Dozen Years in the Elite Conference
Head football coach Mark Richt coached his final game as a successful FSU assistant under Bobby Bowden in a national title contest. Richt was completely shut down by former Florida coordinator Bob Stoops in his big head coaching breakthrough at Oklahoma.
Two years later, Richt had his best team at GEORGIA record wise, coming within a Terrence Edwards touchdown drop in Jacksonville of going undefeated. The Dawgs won the fabled SEC that year but peaked out at 13-1, defeating Bowden’s Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl.
The Moreno Blackout breakout season netted another top three finish and Sugar Bowl win, as the Dawgs whipped the undefeated Hawaii Warriors in a total route. That team had dropped two early season games but finished ranked number two in the country, a spot higher than the 13-1 team, as SEC and national champion LSU also had two losses with their missteps later in the season.
In between Richt’s second year campaign and the not so long ago Moreno redshirt freshman season, Georgia played in only one BCS bowl, a close upset loss to West Virginia’s best team in a Hurricane Katrina relocated Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. That was Richt’s last SEC-winning squad. He and DJ Shockley were both on their fifth years with the program, and in the regular season that group lost only a nail biter to Auburn, and just prior to that, a close low-scoring game when Shockley was injured and could not play in Florida. An upset of highly-ranked LSU for the SEC ring was the highlight of the season.
Two SEC rings, two BCS wins and three top five finishes over Richt’s four strongest seasons, including last year. It could be well argued that 2012 was Georgia’s best team since the early 1980s, when UGA won it all in 1980 and was a play away from another ring in 1982. In 2012, Georgia led the nation in yardage per offensive play (7.08) and had much upperclassmen top-tier NFL defensive talent on the field. When complete, the unit only allowed eight points per game over a six-game stretch leading up to the Bama meltdown. But make no mistake about it: when you can’t stop the run in a big game like that, it is a pure meltdown. Murray’s much improved moxie was the reason we were able to get so close.
I evaluate teams as either: poor, mediocre, above average, good or great. “Great” teams win the SEC with less than three conference losses and/or win eleven or more total games and/or are ranked top five in the final polls. The line between merely great and winning a national championship has varied wildly year-to-year. Georgia has had four so-called great years out of the past twelve with Richt in Athens but has no crystal trophy to show for it.
Looking around the conference during that span: Bama had four great teams and won three trophies. LSU had three great years and won two trophies. Florida had four total great years and won it all twice. Auburn had three truly great undefeated teams and only won it all once. Texas A&M was great in their only SEC campaign, after being mediocre for years. Arkansas was the third best team in the country just two long years ago. South Carolina has been great for two straight years, neither of which resulted in a second ever SEC East championship.
Three years ago we were mediocre. Two years ago we were good. Last year was a great year.
The question becomes not can you have a single great year every so often, but can you get to and come close to maintaining elite status. Eight of Mark Richt’s twelve teams won ten or more games, and only LSU has an overall better winning percentage than Georgia of SEC programs during Richt’s tenure. Richt on becoming elite: “We plan on being that. We hope to be that, but we’ve got to earn it.”