Where should the Dawgs, who were unranked at the end of this past season, be placed in the 2016 preseason polls?
That’s how we start off this edition of Junkyard Mail. …
Travis Oswald writes: Hey Bill, I’m still trying to get over the Bulldogs finishing the season unranked, despite a 10-win season! I read somewhere UGA is the first 10-win team from a Power 5 conference to finish unranked since the Associated Press started doing a post-bowl poll in 1968. Wow. Talk about no respect! Guess that makes us the Rodney Dangerfield of the SEC! Which brings up the question of where the Dogs will start the 2016 season in the preseason rankings. Or, will they be ranked at all? What do you think, and where do you think they ought to be ranked before the first game is played?
I think that when it came to the final poll no-show for Georgia, it was a combination of the general feeling that, if you fire your head coach, your season hasn’t been a success, and the underwhelming nature of a number of those 10 wins. Going to overtime with Georgia Southern doesn’t win you many poll votes. Personally, I would have placed the Dawgs near the bottom of the Top 25, based mostly on the high ranking of the defense in most categories, but I can’t really complain too much about Georgia not making the rankings, considering the bad taste the season left with most fans.
Looking ahead, as I’ve said before, I believe those fans expecting 11 wins out of the box in the Kirby Smart era are setting themselves up for disappointment. Yes, the major reason for last season’s guarded optimism, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield, will still apply. But the Dawgs likely will either have a green true freshman QB or a returnee who was barely adequate last year (except against South Carolina). And there’s much work to do.
The receiver corps also needs to be strengthened. And the Dawgs need more quality depth if they ever hope to emulate Smart’s previous employer.
As Smart put it, “We’ve got to improve the offensive line, we’ve got to get bigger people, we’re got to get more depth. We’ve got to be able to survive a couple of injuries because they’re going to happen. It’s inevitable.”
Getting back to your question about preseason rankings, Travis, the way-too-early ones out so far generally put Georgia in the lower portion of the Top 25. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach has the Dawgs at No. 23, noting: “The Bulldogs will have to replace three starting offensive linemen … [and] the front seven on defense will get a complete makeover, with three linebackers and two key linemen moving on. [But] Georgia’s schedule isn’t especially taxing, with only four true road games, including an early trip to Ole Miss.”
Sports Illustrated has Georgia at No. 22, Fox Sports puts them at No. 19 (noting “the Dawgs’ season largely hinges on how quickly incoming freshman QB Jacob Eason is ready to take the reins”) and CBS Sports has pegged UGA at No. 22.
At this point, those predictions sound about right to me.
Speaking of the 11-win mark, among those responding to my open letter to Kirby Smart was Curtis Eggleston, who writes: I know that you disagree, but the point that Kirby Smart must win at least 11, and must win the SEC soon, is a valid one. Mark Richt was fired for not winning big games, which you must do to win the SEC. (Funny how the games that he did win became less big, assumingly because he won them.) UGA fans and alum groups that I belong to have a misguided, entitled viewpoint about the state of UGA football. I wish Smart all the success in the world, but if he isn’t demonstratively better than Richt, then a lot of people … should all make it clear that the firing was a mistake.
As I noted in my letter, Smart must indeed win the big ones and win championships. But that’s going to take a little time.
On the subject of starting Jacob Eason as a true freshman, Joel Provano writes: I watched our new QB in the Army all-star game. He definitely has all the physical tools, but has a long, long way to go as a good SEC quarterback. He reminded me a little of Preston Jones, throws everything at 100 mph. I think we’ll struggle with him as the starter next year, but I hope that’s the way we go. I was impressed by his ability to throw on the run. Maybe if Chubb returns at 100 percent, we won’t have to ask too much from Eason.
I agree. In the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Eason showed a lot of talent but also had some very some rough moments. I tend to think his first season will progress much like Matthew Stafford’s first season did, with Eason likely graduating to the starter’s job after the season has begun and then showing us a mix of big plays and big mistakes early on before finally starting to get into the groove late in the season. But, remember, the team’s record was 9-4 Stafford’s first year.
SquareDawg writes: I read the “exit interview” with Mike Ekeler, and I was puzzled by what he said about Brian Schottenheimer not being able to run “his” offense at Georgia. Bill, what did you make of that? What sort of offense did Schotty supposedly really want to run?
For those who might have missed it, Ekeler said Schottenheimer “came into a situation where he tried to run an offense that was already in place and didn’t run his offense, so to speak. … I think Schotty took so much heat and it was really unfounded, in my opinion. That guy will go back to the NFL and do well.” (Schottenheimer has been named the Indianapolis Colts’ new quarterbacks coach.)
Really, though, based on Schottenheimer’s past NFL career, about the only aspect of “his” offense that he wasn’t able to run at Georgia was using the tight ends as receivers more. Because of the poor play of the offensive line, they were needed more for blocking. Schottenheimer called the plays with little participation from Mark Richt until late in the year, when the head coach appeared to become more involved as they attempted to salvage the season. I think Ekeler was being overly generous in his assessment of Schotty.
Mike Ruffin writes: Who do we expect to handle place kicking and punting next year?
Until the new recruiting class is in place we can’t be sure, but right now it looks as if redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship is the heir apparent to Marshall Morgan, probably backed up by William Ham, who the Macon Telegraph recently reported is rejoining the team after a one-year break. Lead punter is likely to continue to be quarterback Brice Ramsey, who took over as starter during the 2015 season. The new staff may well also try to identify a “pooch” punter to take over the short-kick role that Collin Barber was asked to play after Ramsey had supplanted him as the main punter.
Jamie Dixon writes: Bill, I’m getting a bit worried about this year’s edition of Fox’s Hounds after that shellacking by Texas A&M. What do you think, do the b-ball Dawgs make the Big Dance this year or not?
I’ve watched several games on TV this season and seen two games in person, including Saturday’s loss by 34 points to the Aggies, and now I’m worried, too. Admittedly, Saturday’s game was by far the worst performance of the season and it would be unfair to judge them by that one alone. But, a team that’s been billed as the most talented across-the-board of the Mark Fox era too often doesn’t even play like a team, with lots of errant passes and careless turnovers and too few offensive rebounds. Plus, too many long scoring droughts in games and too many times letting a big lead erode. Georgia did manage to get back on the winning track Wednesday night in a closer-than-need-be game against Missouri, and it’s still too early to write this team’s NCAA chances off at this point, but the team I saw against A&M definitely didn’t look tournamentworthy.
Janet James writes: Bill, I have conflicted feelings about Georgia and Florida continuing their annual meeting on the “neutral” site in Jacksonville. What do you think?
Your putting “neutral” in quotes indicates you might be among those UGA fans who think the Dawgs’ problems with the Gators from the 1990s onward have to do with the location. I don’t agree. The game was played in Jacksonville back when Vince Dooley teams dominated the series, and more recently Georgia took three in a row before bungling the last two.
The crowd is split 50-50, and even that doesn’t’ seem to matter. Georgia fans outnumbered Florida fans at the 2014 game and the Gators still gave the Dawgs an unexpected thrashing. I also love college football traditions, and Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville is a grand one.
However, I do think it’s a shame that the season ticket holders never get to see Georgia’s biggest rival play in Athens. And, if configured correctly, having the Gators play at Sanford every other year could help correct the schedule imbalance created by now having Tech and Auburn both be away games during the same year.
I think in order to shore up season ticket sales, the two schools eventually will have to consider putting the series either on a home-and-home basis or playing in Jacksonville only every third year. But, for now, it appears the game will stay put, as the Athens Banner-Herald recently reported that a new deal to keep the game in Jacksonville another five years is in the works.
Got something you want to discuss or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.
— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.