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Can Kirby Smart afford to keep 5-star freshman quarterback Brock Vandagriff off the field this season?

Dawgs fans talk backup QB battle, portal impact and Tom Crean’s future at UGA

It’s time to dip into some of the latest reader notes to the Blawg, starting with the ongoing battle for the backup quarterback spot. …

Hey Bill, I know the SEC Network crew left the G-Day game convinced that Carson Beck will be JT Daniels’ backup this fall, but I’m not sure it’s that clear-cut. While Beck settled down, he threw some pretty bad balls early on, and is green. Stetson Bennett has more experience, but also showed with his latest pick that he still doesn’t have much of an arm. Do you think the freshman, Brock Vandagriff, will figure into it this season?  

— Rob Jones

Carson Beck came out of the G-Day game looking like the favorite to back up JT Daniels at quarterback. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

I do think his stronger arm gives Beck the edge over the more experienced but unimpressive Bennett, but I have a feeling Kirby Smart is going to have a hard time justifying keeping Vandagriff from getting meaningful playing time this season — especially with the ghost of Justin Fields’ brief UGA career still looming over Dooley Field. I think the dual-threat Vandagriff certainly is the favorite to be Georgia’s starting QB in 2022, presuming that Daniels moves on to the NFL after this season, as most observers expect. For now, Vandagriff still needs to learn the playbook fully, and get some seasoning, so Beck is the better option. However, Vandagriff’s upside is much higher than Beck’s. Can Smart afford to keep a 5-star QB on ice that long? Installing a package of run-pass option plays that use the freshman in the red zone seems like a natural way to utilize him this year, but that idea was flubbed badly with Fields. On the other hand, Georgia has a different offensive coordinator now, and Smart presumably has learned something from experience. Whatever they do, it is likely to be quite a juggling act. Meanwhile, more thoughts from fans on the G-Day game …

My thought process every G-Day is, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If you love defense, you cringe at every missed tackle, while celebrating the running back’s toughness. If you’re offensive-minded, a QB sack is disheartening, but seeing the D-line perform as expected is gratifying. … I’m very optimistic about the upcoming season and I do believe that the biggest obstacle to the success of this team is not Clemson, not Alabama, not Kirby’s game management, but staying healthy and being able to field a team with no extreme gaps in any position group come playoff time. 

— Tony Tyson

I think we have a legitimate shot at big things this year, as long as we can stay healthy! It’s going to be wild, with a full complement of wideouts and running backs to work with!

— Matt Whittlesey

Daniels not being able to plant his left foot is bothersome to me. That little hop pass is silly. I feel he won’t be our quarterback by the end of the year.

— Buddy Burke Jr.

I think Tony and Matt are right in their belief that staying healthy will be the key for the Dawgs this coming season. As for Daniels’ footwork, I don’t see a problem. While the little hop in his step as he released the ball some of the time might look a bit different, it didn’t seem to impact his throwing at all. He had plenty of zip on the ball on the shorter and intermediate passes, and that 59-yard bomb to Demetris Robertson was perfectly thrown. Assuming he stays healthy, I don’t see Daniels being supplanted this season.

I am very blessed to have been able to take my 88-year-old father to Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium for the first time in a year and a half. The weather turned out to be beautiful, and we had a lovely day. That being said, I am very upset about the lack of accommodations from the UGA Athletic Department for fans with limited mobility. There is no transportation available from on-campus parking, and there is no elevator available for regular Hartman Fund donor/season ticket holders.

— Michael Scharff

It’s an old stadium, built many years before accessibility came into consideration, but I think you raise legitimate issues that realistically could be addressed. I encourage you to share your thoughts with new Athletic Director Josh Brooks at athdir@uga.edu.

Bill, I think the transfer portal and immediate playing time for transfers is going to be the ruination of college football. How is a coach supposed to build a program with a bunch of free agents capable of leaving any time they want?

— Denver Dawg

I think coaches quickly are adapting to the transfer portal, whether they like it or not. Yes, Smart has lost some players who were seeking more playing time or a chance to start, but, overall, the portal is more likely to work in UGA’s favor in football, because many players entering it are looking for a chance to play for a program that has a realistic chance of winning championships. 

The transfer portal has not been a friend to Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean. (Getty Images)

(For that same reason, the portal works against UGA basketball. See below.)

Smart has said he doesn’t want the Dawgs to build their program from the portal (as some teams are doing), but it is a quick way to get experience at a position of need — say, cornerback. And for programs that lost a bunch of starters off last year’s team, it’s a good way to replenish quickly, which is why Oklahoma has hit the portal so hard this offseason. 

Speaking for college football’s “haves” (of which Georgia is one), Alabama’s Nick Saban recently summed up the portal situation this way: “We’re going to adapt to it and make it an advantage for us.”

Bill, what’s the deal with Tom Crean not being able to hold on to his players? And how much longer is Butts-Mehre going to let this go on? 

— Richard Boyd

There must be some problems internally in our basketball program with Tom Crean, with soooo many top players transferring out. What is it?

— Stephen Segrest

Sahvir Wheeler is the latest Bulldog to decide he wants to play basketball someplace else. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

The first instinct of many is to blame the coach. And, as the Athletic’s Seth Emerson pointed out, even before the portal, Crean had this problem at Indiana, where they referred to it as “Spring Creaning.” Sahvir Wheeler, who bailed this past week, is the third starter, and sixth player, to leave Georgia since the start of this past season. And he’s the 13th to leave since Crean arrived in Athens.

However, I think the temptation of the transfer portal probably has as much to do with it as Crean’s coaching style. It’s understandable that, based on the past couple of seasons, talented players at UGA would figure they might as well go somewhere that competes for championships. 

Wheeler said as much in talking with ESPN: “I am looking for a style of play that is compatible to my skill set. I am also looking for the opportunity to impact winning at the highest level.”

Still, even traditional basketball powerhouses like North Carolina and Duke have lost starting players to the portal. So, it’s just another aspect of college sports coaches have to take into account. 

As for Crean’s future at Georgia, I’ve said before that I expect him to be the Dawgs’ coach next season, but with a mandate from his bosses for significant improvement. After that, I wouldn’t place any bets on him sticking in Athens, since next year the buyout on his UGA contract drops from $7.2 million to $3.2 million.

Hey Bill, I wish Chuck Dowdle a happy retirement from his role as Georgia’s sideline and locker room reporter. Sure, he didn’t ever ask any hard questions, but you don’t really expect that on a school broadcast. His predecessor, Loran “Whaddyagot” Smith, was much the same. So, who do you think should take Chuck’s place?

— Andy Settles

Buck Belue seems like an ideal choice to be the new sideline reporter for UGA’s football radio network. (680 the Fan)

Quite a few names, young and old, have been offered up, with Dowdle telling the Athens Banner-Herald he’d like to see a former player filling that role. Among the names being bandied about are former Georgia QBs Hutson Mason and Buck Belue, who co-host an afternoon program on 680 the Fan in Atlanta; former cornerback Brandon Boykin, who’s done some work for the SEC Network; and another former quarterback, D.J. Shockley, who does a UGA podcast and has done some Atlanta media work. 

Out of that bunch, I’d say why not stick with past practice and go with the geezer, meaning Belue. (Hey, I am 7 years older than Buck, so I can use the g-word.) Belue is a popular UGA legend, has many years of broadcast experience, and has an easygoing on-air style. I think any of the former players mentioned above would be fine, but Buck would be my favorite.

Bill, with all the talk this week about the attempt of the top European football (“soccer”) clubs to pull away and launch a Super League, it got me to thinking about the periodic talk of the cream of the Power 5 conferences doing the same in college football. What do you think?

— Sue Bailey

You’re not alone, Sue. Andy Staples of the Athletic and Dan Wolken of USA Today were among those discussing the likelihood (or not) of a college football super conference this week. And, whether talking 15 teams (like the aborted European Super League would have had) or 32 teams (which would seem more likely), Georgia always is among the programs mentioned for inclusion.

If a college football Super League was created, Georgia and Notre Dame probably would play much more frequently. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

My own take? The fact that college football already is making tons of money might make the appetite for blowing up the sport less keen, but never underestimate the power greed in sports, particularly college football. So, as unlikely as the idea seems, you can’t rule it out. 

As for the pros and cons of a super conference, yes, it would make for better matchups on a week-to-week basis, especially if it played an all-conference schedule (no more cupcakes for fans to put up with). Television/streaming would love it. And, hey, the Dawgs and Fighting Irish likely would play each other more often!

But, without natural regional rivalries, the very nature of the game would change. With a national league that stretched from coast to coast, traveling to the farthest road games likely would be reserved for the affluent.

And, with the forthcoming changes in players’ rights to control and profit from their own name, image and likeness, it would be impossible to imagine the traditional “student athlete” model providing the talent for such a super league. Better to be honest and declare it a development league for the NFL and compensate the players commensurately. 

I concede that a super league would be more fun to watch most weeks, but I’m not sure, as fans, that we’d feel as invested in the sport as we do now. 

I think I’d prefer a model where you basically kept regional conferences, but perhaps consolidated and reconfigured them. For example, take the best of the SEC and ACC and make a more competitive league from top to bottom, leaving the lesser programs that didn’t make the cut — like Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Syracuse and Wake Forest — to play one another in their own conference.

That’s an idea I could get behind.