On a recent edition of the Fox Sports podcast “The Audible,” Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel discussed the most underachieving college football programs of all time, and Feldman argued that no program has done less with more than the Georgia Bulldogs.
The discussion was prompted by a recent answer in Mandel’s mailbag column in which he ranked the Top 5 underachieving college football programs, which he saw (in descending order) as UCLA, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Arizona State and Maryland.
Feldman argued that, instead, UGA should be ranked as the most underachieving football program. As he put it: “It’s an SEC school that’s done well, but I think it should be better. … They’ve won one national title in, like, the last 70 years. And that’s pretty surprising given the talent that’s there, the resources, and everything. … Mark Richt’s done a good job there, but in the last 30 years they should have won more.”
Among the reasons Feldman cited for ranking Georgia as the most underachieving program is all the football talent in a state where the only other major program is Georgia Tech, which he said is not on the same level, whereas Florida must recruit against Florida State and Miami.
Mandel wasn’t buying it, however. In Georgia, he said, “you are still talking a team that wins 10, 12, 10, 10, 11, 9, 10” games a year and is “in the mix nationally.”
Feldman countered that Georgia has won only two SEC championships in the past 33 years.
“I would not dispute that’s underachieving,” Mandel said, but he still sees Georgia in a different tier from his top underachiever, UCLA.
Mandel did concede that Georgia has underachieved over the past 15 years compared with what LSU and Auburn have done. Georgia, he concluded, “has had great success, they just haven’t had the highest level of success that makes you one of the premier programs nationally.”
So, where do I come down in this debate?
Well, like Mandel, I won’t argue with the statement that Georgia has underachieved in recent years, but UGA is most definitely not the most underachieving college football program.
A program that usually wins double-digit numbers of games each season, hasn’t missed postseason play under Richt, came within a tipped pass in 2012 of playing for the national championship, and which has played in a conference championship game twice in the past four years doesn’t really belong in any conversation about the nation’s top underachiever.
And Feldman’s argument about the Dawgs only having Georgia Tech to recruit against compared with what Florida faces is specious. Georgia’s main rivals in recruiting are Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, FSU, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina, all of whom hit the Dawgs’ home state hard for talent.
As for the indictment that Georgia doesn’t make the most of its top talent, it’s true that the Dawgs annually rank among the nation’s top recruiting programs, but it also should be pointed out that among the teams who usually rank ahead of them in that regard are programs within Georgia’s own conference.
You can make a pretty good case that Richt’s final results haven’t lived up to expectations, particularly in recent seasons, but some of that can be attributed to self-imposed disciplinary policies (some of that top talent hasn’t been able to stay with the program) as well as injuries and other outside factors.
As I wrote a few months ago, depending on how you parse the numbers, Georgia’s results aren’t that far off from how they’ve recruited. The Dawgs’ four-year recruiting ranking was 9.25 and in 2014 Georgia finished the season ranked 10th. And as UGA football historian Patrick Garbin has noted, if you look at just SEC teams, Georgia ranks No. 3 in recruiting in the conference during the Mark Richt era and was the third highest-ranked SEC team in the AP poll during that time.
Yes, Feldman is correct that Georgia should have won more SEC championships in the past 30 years and probably should have at least another national championship trophy at Butts-Mehre, especially considering that in the past several years Tennessee and Florida were in down cycles. Not winning an SEC title with the likes of Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno particularly stands out for its underachievement, and you could say the same for the Todd Gurley era if it weren’t for the extenuating circumstances in the way of an incredible rash of injuries and both NCAA- and self-imposed suspensions.
And, if you want to throw in the factor that, until recent months, Georgia wasn’t keeping up with the Alabamas and Auburns in terms of what it spends on its program, I won’t argue with you.
But, as Mandel noted, a team that’s in the discussion for titles every season obviously is achieving a level of success, if not the highest level, and I don’t think you can brand such a school the biggest underachiever. There are coaches and athletic directors at other programs that would kill for Georgia’s consistent, if not premier, level of success.
As for that trope about it having been 35 years since Georgia won a national title, well, other programs who’ve only won one national championship during that same period include Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Texas.
In fact, applying Feldman’s criteria, I think a much stronger case could be made for the latter as the top underachiever, considering the advantages and resources the Longhorns have. Heck, you could even make a case that, since Alabama routinely dominates recruiting nationally, the Tide ought to win the national championship every year. Failing to do that is another brand of underachieving, isn’t it?
Anyway, bottom line: Have the Dawgs underachieved in recent years? Yes. Is Georgia the nation’s biggest underachiever? Not even close.
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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.