I started thinking about my preseason BlogPoll ballot with about six weeks remaining until the start of the season. After circulating a preliminary draft privately and receiving some feedback, I published a revised top 25. I solicited and received public comments on this version, to which I responded, and I now offer what I am pretty sure is the final draft of my preseason BlogPoll ballot, with respect to which any naysayers need to speak now or forever hold their peace:
Here, for whatever they might be worth, are a few observations on the changes between the second and third versions of my top 25:
- Ere anyone declares me a shameless homer for ranking the Red and Black No. 1, I would point out that the coaches did likewise and I finished second in the standings for the Straight Bangin’ Award in 2005, earning the following praise from an unlikely source: "Mayor Kyle King . . . is above such petty things as overrating his own team."
Yes, there have been concerns expressed by Doug Gillett and Paul Westerdawg, but I have confidence in my team and I find many of the criticisms offered from outside the Dawgosphere to be unconvincing, particularly this one:
The better argument with Richt, I think, is not that he hasn’t gotten his Dawgs to the title game yet, but that he really hasn’t even gotten them close to the title game.
In 2002, UGA finished up 11-1 on the regular season, but had it not been for what was essentially a fouth down Hail Mary heave against Auburn, they wouldn’t have even made it to Atlanta that year. Moreover, it should be noted that the team with the most Pythagorean Wins that year in the conference was actually Alabama, and it would have been very interesting to see a rematch in Atlanta with a healthy Watts. Instead, they got the cakewalk and played a 9-5 Arkansas team in the SECCG, and then faced a very overrated 9-5 FSU team in the Sugar Bowl (and a team that had a WR, Anquan Boldin, playing quarterback). I’m not impressed.
Everybody thought 2004 would be the year, but it never happened. Even after winning a ton of close games, they choked against Tennessee, and then were embarrassed by Auburn. It was a huge down year for their division - Tennessee had true freshmen quarterbacks, Zook was on his last leg at Florida, and Granny was on his way out in Columbia - and with all of the hype Richt (remember Verne Lundquist’s hard-on for Greene and Pollack?) couldn’t even get the Dawgs to Atlanta.
2005 was a surprising good year, but nevertheless they still lost to Florida and Auburn, and were never in serious title contention. Ultimately they showed up wholly unprepared for the Sugar Bowl and were waxed early on by WVU, and ultimately ended up on the losing end after a major rally late.
2007 was essentially the same thing. They choked against two teams they should have beaten easily - an overachieving Tennessee team and a 6-6 South Carolina team - and needed squeaker wins over 6-6 Alabama and 5-7 Vanderbilt. They ended up highly ranked and in the Sugar Bowl, but nevertheless didn’t win their own division and were never in serious national title contention.
Again, I don’t think the best argument is that Richt has never won it, but that he hasn’t even gotten them particularly close to playing in the title game period.
To be quite honest, I have resisted the temptation to respond to this specious nonsense because it is so unqualifiedly asinine and is so easily rebutted, but there are some inaccuracies so egregious that I am constitutionally incapable of permitting them to stand unremarked.
Georgia got to Atlanta in 2002 because of "what was essentially a fourth down Hail Mary heave against Auburn"? Would that be 70 X Takeoff, a designed play involving a planned pump-fake to a decoy receiver before the actual pass to the intended receiver on the opposite side of the field?
The Bulldogs are to be demeaned for their 2007 losses to "an overachieving Tennessee team and a 6-6 South Carolina team"? Would that be the "overachieving" Volunteer squad that finished with ten wins, won a January bowl game, and came within a touchdown of L.S.U. in the S.E.C. championship game? Would that be the Gamecock squad that was ranked and playing well early in the season before the loss of Jasper Brinkley caused South Carolina to stumble?
Mark Richt has never gotten Georgia "particularly close to playing in the title game"? A coach can’t claim to have gotten close to finishing No. 1 if he’s only led his team to a No. 3 finish in his second year and to a No. 2 finish in his seventh year? Mark Richt’s best season was as good as Urban Meyer’s and Nick Saban’s best seasons, but he is to be penalized for catching fewer breaks than those guys?
In 2002, Georgia had a single seven-point loss in a neutral-site contest, which was all that kept the ‘Dawgs out of the national championship picture. In 2007, Georgia lost one game by four points and Georgia’s other loss was to the Volunteers, who narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of the Gamecocks, the Commodores, and the Wildcats, all on missed field goals. Had the Classic City Canines scored a lone touchdown against South Carolina, or had any of those three teams made the decisive field goal, the Bulldogs would have gone to Atlanta to face the Bayou Bengals with a national championship game berth on the line. A couple of third-down conversions against Florida in 2002 and either one touchdown by Georgia or one field goal by any of three other teams in 2007 don’t count as "particularly close"?
Concerning 2007 specifically, the ‘Dawgs "didn’t win their own division and were never in serious national title contention"? Finishing in first place no longer counts as winning? The tiebreaker gave Tennessee the (deserved) berth in Atlanta, but the Red and Black shared the championship of the Eastern Division last year. As for never being "in serious national title contention," being the No. 4 team in the B.C.S. standings heading into the final weekend of the regular season doesn’t count as being in contention? Receiving the second-highest total of first-place votes in the final A.P. poll doesn’t count as being in contention? Anyone who makes such claims is the Vizzini to my Inigo Montoya with respect to the definition of that term.
Georgia may not win it all this year---everybody has to catch a few breaks, including avoiding injuries, to reach that pinnacle---but the suggestion that Mark Richt hasn’t had the Bulldogs in contention originates in an alternate reality. The arguments quoted above aren’t outside the lines, they’re off the reservation.
By the way, just for the record, in his first eleven seasons as an S.E.C. head coach (1946-1953 at Kentucky and 1958-1960 at Alabama), Bear Bryant guided his teams to national finishes in the Associated Press poll of unranked, unranked, unranked, eleventh, seventh, 15th, 20th, 16th, unranked, tenth, and ninth, respectively. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, despite failing to post a top five finish in his first eleven years in the league, Bear Bryant was a coach capable of winning a national championship.
Coach Richt stands alongside Coach Bryant as one of only five coaches in Southeastern Conference history who have guided their teams to four consecutive seasons of ten wins or better. The other four aside from Mark Richt earned the No. 1 ranking in the postseason polls for the first time in their respective seventh (Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier), twelfth (Bear Bryant), and 17th (Vince Dooley) seasons in the league. On average, it took those coaches over a decade to win it all; Mark Richt is entering his eighth year. Considering that his last six seasons have produced five double-digit win totals, five top ten final rankings, four first-place finishes in the Eastern Division, three Sugar Bowl berths, and two S.E.C. championships, I think it’s fair to cut the guy a little slack.
- I moved the Bulls up from 18th to 11th because Sunday Morning Quarterback convinced me.
- Despite my belief in their toughness as a team, I dropped the Sun Devils from eighth to 14th on the strength of the comments received. The sequence in which I placed the Pac-10 contenders (No. 2 Southern California, No. 12 Oregon, No. 14 Arizona State, and No. 17 California) mirrors the order in which they were slotted at Addicted to Quack.
- The arguments against Florida State offered by Year2 and FSUncensored seemed to me to be too compelling, so I reverted to my original position and dropped the Seminoles from my top 25 altogether.
- In a related item, Clemson is my highest-ranked Atlantic Coast Conference club, at 16th. (I told you not to be surprised if no A.C.C. squad made my top 15.) Even if the Tigers are the default pick to win the league, I am given pause by Tommy Bowden’s inconsistency as a coach, Cullen Harper’s dubious numbers when he is forced to throw, and the presence of four new starters on the Country Gentlemen’s offensive line. Yes, the Fort Hill Felines went 9-4 last year, but that ledger included a rather ordinary 6-4 mark against B.C.S. conference opponents and a singularly unimpressive 3-4 record against squads with winning records. Matt Hinton may not share my concerns about Clemson, but I took the foregoing data from Matt’s informative essay in Yea Alabama 2008, which seem pretty persuasive to me.
- I thought about moving the Golden Bears, but, honestly, after TwistNHook got so excited to be there, I just couldn’t move Cal from No. 17.
- Honestly, I was more comfortable ranking the Broncos, Volunteers, Cornhuskers, Tar Heels, Red Raiders, Bulldogs, and Jayhawks 19th through 25th than I am ranking them 18th through 24th, but I believe that sequence is correct and their advancement happened naturally when I bailed on F.S.U.
- Yes, the No. 25 vote for Southern Miss was a one-time nod to SB Nation colleague Sunday Morning Quarterback on the eve of his departure for greener pastures. No, I don’t like borrowing a page from the Evil Genius, either---Steve Spurrier always ranks Duke No. 25 on his preseason coaches’ poll ballot---but it’s the right thing to do, doggone it, as recent events in the lives of Matt Hinton and Brett Favre make it clear that the former has overtaken the latter as the most praiseworthy alumnus of U.S.M.
- The teams I have my eye on as squads that could move up into the top 25 are Alabama, Brigham Young, Cincinnati, South Carolina, and Utah. Florida State, Michigan, and Notre Dame all have decidedly uphill climbs if they hope to convince me of their worthiness.
I’m pretty well satisfied with that ballot, but, inasmuch as it has yet to be cast formally, there’s always time for you to change my mind. Feel free to offer your further constructive criticisms and last-ditch attempts at persuasion in the comments below.