Clearly, college football is going through a period of major transformation.
Just recently, there’s been the news of the probable expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously spanking the NCAA about its limits on education-related compensation for student-athletes, and laws in six states (including Georgia) going into effect this week that allow college athletes to profit from their own name, image and likeness.
Leaders of the sport who, just a few years ago were warning us that the end of so-called “amateurism” in college football would wreck the sport, now have turned into proponents of both the bigger playoff and the ability of student-athletes to make NIL money. Obviously, the politics of college football have shifted.
Georgia made the College Football Playoff national championship game after the 2017 season, but fell just short of winning another trophy. (Getty Images)
But, as longtime Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill used to say, all politics is local, and, in this corner, so is all of college football.
So, no matter how many teams get to participate in the playoff, or how many hundreds of thousands of dollars star players can rake in while they’re in Athens, what primarily concerns most Dawgs fans is the end result: wins vs. losses and championship trophies added to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall’s display area.
In that regard, a discussion that took place a few months ago at The Athletic raised an interesting question for UGA fans to ponder: Let’s say that, this decade, you have the choice of one of the following: 1. Georgia wins one national championship but otherwise struggles. 2. Georgia doesn’t win a national championship but finishes with a Top 5 rank every season.
Which do you choose?
Quarterback JT Daniels is one of the reasons many college football observers are high on Georgia’s playoff chances this season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
In other words, would winning one natty make up for being mediocre the rest of the time, or would you rather have the Dawgs be a contender for the SEC championship and College Football Playoff every year? One superlative moment, or consistent excellence that falls just short of winning it all?
The result of a survey of Athletic readers was almost an even split, with 51.4 percent going for winning just the one championship, while 48.6 percent chose consistently finishing in the Top 5.
As DawgNation alum Seth Emerson put it: “The guess here is that if overtime in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game had gone differently, Georgia fans would go for the consistency by a very wide margin. But it’s understandable that having to hear ’1980′ from rival fans over and over is wearing down a lot of folks.”
A more recent discussion came in the letters column of the same site’s Andy Staples. A UGA fan posed this question: “A genie has given you a magic wand, with two options. 1) You wave the wand, and guarantee that your team wins *EXACTLY ONE* national championship over the next 20 years. 2) You don’t wave the wand, and whatever happens, happens.”
Which would fans rather have, one national title amid a bunch of ho-hum seasons, or the Dawgs consistently ranking among the Top 5 teams? (Curtis Compton/AJC)
Staples thought that Georgia is one of only a few programs that haven’t won the national title in the past 10 years that “should tell that genie to let the chips fall where they may. The Bulldogs have a talent level similar to or better than Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma, so the probability of a breakthrough is high. And if you’re capable of winning a national title in this environment, you’re capable of winning multiple national titles in this environment.”
Staples’ list of schools that should tell the genie they choose Option No. 2: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia and LSU. “Everyone else should take the guaranteed national title,” he said.
OK, “would you rather” bar games aside, I think it’s fair to say that all Dawgs fans would prefer to have their team in contention for a playoff spot and the national title every year, but they really want to end the 40-year drought that has seen a national championship elude Georgia in football since 1980 — the sooner, the better.
Some folks think it could be as soon as the 2021 season, assuming all works out well with the offensive line and the secondary.
However, the idea that’s been showing up on some national sports sites that it’s 2021 “or bust” for Smart winning a natty at Georgia is ridiculous. If you look at the constantly growing talent base Smart is building in Athens, a national title seems inevitable. (Actually, settling for one national title — as overdue as it is — would be setting the bar kind of low.)
While consistent success can be elusive in college football, where some programs (like, say, Tennessee) have been through a lot of famine since their last feast, UGA, under Smart, looks like a perennial contender.
Of course, for a lot of Dawgs fans, contender is not enough. For them, Georgia winning another national championship in football should be the No. 1 and, in fact, only priority for the UGA Athletic Association, trumping all other considerations.
For many Georgia fans, nothing matters more than bringing a College Football Playoff national championship trophy to Athens. (Getty Images)
I certainly would love to see Georgia finally win it all again, but being a consistently strong program, even without another national title anytime soon, also is an attractive goal.
I’m torn over the single natty vs. consistency question, but, even if it’s not this season, I think a national title will be won by Smart during his tenure at UGA, so I’m not sure it’s really an either/or scenario.
In fact, Georgia looks to be in a good position to remain among the nation’s most competitive programs most seasons, thanks to the Dawgs consistently finishing among the Top 5 in recruiting, and Smart’s foresight in bolstering his program’s strength of schedule over the next 15 years, something that many college football observers think will be a future key in making the playoff (as it has been for years in basketball, with the NCAA tournament).
A while back (before the likely expansion of the playoff to 12 teams was announced), I wrote about how Georgia looked to be one of the primary beneficiaries of a larger playoff bracket, and that point was made again recently by The Athletic’s recruiting writer, Ari Wasserman, who wrote that, with the expansion of the playoff to a dozen teams, Georgia and its elite-level roster won’t be “at the mercy of Alabama.”
With a 12-team playoff, he predicted, “Instead of making it once every seven years, Georgia is going to make it every year.”
Still, I doubt most of Bulldog Nation would think just making the playoff — especially an expanded playoff — would be good enough to declare the Smart Era at UGA one of the school’s best.
Let’s face it, Smart was hired to do what Mark Richt couldn’t do after his first few seasons: win championships. And, with 1980 fading ever farther back into the mists of time, that needs to include a national championship.
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