Georgia fans can’t say they weren’t warned. Raising expectations for UGA to the highest possible level was going to have a side effect: Nothing less than a national championship would be good enough, and anything short of that lofty goal would be disappointment.
College football writer Pete Fiutak discussed this point back in the summer on DawgNation Daily. He told UGA fans then that the upcoming season might be less fun than the one before it had been simply because the standard had changed.
“On the one hand, it’s obviously a good thing,” Fiutak said. “You want to have a program that’s close to playing for a national championship. You love having the expectations there. But at the same time, it’s almost like — OK, now we have to get there or else.”
The complicated emotions that come with that championship or bust mentality for UGA fans seem to be manifesting themselves as anxiety over the Bulldogs’ offense at the moment. There’s some concern the unit is sputtering a bit, and now some pushback from a different sector of the base saying those concerns overstate the matter.
Case in point…
— Josh Johansson (@JoshJohansson) October 5, 2018
Every offensive stat in that chart for 2018 is an improvement over the same metric from 2017 through five games. Yet there’s an element of that comparison that’s misleading.
Last year UGA entered its fifth game of the season ranked No. 11, but came into last week ranked No. 2. That’s an important distinction. We knew a year ago that UGA was pretty good, but didn’t know then it was going to become a Playoff team. Now that we know which category UGA belongs in, it’s the other playoff-quality offenses to which we should compare the Bulldogs.
Furthermore, through five games a year ago, UGA had beaten two teams that would finish in the top 20 — Notre Dame (No. 11) and Mississippi State (No. 19). So far this season, UGA has only played one team ranked in the AP Poll at the time of the game. That was South Carolina, but the Gamecocks fell out of the poll after losing to the Bulldogs. South Carolina also lost to Kentucky last Saturday, and now doesn’t seem likely to re-enter the poll anytime soon.
Another key point to remember, UGA was still breaking in a brand-new freshman quarterback after five games in 2017. Yet now, Jake Fromm is a veteran signal caller. Which is another reason the year-over-year improvement shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What might be a bit surprising though is that Georgia is actually doing quite well offensively when compared to the rest of the country. Football Study Hall has the Bulldogs 10th in offensive efficiency, and ESPN’s FPI has UGA No. 7.
However, three of the teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs in offensive efficiency according to ESPN are clear national championship contenders: Alabama at No. 1, Oklahoma at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 5. The No. 4 offense according to ESPN’s FPI, West Virginia is 4-0 and ranked ninth in the AP Poll — making the Mountaineers a likely title contender too.
The bottom line is Georgia — even with some flaws — is in the conversation of best offenses in the country, but winning a championship might require being truly elite. Elite play will require improvement, and that improvement could begin Saturday vs. Vanderbilt.