Following losses, especially close and often avoidable ones, the tendency is to take a reactionary approach to the situation. The fallout from Saturday's fourth quarter debacle against Georgia Tech has been no different. Fans and media members alike have been twiddling their thumbs, questioning what to make out of Kirby Smart's inaugural campaign in Athens.
After Georgia's victory over Auburn, optimism appeared to be brewing for the first time since September around the football program. Many of the school's top targets for the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes saw a freshman and sophomore laden team defeat a top ten opponent on a near perfect fall day between the hedges. On Saturday, the wind seemed to be sucked out of the sails of a ship in the process of being righted.
As an "outsider" raised in Louisiana who came to Georgia for school, I do not fully understand the dynamic of the "Clean, Old Fashioned Hate" from the Georgia perspective. I understand why this game means a lot to Tech. Without a true rival in conference, Tech circles this week at the end of the season, almost as the benchmark of success for that year's team. Georgia's realistic goals tend to extend past the parameters of this non-conference football game. Georgia's Tech's often do not.
Georgia would rather beat Florida than Tech. Georgia would rather beat Auburn than Tech. Recently, Georgia would rather beat Tennessee than Tech. I look at this rivalry as almost like fighting a girl. Georgia is expected to win this game handily and when they don't, it's a "sky is falling down" mentality. In fact, the Jackets have defeated Georgia by more than one possession exactly one time since 1990, while losing 20/25 contests. It is rarely nationally viewed as a quality win due to Tech's propensity to consistently play inconsistent football in the ACC. In simple economic terms, it's been a high risk, low reward scenario for Georgia for the better part of the last quarter century.
I get the state rivalry aspect, but I am taking this weekend's contest at surface level - an unfortunate loss against a mediocre opponent with very little future implications on the line. The difference between 7-5 and 8-4 in a "rebuilding" season is negligible to recruits. Yes, it stung at about 4pm on Saturday, but it will have no bearing on the future success of this program and will not detract from Kirby Smart's ultimate goal - to bring a national championship to Athens.
I think the incensed nature of some Georgia football fans seem to be rooted in delusion at this point. While I am sure I will take flack for this - Georgia finished the season right about where they should have based on the talent with which they were operating. Why did Georgia finish with 5 losses? Ultimately, because they played four teams that were better than them. They lost two games they were favored to win (Tech & Vandy) and won one game they were not anticipated to win (Auburn), a quintessential mark of a young, yet talented team.
Please read my story about the recruiting class that doomed the future of Mark Richt's career in Athens. In 2013, Georgia managed to miss on the state's top seven prospects and only secured three of the top fifteen recruits in Georgia. He was not only fired for the failure to win the big game, but he was not able to win those games because he failed to recruit the proper players to do so. And that's why optimism should still be brewing.
Did you happen to see Georgia's Senior Day presentation? Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke, and Graduate Transfers Tyler Catalina and Mo Smith were the only three starters announced there. The Dawgs will return 10 starters on defense that ranked in the Top 20 in most statistical categories and potentially 8 on offense, headed by one of the most talented freshmen in the SEC.
Taking a perennially good team and making them a perennially great team is not a one year process. For those not named Nick Saban or Urban Meyer it may not be a two or a three year process. It simply comes down to one thing. Talent. Top 30 players on the roster, Georgia can compete with just about anyone, but the great teams are great because of quality depth, and lots of it. There's a reason that Mo Smith, a four year role player at Alabama, was able to come in and immediately start at Georgia - a deficiency of talent and leadership.
Smart came from a winning pedigree at Alabama. He saw the type of roster that needed to be assembled to consistently win in the nation's most talented conference. What that was in Tuscaloosa was dominating in the trenches and balance on offense. There will not be compromise. This team will not function well without an large offensive line and more depth at wide receiver, which is exactly why Georgia's coaching staff has been hitting those two areas harder than ever on the recruiting trail.
Do your sanity a favor and peek at Georgia's 2017 recruiting class. The deficiencies in 2016 are the exact areas in which Sam Pittman, Dell McGee, James Coley, and others have had success during this cycle. The Dawgs have verbal commitments from four of the top 25 offensive linemen in the country for 2016 as well as verbal commitments or heavy interest from four of the nation's 25 best wide receivers. Smart will likely lock down one of the country's top five classes which will include ten of the state's top twelve players and as many as ten of the Top 100 players in the country.
Three things thwarted Georgia this season: lack of elite talent, lack of senior leadership, and lack of experience. This upcoming recruiting class will begin to help take care of the talent deficiency, potential Top Ten draft picks on each side of the ball (Jacob Eason and Trent Thompson) should help with leadership, and 17-18 returning starters should certainly help with experience.
No, Georgia probably will not challenge Alabama for a conference title next season, but this is a program trending upward. The first Wednesday of February will likely serve as a manifestation of Smart's elite work on the recruiting trail. It can be an arduous process, but Dawg fans have plenty to be optimistic about moving forward.