Guerry Clegg commentary: Richt may be Georgia's greatest coach

sports@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 24, 2013 

In time, Mark Richt could go down as the greatest head coach inGeorgia football history. Only one man stands in front of him - the legend himself, Vincent J. Dooley. He already has a better winning percentage, .745 to .715. And Dooley's third of six SEC championships came in his 13th season. The other three came, not so coincidentally, after the arrival of Herschel Walker.

But …

Yes, there's always a "but," especially in this day of distorted expectations.

Pick one:

But …

"He can't win 'The Big One.' "

But …

"His teams have no discipline."

But …

"He should win with all the talent he has."

But …

"He'll never win a national championship."

This is partially fact, partially perception. His first seven years at Georgia were much more successful than his next five.

Still, he has won two SEC championships and seven SEC East titles in his 12 seasons. Kind of hard to do that without winning a "big one" or two along the way.

Another big one comes Saturday when LSU visits Athens. Just how big it rates on 'The Big One' scale is hard to say. But it is quite possibly the biggest home game the Bulldogs have played under Richt ever, or at since Alabama visited in 2008.

That was the night of the infamous Black Out. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the country.

Fans were urged to wear black. The Bulldogs came out in black jerseys, just as they had done the year before against Auburn, to such a rousing success. But the results this time were hardly rousing.

The Crimson Tide jumped out to 31-0 lead and won 41-30.

That crushing loss began a stunning nose dive that led to Richt being one more bad season away from getting fired. The program has since recovered from that 6-7 season of 2010 with back to back SEC East titles.

But …

The Bulldogs haven't won The Big One. The win over South Carolina three weeks ago is Richt's biggest of this recent revival. But a win Saturday over LSU would go a long way toward restoring the Bulldogs' national credibility.

Part of their ascent has been aided by avoiding the heavyweights of the SEC West. When they have played them in those championship games -- LSU in 2011 and Alabama last year -- they lost.

A win Saturday would change that perception. They could leap over Louisville and Florida State -- and Texas A&M in the coaches' poll -- and take LSU's spot at No. 6. That would be their second win over a top 10 team.

As unbeaten teams begin to fall, as they inevitably do, the voters will begin looking as much at the quality of their losses to find differentiation.

Georgia's loss to Clemson -- by a field goal on the road in the season opener with two projected defensive starters out against another top five team -- will certainly measure up to anyone else's loss.

Their path to a return trip to the SEC championship game becomes considerably smoother.

But …

A loss Saturday would erase much of the credibility they have regained. And Richt's critics once again will grow loud, especially if they give up touchdowns on special teams or turn the ball over inside their 20 or commit foolish and costly penalties.

"Can't win The Big One."

"His teams have no discipline."

"All that talent wasted."

And that national championship dream will have to wait another year.

More Guerry Clegg:

Guerry Clegg commentary: What a difference one drive makes

Guerry Clegg commentary: Nick Saban has chance to humble Johnny Manziel

Guerry Clegg commentary: Auburn could make big leap this year

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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