UGA fan lament: Why don’t more juniors stick around like Chubb and Michel did?
The latest Junkyard Mail finds Dawgs fans barking about the NFL draft, the G-Day game telecast, Georgia’s quarterback depth, and the transfer portal.
Bill, I will never understand why so many juniors made such mistakes of overrating themselves for the 2019 NFL draft. Congrats to Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, but the rest of Georgia’s juniors were 7th round and free agent picks. God bless them all, and I wish them all the best. But I can’t believe they didn’t learn the value of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and others, just last year, coming back for their senior season. They all must’ve been in a rush to get out of Athens and make a quick buck, and not looking forward or being advised for a better future by staying in school. Even Hardman and Ridley could’ve used their senior seasons to advance their status in next year’s draft, meaning more money!
— Jim Parry
While Georgia having seven players drafted was a great showing, you’re right that, of the four juniors who left UGA’s program a year early, only Hardman (second round) and Ridley (fourth round, lower than some folks expected) avoided the last round (where Isaac Nauta went) or not getting drafted at all (Elijah Holyfield, who signed a free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers). Holyfield, who surprised a lot of folks by leaving a year early after only one season in the main tailback rotation (though he did gain 1,000 yards) probably is the one least well-served by his decision to go early.
Still, I’d bet that the players who left after their junior year were well aware that it might mean they’d sign for less money than if they stuck around. And, yet, they left anyway. Their individual reasons no doubt vary. Family finances frequently are a factor. Some just can’t wait any longer to make the jump.
Of course, fans love it when star players stick around for a senior year, and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel not only improved their NFL paydays, and got to play in a national championship game, they also earned a spot in Bulldog Nation’s pantheon of most beloved players.
But, the bottom line is, it’s up to the individual players. It’s their life and career. It’s not for us to question their decision, even if the consensus is they might have benefited from sticking around another year.
Hey Bill, how could Georgia’s athletic department allow the SEC Network to give preference to a softball game over the G-Day game? That’s crazy!
— Riverside Rob
The blame lies with the SEC Network/ESPN’s programmers. Whoever scheduled a telecast of a noon softball game, followed by the G-Day game at 2 p.m., obviously has no clue how long a softball game takes to play, or else they have no respect for their viewers.
Shifting either event to the alternative channel, which some carriers of the SEC Network (including DirecTV in my area) don’t bother to program, was not a satisfactory solution. So, for many people, the only option was to watch the game online, logging in via your cable/satellite carrier.
But, beyond that, the SEC Network’s production of the G-Day game was a self-indulgent mess. Plays were missed while they concentrated on their celebrity officials. (You could have gotten pretty snockered if you’d played a drinking game where you took a shot every time they showed the bit with Sean McDonough complaining about his oversized official’s pants.) The channel even missed plays (including a blocked PAT) while it focused on chatter and onscreen graphics.
Georgia’s spring game deserved better. The only thumbs-up I’ll give the production was for the two segments of the game where Maria Taylor talked with Kirby Smart on the field right behind the players as the game went on. Perhaps because it was Taylor (a former UGA athlete), or because he was on the field, where he feels more comfortable, but Smart was relaxed, charming, funny and very personable — the exact opposite of the stiff-necked, thin-skinned guy who stands up there at a podium at his press conferences.
Hey Bill, I’ve been kind of worried this offseason about our depth at quarterback. So, here’s my question to you: If, God forbid, history repeated itself and Jake Fromm were to get injured in the first game, do you think Stetson Bennett would be able to step into the starting job the way Fromm did when Jacob Eason went down?
— Susan Browning
QB depth has been a big concern of mine, too, but, after G-Day, I’m feeling a lot better.
I think D’Wan Mathis has the potential to be a real playmaker, in the D.J. Shockley mold, but he’s not yet ready for prime time. Like my brother Tim said right after the spring game, I’d bet that, unless he’s needed, Mathis is likely to play in no more than four games, and then take a redshirt season.
More to your point, I really liked what I saw from Bennett. He throws a nice ball, and he showed tremendous pocket presence and awareness. He’s not a super-talented athlete, but he strikes me as being a good leader, like Fromm.
Still, I think it would be an awful lot to expect him to have the kind of immediate success that Fromm had. After all Bennett won’t have the all-time best one-two punch of Chubb and Michel in the backfield behind him, like Fromm did.
Give Bennett a few games of mop-up duty, though, and he should be ready.
Bill, I saw a lot that I liked at G-Day, but I came away very concerned about our lack of talent at wide receiver. I had hoped Matt Landers would be the big, tall deep-ball threat we need, but his hands just don’t seem very good. Or maybe it’s his concentration. Do you think we’re going to have to rely a lot on the freshmen arriving in August?
— David Thomas
I’d say that’s a pretty safe assumption. J.J. Holloman and Tyler Simmons are likely to be two of the three starters at receiver. Right now, Demetris Robertson might be leading for the third spot, and Kearis Jackson will figure into the rotation, too. Landers still could make it into a starting role if he gains consistency, as Smart noted, but, with talented receivers arriving this summer, he needs to watch his rearview mirror. Freshmen Dominick Blaylock, George Pickens and Makiya Tongue, and Miami grad transfer Lawrence Cager, certainly will get a chance to earn playing time.
Bill, the way I see it, this “transfer portal” the NCAA has instituted is going to remake the game of college football, and not in a good way. No wonder Kirby and other coaches hate it. If players can leave whenever they want and transfer wherever they want, it’s likely to make it impossible to stockpile talent and let it mature. Top-ranked players come in and don’t crack the starting lineup in their first season? They’re outta here! Won’t that put pressure on coaches to start all the 5-stars they sign, even if they’re not ready? And that’s so unfair to players who’ve worked hard in the program. What are your thoughts?
— Jack Kimble
I don’t have a problem with the concept behind the transfer portal. What I do have a problem with is the execution, especially the NCAA’s purposely vague rules about which players who transfer have to sit out a year and which players are granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. So far, it seems like high-profile players who, let’s face it, are transferring because they just don’t want to be a backup, are getting the waivers, while sometimes players like former Georgia tight end Luke Ford, who wanted to be closer to an ailing grandparent, are not granted a waiver.
The NCAA needs to clean that up right away. Either grant waivers to anyone transferring, no matter the reason, or make everyone sit out a year, as they used to do. Or, at least, spell out clearly who gets a waiver and who doesn’t. This murky situation they have now is not fair to the players or the programs they’re joining.
As for coaches feeling pressure to play 5-star prospects who aren’t ready, I doubt that’s going to happen. At the end of the day, coaches still are judged by their won-loss record, and they’re going to give playing time to those who are ready for it, not just those who have a bunch of stars by their name on some recruiting service listing.
Another reader has a related question …
Am I just old-fashioned, or is college football on a downward slope with this trend of players, especially quarterbacks, transferring to another school and getting to play right away without having to sit out a year? I’m afraid my favorite sport is going to wind up like college basketball, where schools sign one-and-done players who just want to fine-tune their game for a year before going pro. Whatever happened to players having loyalty to the school and team that signed them out of high school?
— Todd Johnson
I think college basketball seems to have survived the one-and-done phenomenon alright. And, that “loyalty” you recall so fondly was basically a one-way street. Players couldn’t switch schools without being penalized, but coaches could leave whenever they wanted to.
As for quarterbacks like Justin Fields not being willing to spend a couple of years as a backup, I understand the frustration many fans feel. And I’d agree that, in Fields’ case, he was a bit deluded in thinking he could beat out Fromm as a freshman, and, if immediate playing time was a priority for him, he probably shouldn’t have signed with a school that had an established starter.
Still, it’s a new day in college football, and many fans who remember an era when a program like FSU at its peak could stockpile top-drawer quarterbacks, who waited (relatively) patiently for their turn (as D.J. Shockley did at at UGA) are still inclined to view players who want to transfer out for increased playing time or a chance to start as selfish whiners and crybabies.
But, why shouldn’t an athlete who faces a limited window of opportunity to try and make himself into an NFL prospect have the right to transfer as easily as coaches change jobs?
If you really want a program where QBs or running backs are willing to ride the bench and stick around out of loyalty, then you basically shouldn’t be recruiting 5-star talent, because that paradigm is as outmoded today as compact discs. The college game, at least at the elite level, has moved on in a way that acknowledges that these programs, which are generating millions of dollars through the use of “student-athletes,” are no more “amateur” than are the teams that play on Sundays.
Yes, I’m nostalgic for the days when you could sign a talented QB or running back or receiver or pass-rusher and count on having them around for four seasons (or, in more recent decades, three, figuring they might skip their senior year for the NFL). Those were great days for fan bases. And coaches.
But not so much for some of the players.
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