ATHENS — The Georgia football active roster has become one big game of “Clue,” a bit of a guessing game for Bulldogs’ fans.
But that seems only par for the course.
After last year’s 28-21 Sugar Bowl loss to Texas, UGA fans can’t be sure which team will show up, anyway.
Last year’s bowl season Bulldogs lacked the passion of the regular season, showings signs of division and disappointment after narrowly missing the playoffs.
It’s one of the consequences of a “win-it-all” mentality when a program works as hard as the Georgia players have and falls short.
It’s also part of the effect the College Football Playoff has had on the sport. Coaches and programs all over are dealing with he same challenges.
But coach Kirby Smart had an even more difficult hand to play.
Smart had all the best intentions when he honored Justin Fields’ request to go to last year’s Sugar Bowl with the team, even though Fields had already set up his transfer to Ohio State.
As it turned out, Georgia was unable to convince Fields to stay, and his presence turned into an unintended distraction.
Several also said that bringing first-round NFL pick Deandre Baker on the trip also proved more of a distraction than added leadership element. Baker had originally said he would play, but he later backed out for fear of injury.
Smart wanted to reward Baker for staying for his senior season and helping the team to another championship run.
The thing for Georgia fans to remember is that Smart, who turned 44 years old on Monday, is a fast learner.
Smart said last week he will only bring “engaged” players on this year’s Sugar Bowl trip to face Baylor at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1.
The Georgia training room is full of bumps and bruises, and three starting offensive linemen are expected out for the game.
Two weeks after being voted a permanent team captain, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas opted to skip the bowl game. Thomas is headed for a first-round draft slot.
No one could blame Thomas for leaving, but no one would have blamed him if he had stayed to finish his legacy playing out the full season.
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson followed Thomas’ lead, even though his draft stock is not nearly as complete.
Wilson is betting his 6-foot-7, 340-pound frame will impress scouts enough to move him into the Top 10 at his position.
Redshirt junior offensive guard Ben Cleveland is academically ineligible according to a 247Sports report quoting his father.
One can’t help but wonder if the departure of offensive line coach Sam Pittman two weeks ago to become Arkansas head coach had any effect on the linemen.
UGA has one of the better academic support systems, and Smart makes sure grades are checked regularly.
Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift has said he won’t declare his NFL intentions until after the Sugar Bowl. But Swift has not committed to playing in the bowl.
Swift’s career reached great heights with the Bulldogs; he appeared as dynamic as any before him.
It makes it all the more unfortunate a bruised shoulder left him a shell of himself the past two games. Georgia’s hopes in the SEC title game were all but down the drain with their superstar ailing.
The Bulldogs could use some holiday cheer and clarifications with rumors swirling of more suspensions and potential academic issues that Smart has yet to reveal.
The Georgia head coach usually seems to have cause for his actions. For whatever those reasons, Smart has chosen to delay some of the difficult news for when his team arrives in New Orleans on Dec. 27.
The Bulldogs will hold their first open practice in nearly two months on Dec. 28, at which point full transparency will return to the program.
Many have commented on how few Georgia fans are planning to travel to New Orleans to support the program.
But to be fair, there’s a lot of uncertainty on top of the understandable fallout from the loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
Georgia is 11-2 and ranked No. 5 in the nation — only four teams deemed better.
And yet, Baylor is expected to out-draw the Bulldogs’ fans at the once-celebrated Sugar Bowl.
Georgia recently put out a 41-second clip of a recent indoor bowl practice this weekend.
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) December 22, 2019
Here’s a look at the players who were identified in the clip, and some notable ones who were not seen in the frame-by-frame inspection:
(note some numbers were blurred, so some players not identified may have been at practice – to be clear, just because a player did not appear in the video does not mean they aren’t still on the team or eligible to play)
Notables not seen:
Cade Mays (wearing non-contact jersey)
Notables not seen:
Notables not seen:
Walter Grant (wearing non-contact jersey)
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) December 21, 2019