ATHENS — It’s officially silly season. No denying that anymore.
Suddenly we’re getting inundated with lists and rankings and, well, let’s just call it what it is, rhetoric.
Just to be sure I was using the word right, I looked up the definition: “Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.”
Yep, rhetoric is definitely the right word.
There all kinds of people blathering opinions about this, that and the other thing right now, and they will be from now until August, when we all can genuinely fret over depth charts and schedules.
For now it’s projections and rankings, and those are all based on opinion and, generally, not facts.
We’re not immune to it here at DawgNation either. Our very own Brandon Adams makes no bones about his hatred of the Gators, as his blind squirrel prop and daily countdowns will attest.
It’s fun, as long you take it for what it’s worth. That’d be just a smidgen above nothing.
If you’ve watched Paul Finebaum lately or your social media feeds include college football-related topics, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve got Mike Bianchi blathering on about how Georgia’s is the nation’s most overrated football program and how Florida’s “Dan Mullen going to quickly turn the tables in that rivalry.”
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 7, 2019
Then there’s Gene Sapakoff, sports editor of the Charleston Post & Courier, who took on the task of ranking ACC and SEC football coaches. You think it’s pure data that has Sapakoff arriving at Clemson’s Dabo Swinney as the game’s best coach at the moment, over and above No. 2 Nick Saban?
LIVE NOW: @Sapakoff explains his list of SEC & ACC coaches.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 6, 2019
Same thing with numbers 3 and 4. How anyone could arrive at Mullen being No. 3 on that list on his own merits, but ahead of Georgia’s Kirby Smart? I nearly spit out my coffee this morning.
And it’s not that I think Smart is above reproach or that Mullen is mashed potatoes. I’ve always pointed out Smart’s shortcomings (pick out any special teams fake from last season) and drawn attention to the fact that his record on the field in the first three seasons is almost exactly the same as Richt with the exception of the playoff system.
And I actually share Sapakoff’s sentiments about Mullen’s work at Mississippi State being exemplary. Gene is a friend, and that’s what he said tipped it to Mullen over Smart for No. 3. “His HailState work was amazingly overachieving,” he told me. About that we agree.
That doesn’t make him a better coach than Smart, in my opinion. I’m not sure at this juncture either one of them belongs in the Top 5, really. But I do believe Smart has the Bulldogs firmly in that realm as a program at this point and time in history.
And that’s definitely not the case with Mullen at Florida. Again, perhaps he’ll get the Gators there, as his pal Bianchi writes. But that’s based on nothing more conjecture right now, perpetuated, I guess, by the confident vibe Mullen is putting out down in Swamp country.
As for the facts, there’s nothing to support either premise.
I’ll try to dispense with this quickly, but as far as Mullen vs. Smart, there’s actually a significant sample size to examine, and it’s really been no contest. We can look at Mullen and Smart as head coaches or Mullen and Smart as assistant coaches or we can simply look at them head-to-head under any circumstance, it always comes back to Smart having the edge, or at least being associated with the better team.
Of course, Mullen is a little older (47) than Smart (43) and has been a head coach longer, 10 years to three. But let’s start there. Mullen is 79-47 overall (.626) and 38-42 (.475) in SEC play; Smart is 32-10 (.762) and 18-6 (.750). Also, Smart has won two division titles, one conference championship and made one college football playoff. Mullen remains zilch on that front.
Of course, both were longtime assistant coaches for highly successful SEC programs. Mullen was offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer while Smart was defensive coordinator for Saban at Alabama. The Gators’ record with Mullen in the fold for four years was very impressive: 44-9 (.830) and 25-7 in SEC (.781). Bama’s over 10 years with Smart was better: 105-18 (.853) and 60-12 (833). Florida won two national titles and two SECs in that span. Alabama won four national titles and three SECs.
As coordinators, Smart and Mullen faced off only once. The Gators defeated Alabama 31-20 in the 2008 SEC championship.
But then, Mullen was himself offensive coordinator while also head coach at Mississippi State from 2009-17, so Smart game-planned against him as Bama’s DC for seven consecutive years during that period. Smart never lost one of those battles. It was close only once, in 2014 when the Tide won 25-20. Overall, though, Mullen’s Maroons scored only six touchdowns in those seven years and lost by the aggregate score of 199-60.
As head coaches, Smart and Mullen have met just twice. Smart’s 2-0 in those games, with Georgia defeating Mississippi State 31-3 in Athens in 2017 and the Bulldogs besting Florida 36-17 last year in Jacksonville.
I guess the only other measurable there is at the moment would be recruiting rankings. Mullen was hired as the Gators’ coach in November of 2017, so he gets full credit for the classes of 2018 (ranked 14th) and 2019 (9th). Georgia was 1 and 2, respectively, in those two years. It bears mentioning that the Gators’ Class of 2020 is currently ranked No. 6 to Georgia’s 13. But with 10 commits to the Bulldogs’ 7 at the moment, that has to be considered incomplete.
I know Mullen’s smack-talk and generally optimistic personality has the Gators all lathered up here during talk season, and there is nothing wrong with that. Nobody has ever had a bad offseason, or a bad recruiting class, or a bad spring practice in college football. But there’s simply no basis in fact to back the claim that he’s a better coach than Georgia’s Kirby Smart, whether they’re each ranked in the top five on any list or the top 100.
As for Bianchi’s claims, he got what he wanted. He was looking to get a rise out of the Bulldog and SEC nations, which he did. I’ve known Bianchi for a long time and respect his body of work. But this was really just “shock jock” stuff, which is mostly what Bianchi is these days.
He loves the Gators and, as a Florida alum, he suffered through all those years when Georgia dominated to the rivalry to a ridiculous degree from the 1960s through the 1980s. Understandably, the Gator faithful was deliriously happy and thankful when Steve Spurrier came along and awoke their “sleeping giant” program and that Meyer was able to keep it going briefly in the early 2000s.
But I’ve never been one who subscribed to the theory that national championships define whether a program is elite or not. Certainly Georgia should have and probably could have won one or two over the 39 years now that it has not. And Florida had the Bulldogs’ number for a good long while, especially under Spurrier.
Yet the fact is, Georgia is 52-43-5 head-to-head against the Gators and the Bulldogs have won the last two and five of the last eight. And they’re the ones currently playing for SEC championships, not Florida.
And that’s the thing about this silliness. You can make whatever argument you want to make based on the the width of the lens you want to use. Georgia folks are going to focus on these last three years. Gators are gonna look at the three before that.
For all the fireworks that are going off between Georgia and Florida fans right now, it won’t mean a thing once these teams tee it up in early November.
Meanwhile, the only way for the Bulldogs to quiet all that “Natty” banter is to go out and win themselves one. Based on what I’m seeing through my telephoto lens at the moment, they’re much more likely to do that in the next couple of years than the Gators are.
But, of course, that’s just rhetoric.