ATHENS – It’s barely July, but I already feel pressure building on Georgia’s 2017 football season.
I’m not talking about head coach Kirby Smart necessarily. Coaches always feel pressure to win. They’re naturally motivated by competition, not to mention compensation. They’re well paid for what they do, win or lose, and in the grand scheme of things they’re going to be fine.
And Smart’s just two years into this thing. He’s still in the honeymoon period. Unless the Bulldogs’ season deteriorates into some sort of unmitigated disaster or some unexpected scandal arises, he’s going continue to be Georgia’s coach and continue to bank big bucks.
No, I’m really talking about UGA as a football program. It’s time for the Bulldogs to get it going. It’s time to achieve something. It’s time to be something more than a “strong” program that’s financially sound. It’s time to do something more than to continue its “winning tradition.”
That’s not really me talking. That’s the feedback I’m starting to hear more and more. And not just from the core fans and alumni, who are going to be loyal to Ol’ UGA whether it wins big or not. It’s the players that Georgia is currently recruiting. And that might be more important.
I hope you’ve had the opportunity to read the work DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell has been doing lately, which has been considerable. He was recently out in Oregon for The Opening, the premier recruiting event of the summer these days, and was cranking out loads of great copy.
While he was out there, Sentell got to talk to several of the country’s most elite recruiting prospects, some of them already committed to Georgia, several of them being pursued by the Bulldogs and a few of them not really in the picture for UGA.
What I noticed from those reports and other recent ones is a bit of theme developing with regard to this set. Right now it’s just barely creeping in but, unchecked, it could become a full-blown meme.
That is, Georgia is cool and exciting and a great brand and a great school and an awesome campus, but it just doesn’t achieve anything on the football field. These kids aren’t saying that straight out, but that’s certainly the inference.
Nolan Smith is a 5-star defensive end from Savannah who has been committed to Georgia since January. But there have been some subtle cracks developing in that commitment, according to Sentell, including the brief omission of his identity as a UGA commit on his Twitter bio. Smith reaffirmed that pledge to Sentell while in Oregon — and updated his bio accordingly — but his comments to Sentell indicate there are some reservations at the moment.
“We have got to get some wins,” Smith said of the Bulldogs. “We have got to be able to just compete and show everybody that we are more than just a recruiting and a hype squad. Because we go in there every year that we have got the best squad and this and that and we are looking really promising and we get there to the season and we do something like go 7-5. … Hopefully that comes to a stop this season and the next season.”
Jamaree Salyer is another 5-star prospect who is high on Georgia’s wish list and should be somebody the Bulldogs land. He’s the No. 1-rated offensive guard in America for the class of 2018 and two of his teammates and best buddies from last year’s Pace Academy team – tackle Andrew Thomas and receiver Trey Blount – are already on campus at UGA.
Slayer ought to be a shoo-in for the Dogs. But you can detect the slightest of bit of doubt in Salyer’s comments about Georgia.
Asked what the Bulldogs needed to do to shore up their position with him, Salyer told Sentell, “Just to see the Ws. They had a good season (last year) but they lost a lot of close games. I’d like to see them finish games more.”
You can bet the Bulldogs’ competitors are in his ear about that. Salyer is being hotly pursued by Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State (among others), all of whom have been high achievers on the football field.
Georgia has had some huge victories in recruiting lately, most recently landing the services of Zamir “Zeus” White, the No. 1 running back in the country. They’ve also had some defeats, such as losing defensive end Stephon Wynn Jr. to Alabama.
Among the reasons Wynn listed for choosing the Crimson Tide over Georgia, which was thought for a while to have a lead (until Bama made its scholarship offer firm), was its championship-winning tradition.
“I want to be successful,” Wynn said. “I want to win ballgames and I want to have fun.”
Georgia enters the 2017 campaign — which begins in just eight short weeks, by the way – as a prohibitive favorite in the wide-open SEC East race. For me I couldn’t be more qualitative about the word “prohibitive.” When I think about the rebuild they’re having to do on the offensive line and the question marks they have at receiver and on special teams, it’s hard for me to think of them being favored to win a championship at this point in time.
But that’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. I definitely see them building in a positive direction under Smart. What he has done in recruiting has been impressive, keeping that 2016 class together and then hauling in a Top 3-rated “SicEm17″ class. I just don’t know that they’re there yet.
Meanwhile, this 2018 class has been kind of slow to get going. When you look at it from the perspective of these elite recruits who have the opportunity to go anywhere and play for anybody, you kind of get that. A lot of them are taking a wait-and-see attitude on the Bulldogs.
I don’t think that necessarily means Georgia has to win a national championship or an SEC championship this season to keep progressing. But I think it means beating some teams people don’t think you’re going beat and winning the ones nobody expects you to lose. I think it means double-figure victories at the least.
That’s just me reading between the lines. But when you listen closely to what these kids are saying, that’s what I’m hearing.
Smith again: “I would say (10 wins) would be a strong push. Because really the other schools that are pushing for me are winning national championships or competing for national championships.”
Georgia hasn’t done that in a little while. And it needs to soon.