Posted: 10:44 am Friday, September 1st, 2017
By Jay Black
How many years has it been since Bulldog Nation did not expect to win the SEC? Since Tim Tebow graduated to become an all-star baseball player (oops) or since Urban Meyer left to spend more time with his family (also known as, Tebow-left-and-I-can’t-control-my-players disease).
We make a big deal in the news business about labelling this season as one where “expectations are high for the Dawgs” or “UGA is favored to win the SEC East.” Well in the current state of the division, that is not exactly news. It’s like writing a headline saying water is wet.
Flash forward to 2017. This morning on the radio I said both “expectations are high for the Dawgs” and “UGA is favored to win the SEC East.”
I’m sorry. I can’t get excited. At least not yet.
I know all the reasons why I should be fired up, with visions of the fancy new site of the SEC Championship dancing in my head. I know it’s Kirby Smart’s second year. It’s Jacob Eason’s second year. Nick Chubb came back. Sony Michel did too. So did Lorenzo Carter (uhh, ok).
The defense has 10 starters back. The offense only lost one skill player that really matter (Isaiah McKenzie, I already miss you). Isaac Nauta is a sophomore. The new lineman are huge. Jim Chaney is going to freshen up the offense. Etc. etc.
I know that UGA radio analyst Eric Zeier is more optimistic and bullish about the season than any in the six previous years we’ve worked together.
“I don’t want to jinx us,” he told me yesterday (then don’t jinx us), “but I am as optimistic as I’ve been in quite some time. If you can run the football and play defense, you can every single game you play in. If you look at the talent we have returning, I feel good about where we are.”
That’s compelling evidence.
Or how about our other UGA radio analyst and special teams assistant coach Kevin Butler. He’s in the college football hall of fame. He knows things.
“Last year, it was a sell job. You had to get out there and make the guys believe in you,” Butler said during our preview show last week. “Now everyone is on the same page.”
These two are among the smartest people I know when it comes to Georgia football. I’ve enjoyed working with them both because, while they are homers, they will be honest about their school.
If Zeier and Butler are this fired up, they must see something.
But I know better.
As proud graduate of the University of Georgia I know better than to let my guard down about this football team. Ever. In April. In August. In October. In the second quarter. In the fourth quarter.
Kirby knows what I’m talking about
“I knew the level of expectation that was here,” the head coach said before the start of pre-season camp. “But I also knew the expectation didn’t necessarily meet the quality of players that were here.”
The bottom line is, since UGA nearly won the league in 2012, this team hasn’t quite had it. It’s been missing one giant piece or another.
Like a defense. Or a quarterback. Or an offense line. Or an offense all together.
This year I’m still not convinced this offense line is good enough. Last year’s group, with plenty of experience, couldn’t block Vanderbilt. Now three newcomers will be added to the starting lineup and the two that remain shift positions.
That seems bad.
Georgia’s defense should be great. The talent is there, but the only game it really dominated was Auburn and the Tigers had a QB that couldn’t complete a pass.
Then there’s the schedule, while you don’t have Alabama or LSU in there, all the games that matter are away from Athens (tell the season ticket holders something they don’t know).
Losses at Tennessee, at Auburn and against Florida in Jacksonville are well with the realm of possibility.
Plus, the dirty little secret is, we still aren’t sure what Georgia has in Kirby Smart.
Is year two for him just like Mark Richt’s and his jedi master Nick Saban? Or is he Derek Dooley?
Official predictions by the media are pointless, but it’s also part of the game. I’m going 9-3. Losses to Florida, at Auburn and some mistake at home. In a related story, I never played football except in a video game.
Still, I’m a UGA graduate. I want to let my guard down. I want to be excited for all the possibilities Kirby Smart and Jacob Eason are supposed to bring.
Instead, I’ll let my guard down after someone is raising a trophy up.
Welcome back, football.