Just about any time you get a gathering of more than a handful of people together in Athens, you can bet on the conversation veering pretty quickly to how the Dawgs are going to do. And that goes even for funerals and weddings.
At a recent evening wedding in the Classic City that my wife and I attended, the conversation at our table at the reception naturally turned to UGA football, with at least three generations chiming in with opinions.
One gentleman noted that he’s trying to keep himself in check, but he still finds himself getting pretty excited about Georgia’s prospects for the coming season.
Despite having to break in a new starting quarterback, there’s no doubt that the unquestionably awesome returning offensive power (led, of course, by Nick Chubb), the second year of Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive rebuilding project and an impending influx of top-notch freshman talent can indeed be a pretty intoxicating combination for fans of Mark Richt’s Dawgs.
Speaking of Richt, the consensus at our table at the Taylor-Grady House in Athens that evening was that, if Georgia doesn’t at least win SEC East this season, the Bulldog Nation will be pretty unhappy.
This is nothing new. A year ago today in the Blawg I noted that Richt had told an assemblage of UGA fans that they should have “high expectations” for the 2014 team.
While the resulting Top 10 finish was not too shabby, there’s no denying that the losses to South Carolina and Florida that denied Georgia a place in the SEC Championship (plus, of course, that overtime loss to the in-state rivals) left a lot of Bulldogs fans feeling that Richt’s team had underachieved.
The feeling around the table at the wedding reception was that, while it might seem a bit churlish to complain about a 10-win season, another close-but-no-cigar year probably would erode Richt’s fan support significantly.
So, is the young man who can’t help but feel the 2015 Dawgs might be special onto something, or is it just another case of the usual offseason optimism?
It is a fact that most college football observers who’ve weighed in so far see the SEC East as Georgia’s for the taking, despite all that preseason media love Tennessee is getting. The general feeling is that the Vols may be a year away from truly contending. Mizzou, of course, is always there waiting for the frontrunners to stumble, but South Carolina and Florida should be in rebuilding mode this season and Kentucky and Vandy appear to have regressed to the mean.
In his recent “bold predictions,” ESPN’s Edward Aschoff said he thinks the SEC will win the national championship this season. Which team? His favorites, he said, are Auburn and Georgia. In the SEC East, he predicted, Georgia “takes care of business this year, unlike last season.” (He also sees Chubb winning the Heisman Trophy.)
From a fan’s point of view, whether you buy into that kind of talk and how far you let your Bulldog dreams go depends on how important you think it is that Georgia will open practice in August without knowing yet who its starting QB or center will be, and whether the arrival of talent like Trent Thompson means a stronger defensive front.
Also, whether you think this is the year or perhaps Georgia also is a year or so away from greatness, considering the top-level recruiting prospects likely to arrive in Athens in 2016.
As Senator Blutarsky noted in a recent Get the Picture post, “you can make a pretty strong argument that Georgia is on its greatest run of recruiting under Richt. Add to that a sea change in support from the administration, an Eastern division that, while improving somewhat, is still less formidable than its Western counterpart and, finally, an enlarged postseason pool, and I can’t help but wonder one thing: If Georgia can’t make it into the [College Football Playoff] by 2017, when will it ever?”
A year ago, I asked Blawg readers whether the Dawgs bouncing back from being unranked at the end of the 2013 season to a Top 10 finish in 2014 would be good enough. Opinions on that appear to be mixed.
This year, I’m wondering whether simply making the Top 10 again is enough, or do the Dawgs have to win their first conference title in 10 years and make the first College Football Playoff to satisfy their fans?
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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.