ATHENS — Nick Chubb, perhaps a bit unfairly, was put on the spot: Did he know the last time Georgia won an SEC football championship?
“I think it was … ’05 or something?” he said.
Correct. That means Chubb, now Georgia’s star tailback, was only nine years old the last time his team celebrated a conference title.
“It is surprising,” he said. “I know we’ve been there a lot more between now and ’05. But I feel like we’re gonna get it done here soon.”
But how soon has become the overhanging subject for a Georgia team entering yet another year with high expectations.
Georgia’s current SEC title drought is the third-longest in program history. The longest was 20 years, and was snapped by coach Mark Richt in 2002. The next-longest drought was 11 years, from 1948-59.
It’s also been 35 years since Georgia won a national championship, under coach Vince Dooley. The program’s only other consensus national title came in 1942, so Dooley ended a 38-year drought in his 17th season. Richt would be entering his 17th season at Georgia when the national title drought would hit 37 years. So there’s a chance for some symmetry there, or close to it.
But Georgia fans don’t want to wait till 2017. They see a team that was the runaway pick to win the SEC East this year, has a star in Chubb, a defense on the rise, and a sense that Richt is finally being given the resources from the administration (such as an indoor facility) to go all the way.
Jeremy Pruitt is in a unique position to judge Georgia’s position. As a staffer at Alabama he won two national titles, and he won a third one at Florida State in one year as its defensive coordinator. Now entering his second year in the same job at Georgia, Pruitt was asked how close he sees this program to getting there.
“It’s hard to compare teams. Each year each team is different,” Pruitt said. “To win a championship it takes guys with experience. That’s one thing that we’re probably lacking a little bit on the defensive side is some experience.”
But then Pruitt, seeming to think out loud, pointed out that Alabama won a national title with a new quarterback (A.J. McCarron) and so did Florida State (Jameis Winston). Georgia is working in a new one Saturday, Greyson Lambert, but how long he stays in the job is uncertain.
“The thing about comparing the programs it’s hard to me to do that right now,” Pruitt said. “But we’re headed in the right direction.”
In SEC football history, Georgia has the third-most titles, 12, behind only Alabama (24) and Tennessee (13), and just ahead of LSU (11), and Florida and Auburn (8 each).
For perspective’s sake, Georgia’s rate of SEC championships prior to Richt (14.9 percent of the seasons) is basically the same as during his tenure (14.2 percent).
Georgia never appeared in the SEC championship game until Richt’s arrival. The Bulldogs won the title his second year, as well as in 2005, and have won five SEC East titles in his 14 years.
But since the Bulldogs last won the league title four different teams have won it (Alabama three times and Auburn, LSU and Florida twice). Each of those teams also has at least one national championship.
That sparks frustration among a Georgia fan base about not getting their own. As for the team itself, there’s been no adoption of an overhanging team goal. But the lack of a championship in 10 years is well-known around the team.
“I think it’s something that motivates us,” junior center Brandon Kublanow said. “I think it’s time that we got one. I think the fan base deserves one. I know we’ve worked extremely hard this offseason.”
Georgia senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell has played in two SEC championship games. He was the intended receiver on the ill-fated final play of the 2012 loss to Alabama. He knows how close it can be.
So he shakes his head at the idea that this year is championship-or-bust.
“It’s always funny how the people who don’t play tell us what it’s time for,” Mitchell said, chuckling. “But we know what needs to be done. And it’s our job to get it done. And if you’re part of the Bulldog Nation, you’ll let us get that job done, and just be there beside us as we do it so we can all reap the benefits from it.”