finished 8-4 in the regular season, and 5-3 in the SEC, relegated to the TaxSlayer bowl.
What might’ve happened: After beating Clemson and Missouri, Georgia went into Vanderbilt 6-0, and despite injuries (Malcolm Mitchell, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley were all out by then) would have been amped up enough to pull that out, and perhaps even the Auburn game later. At minimum, flipping the Missouri game would have resulted in Georgia winning the SEC East, as it would have finished tied with Missouri for first place, and would’ve had the tiebreaker. It would have been the third straight SEC East title for the Bulldogs.
What actually happened: Georgia went 10-3 in the regular season and 6-2 in the SEC play, with losses to South Carolina (38-35), Florida (38-20) and Georgia Tech (30-24 in overtime). Georgia’s offensive line yielded 17 sacks that year, five less than the previous season, while Georgia’s offense ranked fourth in the SEC, though only ninth in passing.
What might’ve happened: Tunsil in his second year as the starting left tackle, and David Andrews at center, Georgia may have been able to even better protect for Hutson Mason, improving that passing attack, and perhaps flipping one or several of those losses.
What actually happened: Georgia went 9-3 in the regular season and 5-3 in the SEC play, undone by the month of October, when it was clobbered by Alabama, lost at Tennessee after blowing a 21-point lead, and was beaten soundly by Florida. Georgia’s passing offense ranked 10th in the SEC, its total offense was eighth, while giving up 17 sacks once again.
What might’ve happened: Nothing might have avoided that debacle against Alabama. But imagine Tunsil at left tackle as a third-year starter, John Theus at right tackle, Houston and Isaiah Wynn at guard and Brandon Kublanow at center. Perhaps that leads to more protection for the quarterback, more imagination from the offensive playcalling, and at least a better result against Tennessee. Perhaps that also doesn’t lead to the ill-fated quarterback change against Florida and flips that result too.
Tunsil’s presence would have had the bigger impact on his first season, 2013, when you can point to at least two specific games that could have flipped and handed Georgia the division championship. The next two seasons, it’s harder to pinpoint specific games. But as we saw in 2016 – a year Tunsil would have been gone anyway, assuming he still went pro – a good offensive line is vital. Having a shut-down left tackle can have a domino effect that lifts an entire line. So would have Tunsil have changed Georgia football history if he had gone there?
You never know.