Let’s get right to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …
Beattie Leonard writes: Read your recent article about iconic places to play in the future and recruiting battles we may also benefit from. I attended the Arizona State, Colorado, and Mizzou (Old Man Football) games. Brings out the most rabid of fans getting outside of the Southern corridor. They are fun for the players and fans alike. We should make it a nice mix of iconic stadiums and hitting out of conference teams in our backyard for recruiting. But I read your statement about playing Clempson (N stands for Knowledge) once a decade. I disagree. I get the emotion and tradition of playing them. But that does not help us one bit in recruiting. Actually, I feel they recruited better than usual in the state of Georgia since we played them. I also understand the lure of playing other teams in the state of Florida. But the low hanging fruit is the state of North Carolina. Logistically we are as close to Charlotte from Athens as Chapel Hill is for Tar Heels. We have had some nice players from the Old North State in the past decade. Put Clempson and South Carolina on the defensive. They try to recruit that state heavily as well. Make them work harder and take their eye off the Peach State a little bit. There are five teams we can play there over the next two decades. Play them home and away if we like (financially may not work in some small stadiums like Wake and Duke). Play them in Charlotte. Treat that state like Bama is trying to do to us at the Georgia Dome. North Carolina at Georgia Dome is nice but take it to them in their backyard, not ours.
Clemson is a traditional rival of Georgia’s, Death Valley certainly qualifies as an “iconic” stadium (which Greg McGarity says is what he’s looking for) and last year’s win over the Tigers was the game of opening week nationally and Georgia certainly got a nice pop in terms of publicity and positive talk on ESPN and the like out of it. I’m not sure what more you could want from a nonconference game. Let’s face it, Clemson is so close to UGA that they’re going to be recruiting the state of Georgia heavily whether the Dawgs play them or not; likewise with Georgia recruiting in South Carolina. So, in that case, I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference. And the positives outweigh whatever perceived boost Clemson might get from playing in Athens.
I do agree with you about playing North Carolina, and not just because of recruiting, which Georgia already does extremely well in that state. It’s a major program that’s a driveable distance away, and the two schools share a lot of history, including the fact that their lovely old stadium was designed by the same guy who did Sanford Stadium. I wouldn’t even mind seeing the Dawgs play North Carolina State, since my son lives in Raleigh. But I don’t think the other North Carolina schools you mention would be worth a home-and-home deal, even if their home date was held at a “neutral” site like Charlotte. If they want to play for pay in Athens, fine. But the Dawgs don’t need to go on the road to play the likes of Wake Forest or Duke in football.
Dorsey Benson writes: Bill, I’ve been reading a lot about the Big 10 coaches invading SEC territory with “satellite” camps for high school prospects while the SEC coaches are banned from doing likewise. That makes no sense at all to me and I can’t imagine the SEC is going to let it stand. Do you think the NCAA will do something to keep college coaches from doing camps in other parts of the country? If not, what do you expect will be the result of this?
You’re right that coaches in the SEC are upset about the likes of Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh acting as “guest” instructors at camps held at places like Georgia State University because of the possible recruiting ramifications. The SEC bans its coaches from taking part in such camps more than 50 miles from their home campuses. Nick Saban, in particular, has been vocal on the issue, calling it “ridiculous.” Mark Richt has addressed the issue at some of his UGA Day appearances recently. In Albany this week, Richt, who has expressed a desire for college coaches not to do satellite camps, said he expects the SEC to discuss the situation at meetings next month in Destin, Fla., the Macon Telegraph reports. Said the Georgia coach: “It could become more of an issue. For us as a league … we’ve chosen not to do it. If everybody else is doing it, and it’s hurting us in recruiting, then I’m sure we’ll change our SEC policy. Or, at least, it’ll be a big topic for discussion. …
“Part of our deal is we don’t want to wear our SEC coaches to a nub. We want them to have some kind of a life. If you do one [camp] then you do two, then you do three, where do you stop? Obviously you’d have to pick and choose and all that. We’d prefer the rest of the country not do it rather than us joining with what the rest of the country is doing. But if we need to we’ll revisit that.”
Richt is the only coach on the new NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee that apparently also will take up the issue at some point, but it’s not an organization that moves quickly and I don’t think the SEC coaches and athletic directors will be willing to wait. So, Dorsey, I think the conference will rescind its ban on its coaches doing remote camps. And, if that’s the case, I like the way Greg Poole of Bulldawg Illustrated was thinking in a recent post, making the case that, rather than worry about visiting camps up north, Georgia might want to send its coaches out to satellite camps in its main recruiting area. In particular, a South Georgia camp aimed at kids from Florida might produce better results than Richt guesting at a camp in Michigan or Pennsylvania.
Tbone Mac writes: Bill, With all the angst concerning our movement toward “thinner,” more athletic D-linemen and our perceived inability to stop the run up the middle, why not train a few “big guys” to specifically fill that role when we play teams that run up the middle? I mean, we have punters who specialize in “pooch” punts, why not big beasties that we only roll out against certain teams? It’s not like Tech or Florida were going to suddenly switch to a “speed” offense just because we took out the “lightweights” and put in some behemoths. Just wondering.
Georgia already rotates defensive linemen, and I’m sure the type of offense the Dawgs are facing that week has something to do with who gets the start or the majority of playing time in the middle. As I’ve noted before, Georgia’s run defense wasn’t that bad last year, the numbers being skewed by two games where they gave up a lot of yardage: Florida and Tech. And the Gators did most of their damage out the outside, where the Dawgs didn’t do a good job of containment, not up the middle. Against spread offenses like Auburn, which Georgia increasingly faces, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense did a good job.
In the meantime, chances are Georgia’s DL will have at least one new face this year in incoming freshman Trent Thompson, the state’s top overall recruit. He’s not super big (6-foot-4 and, at last report, about 308 pounds), but the five-star prospect from Albany’s Westover High School is expected to be an impact player, with many figuring he’ll have worked himself into the starting rotation by the Alabama game, if not in time for South Carolina. The Albany Herald reported that at his appearance there, Richt said of Thompson: “We expect Trenton to help us. He’s very talented, obviously big, strong, fast, agile. We’re excited to see what he can do. We don’t have any doubt he’ll get in there and create some great depth for us and maybe win a starting position. … We don’t want to put too much pressure on Trent, obviously. He’s just gonna be a freshman, he’s gonna be learning and all that kind of thing. But we do feel like he’s gonna give us a boost.”
Mark Apen writes: Hi Bill, I enjoy your column and the one thing I’ve heard no one talk about this year is the trip to Knoxville. It pains me to say this, but if the pattern under Mark Richt holds true (I have tremendous respect for him) we will beat Alabama in Athens and then promptly lose focus and get beat by the Vols in Knoxville. I wish this wasn’t the case, but if Mark’s teams have one hallmark it’s an inability to handle or build on success. We tend to rest on our laurels and not stay hungry. I think the world of Coach Richt but I’m concerned we don’t finish the drill over the course of a season.
Several readers brought up the trip to Knoxville to face the Vols in the comments on the “must-win” Blawg. One was concerned that game will catch the Dawgs napping. Another thinks it will be the toughest game of the year, not only because of Tennessee’s success recruiting in recent years, but because it comes right after the Bama game. I don’t really think the Vols will be overlooked by Georgia’s players thanks to the media hype surrounding Tennessee’s projected “comeback” this season. But an emotional letdown after a big game in Athens, especially if Georgia beats Bama, could indeed be a problem. However, I’m mainly hoping the Neyland Stadium turf isn’t still in the horrible shape it was year before last when the Dawgs came out of that game with a rash of injuries, at least some of which looked to be a result of the bad playing surface.
Terry Doolittle writes: Bill, I don’t know what to make of this year’s Diamond Dogs. They’ve had a few big wins where they looked impressive, but then have looked terrible in most of their nonconference games and most recently got swept by Auburn. Do you think Georgia will even make the SEC tournament this year, much less get into the NCAAs? Should we already be thinking of coach Scott Stricklin’s seat as heating up?
I’ve only made it to one UGA baseball game so far this season, the Sunday game against Mizzou, and Georgia looked absolutely awful in every aspect of the game. I was shocked since they’d done well previously against FSU. They’ve been up and down since then and I understand injuries have been a big part of it, as they had to shift their midweek starting pitchers to weekends. After being swept at Auburn last weekend, things were looking pretty dismal, but Stricklin’s Dawgs beat Florida, ranked No. 8 in the country, 11-1 Friday before a sell-out crowd at Foley Field and are now 22-23 overall, 7-14 in the SEC.
Anyway, on matters of baseball I usually turn to my pal Dan, who follows the college game much more closely. Here’s what he has to say about this year’s Dogs:
“Pitching does not appear to be very deep. With Jared Walsh’s back problems limiting him to an inning or two at a time, I don’t see much upside to the season. With being swept by LSU (I had hoped for one win ) and Auburn (I was looking to win 2) it doesn’t look too bright this season. I had said earlier if we could get to .500 in the conference we would get an NCAA bid. [But] unless we catch fire .500 overall is looking doubtful. I don’t put a lot of weight on the nonconference games because of the pitching. Glad to see us sweep a good Clemson team, though. I didn’t see any of the Auburn series, but in the LSU series the spirit was good. Didn’t look to me like the team has quit.”
I’d say the win over Florida Friday shows Stricklin’s players indeed haven’t quit, so with series against Kentucky and Arkansas remaining after the Florida series (plus the Turner Field game against Tech), it’s too early to be writing off this year’s baseball Bulldogs (or Stricklin) just yet.
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— 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.