“What do we do now?”
– Robert Redford’s character to his political consultant, the final line of the movie “The Candidate.”
It may feel a bit like that on signing day in less than two weeks, if as expected Kirby Smart and his staff wrap up one of the top-rated classes in school history. You did great. You got all these players. But then comes the next part.
And we start off with that in this week’s mailbag.
With Kirby Smart recruiting at such a high level, what should our expectations be? I hear a lot of people saying 2018 as our first year to realistically expect this team to mature into a national contender. I try not to get wrapped up in expectations and hype. I am a Georgia fan after all and I am no stranger to crushing failure and disappointment. And like Tennessee this year, I don’t want to hop on the preseason hype train and get stuck with a champions of life title instead of a national title. Should we be tempering our expectations or embracing the hype? Do you think hype around a program helps or hurts? I think there are cases for both (see: Alabama).
– Seth Rasmer, Lafayette, Ind.
Don’t worry, the Champions of Life title has a safe home elsewhere. Of course, Butch Jones reached for that after a disappointing season, and the way recruiting is going, as you point out, there would be a lot of people around Georgia hugely disappointed without an SEC title in the next three years. I don’t mean SEC East title. I mean the whole SEC.
I don’t see that as a problem. This is Georgia, and Mark Richt was let go in large part because he hadn’t won the league in 10 years, and hadn’t won the division in three years. Kirby Smart came here knowing there would be pressure. You’d rather be recruiting like bonkers, as Smart has been, and creating high expectations, rather than sitting on signing day and proclaiming: “Just watch, all these recruiting analysts downgrading our class will be proven wrong.”
Georgia is already being discussed as the SEC East favorite, mainly because of the return of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and company, but also the recruiting. My guess, having watched Smart this past year, is he’ll handle the 2017 expectations just the way he did Jacob Eason expectations: Gingerly. He’ll point to potential weaknesses, he’ll say that Florida has won the division twice in a row and can’t be discounted, and he’ll say that while his team has talent, it needs to prove it.
You also mentioned 2018, and I’m seeing that in some place: That’s the real target year. The only problem with that is Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be gone by then, as will a bunch of talent on defense, and in the big picture you need to win to keep recruiting well. Ron Zook recruited well right away at Florida, but at some point you need to show results, or the recruiting will take a hit too. That doesn’t mean Georgia needs to win a whole bunch of games this year. But at minimum there should be improvement, and I tend to think there will be. It’s just a matter of how much.
Jacob Eason had a better freshmen season than Matthew Stafford (and outside of RB) had worse weapons around him at WR and OL. What should we expect out of his second year who could it be compared to in terms of his development?
– David Scott
Well, Stafford is the usual comparison, but it’s an imperfect one because Eason started basically the entire season (other than the season opener), while Stafford was in an out. But Stafford’s sophomore season produced this: 19 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, 2,523 passing yards, 55.7 completion percentage, an 11-2 record, a Sugar Bowl bid and a final overall ranking of No. 3. I suspect Georgia would take all that next year.
But let’s look outside the program. Here’s a good ESPN story from early last season, which references Eason, and points out that in the past five years only three true freshman have thrown for over 3,000 yards in a season, while two others came close. (Eason didn’t this year either, throwing for 2,430 yards, while FSU’s Deondre Francois and USC’s Sa Darnold did.) Of the five previous true freshman who exceeded or approached 3,000 yards, here’s how each did their sophomore seasons:
- Josh Rosen, UCLA (2016): Injured after starting six games, 1,915 passing yards, 10 TD, 5 INT, 59.3%.
- Brad Kaaya, Miami (2015): 3,238 passing yards, 16 TD, 5 INT, 61.2%.
- Jared Goff, Cal (2014): 3,973 passing yards, 35 TD, 7 INT, 62.1%.
- Jake Browning, Washington (2016): 3,430 passing yards, 43 TD, 9 INT, 62.1%.
- Christian Hackenburg, Penn State (2014): 2,977 passing yards, 12 TD, 15 INT, 55.8%.
As you can see, everyone but Hackenburg took a big step forward. Again, it’s an imperfect comparison because Eason fell short of those guys’ numbers. But between that and Stafford’s sophomore leap, it’s reasonable to expect significant improvement for Eason this year. Perhaps a big one.
But I’ll provide some push-back: The offensive line isn’t guaranteed to be that much better. Isaiah McKenzie’s play-making ability needs to be replaced. (His yards-after-catch had to be very high.) And was Eason’s low interception total this year a reflection of how careful he truly is, or will there be a regression to the mean next season?
In regards to college football scholarships; can coaches pull players scholarships after they have enrolled into the university, but have not committed any wrongdoing (basically a recruiting miss or blunder)? If so, do you see Kirby pulling any scholarships to kids that coach Richt recruited, but may not be any help to the team so that he can sign more of his players?
– Frank from Macon
The short answer is that yes, technically, they can do that as long as the school did not guarantee a four-year scholarship. The last I checked, Georgia was still giving year-to-year scholarships, as most schools still do. The school is still obligated to the player through the spring semester, but could a coach pull an unwanted player into his office and tell him that his scholarship won’t be renewed next year simply because he’s not good enough? Technically, he could.
The only leverage a player has is public embarrassment, i.e. going public. Sometimes a player and his family will take that route, but normally, to be frank, they’re too embarrassed and they just agree to leave and let it seem like a mutual parting. (Note: I have no evidence of this happening at Georgia in any specific cases, because if I did I would write it. This is a general statement about college football.)
Do you know where E.J. Price and Chuma Edoga Landed? Was or is UGA a possibility?
For those unaware: Price and Edoga are offensive lineman from the state of Georgia who took their talents to Southern California. (The real USC, as most outside the state of South Carolina would say, but not I, because I have many friends there, but anyway.)
Edoga actually is still with the Trojans, despite rumors he would transfer, so the answer would definitely appear to be no in his case. Price has left the Trojans after less than a year – he was in last year’s signing class – but I haven’t heard anything about him being on Georgia’s radar. Maybe something will come up again after signing day, but I doubt it.
THE BASKETBALL SECTION
Big Georgia fan here….all sports…..question, someone on the tennis court the other day said that Mark Fox won’t recruit or sign kids that play AAU basketball and most of the top kids in Georgia play AAU. Not sure the guy knew what he was talking about but is that true, and if so, what is the reasoning not to recruit these kids? I am a Mark Fox fan and think he is a solid coach.
– John Ellison
I think your tennis buddy was being a bit too general. Of course Fox recruits the AAU circuit. You have to. Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Yante Maten … all played AAU ball. So did basically everyone else Fox has signed in his tenure. Including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rayshaun Hammonds, the two highest-ranked guys Fox has signed.
The issue is not signing quite enough of those guys. And there’s a couple things at work here. One I have to dance around. The other I don’t.
Dancing around: After the Jim Harrick mess, coaches at Georgia – first Dennis Felton and then Mark Fox – were under strict directives not to have anything like that happen again. I’ll leave it at that.
Not dancing around: Fox came to this job in 2009 without a lot of good local contacts and credibility with high school and AAU coaches, given that his experience was outside the South. It helped to have Phillip Pearson as his top assistant, and Pearson has gotten a number of recruits. It took catching up otherwise however, and that’s where Jonas Hayes and recently Yasir Rosemond have helped. Fox himself gets some credit on the Hammonds recruitment.
It’s fair to say that the recruiting the first few years under Fox was rough overall, but I think a fair look would say the past few years have shown a definite uptick. It’s still not quite locking down the borders, but there are systematic obstacles towards doing that with Georgia basketball: A much smaller fan base than football, a lack of tradition, an arena that doesn’t overwhelm anybody … and I could name some more.
Side note: OK, so I defended Mark Fox. Now let’s go the other way.
Perhaps Tyree Crump is going to be a knockdown outside shooter (if he ever plays!), and Jordan Harris shows some promise as well, but in general Fox seems to be recruiting guys that have athletic upsides but aren’t pure shooters. A team like Notre Dame seems to do just opposite – Mike Brey at Notre Dame finds the guys that can shoot well and figures he can teach them how to be decent team defenders and rebounders even if they lack one on one defensive skills. I say that because the overall recruiting profile is about the same at ND, yet they knock off the “big boys” in the ACC all the time. Do you think Fox should be going after more low profile pure shooters to improve his team’s offense even if they lack overall athleticism?
– Austen Bannan
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. When you watch the NCAA tournament, or even Georgia’s loss at Oakland last month, you’ll see mid-majors knocking off the big boys largely because of their 3-point shooting. Those guys tend to be those team’s best players, but if Georgia could steal two or three of those guys they would be an immense help. Crump is a freshman, but what if previous classes had included those type of shooters, and they were ready to contribute now? Or if Georgia had grabbed one of the dozens of graduate transfers out there this past offseason?
To be fair, Fox did grab J.J. Frazier when many people thought he was only a mid-major guy, maybe even low-major. And Frazier is an outside shooter. But another set-up shooter or two would do this team a whale of good, even if they’re just coming off the bench. I won’t name names, but let’s say you could trade a couple current players for guys who aren’t good at much but they can nail an open 3? Think Sherrard Brantley, or Dustin Ware (who could do more than shoot). Look at the damage that Florida’s Canyon Berry did to Georgia, with seemingly only the ability to hit 3s. Give Georgia a couple players like that, and this is a dangerous team.
What will the line up at left tackle look like going into spring practice? Does it look like anyone’s job to take?
That’s an unanswered question, and one I or someone else will definitely ask Smart about on signing day. My inclination right now is to favor Isaiah Wynn, as he’s done it before, and I’m not sure the coaches will want to put anyone inexperienced there to protect the blind side. But if they did want to risk it, the obvious possibilities are junior college transfer D’Marcus Hayes and freshmen Isaiah Wilson and Andrew Thomas, though I’m not sure a freshman will be ready for that right away. A few veterans are outside possibilities, such as Aulden Bynum, Kendall Baker and Ben Cleveland. But again, if you have a guy there’s who has done it, as Wynn has, that may overcome the desire to have a bigger left tackle.
Where do you see Mecole Hardman making the biggest impact next year? Offense, defense or special teams? Ready to see him!
– Lee Cannon
Hardman has become the guy we get asked about every mailbag. Him and Cleveland, though didn’t get any about him this time. Weird. Anyway, I wrote two weeks ago that I wouldn’t be shocked to see Hardman be moved back to offense, and I still hold to that. That’s my own educated speculation, not anything tangible I’ve heard. I am rather sure he’ll be in the mix at both return spots.
How many current players leave after 2017 season affecting number of 2018 signees, four year and top three-year team members?
– Lee Cook
There are 18 scholarship players set to be seniors next year, by my count, which isn’t a massive amount. So barring a bunch more attrition, as in more than is already expected, I would expect the overall 85-limit scholarship crunch to be a factor this time next year as well.
Do you foresee Kirby Smart revising his policy on media access to staff and freshmen? Do other schools do this? Clemson?
– Blake Giles
So far I haven’t heard of any planned changes, though obviously it would be nice. I thought Jim Chaney was very good in his pre-bowl press conference and it would’ve been good to hear from him more during the season. (I don’t think people are aware that typically interviews aren’t that long during the season. We’re talking 10 minutes at most for players, and around 12-15 minutes for coaches. And it’s not every week.) I don’t know about all other schools, but Clemson allows assistant coaches to meet with the media once a week during the season.
Side note No. 2: I’m going to bring back the side notes in future mailbags, don’t worry. Just haven’t been too inspired the last few times.
AND WHY NOT, A COUPLE MORE ….
Pitchers and catchers will be reporting for Spring ball soon. This being the case, I have a baseball question. Will the Diamond Dawgs ever consistently play on the national stage. It seems that we have a wealth of high school talent in the state, a high-profile university and a great place to play ball. Why have the Dawgs been so average and can/will they get better? What’s holding them back?
– Gus Gray
I haven’t seen any early SEC predictions, but I know Georgia will be starting a lot of young players, and more than a few freshman pitchers will figure prominently. The Bulldogs are coming off a 27-30 season (and 11-19 in SEC play). If they don’t make the NCAA tournament this year, it will be the sixth straight time that’s happened, and that’s a steep fall for a program that went to four College World Series from 2001-08.
So there’s recent tradition there, unlike basketball, and the program is viewed as a destination spot in recruiting, unlike basketball. The program has just been stuck, playing a lot of young players over the years and not quite enough overall talent. Scott Stricklin, known as a good recruiter before he was hired, is entering his fourth season as head coach, and given all the young players it’ll be interesting to see how this year plays out, and what kind of hope it provides going forward.
I have a recruiting comment as opposed to a question. I’m extremely disappointed that Toneil Carter won’t be a Dawg. Not for the obvious reasons though. I was excited about the prospect of Jacob Eason being named a team captain next year. I was eagerly anticipating a plethora of lame musical references from you regarding a Captain & Toneil backfield. Oh well, take heart Dawg Nation, “Love will keep us together”.
This is truly outside-the-box thinking, and I applaud you. I think.