ATHENS - Reporters have to be objective, but deep down we all prefer covering a winner. There's more anticipation for the game, more a sense when you head to the field of combat that you're going to cover something that actually means something.
I can't really say that about tonight's tilt between the Georgia and Arkansas men's basketball teams. Well, it may mean something for the visiting Razorbacks, who are a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. But the Bulldogs are just playing through the string at this point. In terms of writing about something that fans care about, you're kind of hoping a football story breaks while the game's going on.
It's quite a comedown from last year. Oh, football still ruled the roost, as it always does around here. Ask me what memories stand out from covering hoops games at Stegeman last year, and I might point to when fans started a chant for Isaiah Crowell, who was on his official visit.
Still, it does appear that with February upon us, and the Bulldogs tied for last in the SEC, there’s a lot of angst out there over the state of the program. Mark Fox spoke at some length on this season’s struggles during an interview session on Tuesday. And plenty of you had questions pertaining to your concerns.
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So let's get to it, starting with reader Rob Wright, who fires a few questions:
I know that football is still at the center of Dawg universe (and for many fans, football is the only sport). But, having just been to Knoxville this weekend and watched the Bulldogs lose the lead to a mediocre UT team, I’d love to hear more about basketball’s state of the union. Some questions I have:
- Should Dawg fans read into Mark Fox’s ejection in Knoxville more than just arguing a perceived bad call?
Yes, in my game story from Knoxville I wrote that it may have been the frustration of the season catching up with him. If that weren’t Georgia’s seventh loss in eight games, I doubt he gets ejected that quickly.
- Why hasn’t Marcus Thornton developed into more of a complete player, specifically with respect to offensive production?
Injuries will be blamed, and maybe that’s part of it. The surgery he had over the Christmas break may have been to correct something that had nagged him all season, and Fox said Thornton would have to have further surgery after the season on the other leg. Still, I’d say Thornton’s lack of scoring, or consistent rebounding, has been a major disappointment, and I don’t know that you can blame that completely on injuries. I guess we'll have to find out next season, when he's presumably at full health.
- Were Travis (Leslie) and Trey (Thompkins) that fundamental to the team that in their absence we devolve into a cellar dweller (even with the addition of Caldwell-Pope)?
Leslie and Thompkins were that important, but you also can’t ignore the loss of Jeremy Price and Chris Barrnes, especially Price. Mark Slonaker, the team’s radio color analyst, thinks the team would be about five games better if just Price were back.
But Price and Barnes were seniors, so people tend to just focus on what would have been if Thompkins and Leslie had returned.
- Is Fox on the proverbial hot seat?
No, no, no and an emphatic no.
So, men’s basketball looks as bad as it has in years, actually very similar to some of Felton's worse years. It shouldn't be this bad in year 3 no matter who has left the program.
Where do you truly think the program stands? More importantly, where does Mark Fox honestly believe his program stands?
- Joe Mac
I understand the frustration. This year has been worse than expected, and I’ll admit to being wrong in thinking this team would still be solid enough to be in the NIT. Fox is obviously frustrated too, even if he knew this wouldn’t be an NCAA team.
Still, I don’t quite agree with the statement that it shouldn’t be this bad in year 3. When you have two players leave early, it’s going to happen. Fox has at least banked two good years – being more competitive than expected in Year 1, and then making the NCAAs in Year 2. You could argue that last year was actually was disappointing because the NCAAs were only the minimum expectation.
Here’s how I would term this year: A throwaway year, but with some signs of concern for the future. But the problems are fixable.
Dejected hoops fan here already looking ahead to next year. Who exactly does Fox have coming in? What's the early prognosis on how much this team can improve next season, assuming KCP doesn't decide to jump ship early?
Three recruits signed in November, and all are regarded as solid, though not quite program-changing: Point guard Charles Mann (expected to step in for Gerald Robinson), shooting guard Kenny Gaines and small forward Brandon Morris. All are rated as three-star prospects, but they also have height: Mann, at 6-foot-6, might be the tallest point guard in the SEC.
The Bulldogs are still trying to be involved for center Tony Parker, the Miller Grove High School standout rated one of the top prospects in the country. But Parker will be a tough one to keep away from one of the blue schools. (Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, etc.)
As for Caldwell-Pope, no one has asked him if he’d consider the jump yet, but I’m expecting the answer will be no, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Caldwell-Pope is a pretty timid guy and doesn’t strike me as having an inflated sense of his abilities.
I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time on signing day. I do not see how we can compete with Alabama, LSU, and Florida when you can take 28 players and only get 19. I realize that we really got some talent in areas of need for this season, but we are already short on the o-line and now d-backs. Mark Richt was pushing for tougher rules on over-signing last year, when if anybody needed to over-sign it was him. Every year, we lose players for one reason or another and the time the season rolls around we are under 85. Georgia is suppose to be loaded with prospects next year and I hope that we will fill every spot, because if we don't we will never compete with Alabama and LSU. What's your thoughts?
- Larry Tucker
My thoughts are that while from a depth standpoint, the under-signing may bite the team if there is more attrition, that in an overall sense it’s not an immediate concern. LSU and Alabama aren’t who they are because they over-sign and have elite backups, it’s because their first-teamers are all NFL prospects. Well not literally all of them, but close to it.
(And by the way, Florida shouldn’t be lumped in with LSU and Alabama. The Gators have been an under-signing team too, and led the charge last summer along with Georgia to limit signing classes.)
I really don’t think Georgia is behind LSU/Alabama right now because it doesn’t sign enough players. I think it’s behind them because of some recruiting misses – like almost all of the 2010 class at this point. Those elite prospects who are projected to be standouts need to come through. I understand where fans want Georgia to fill up the roster by signing the fringe prospects and hope they turn out to be the next Tim Jennings. But at that point you’re throwing some stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks.
I would like to know why we can't manage to come close to the 85 scholarship limit. I understand that Richt doesn't want to yank something from a kid last minute, but we're erring WAY TO FAR on the side of caution. We're down around 10 ships now and it's going to take years to get back to full strength at this rate.
- Big Dawg Fan
Oh, I don’t know that I would characterize it as that bleak. For one thing, just signing a full class, or close to it, in 2013 will push the numbers back up. For another, and I know some may take this as Pollyanish, this program has made use of walk-ons, who basically are as good as some of the fringe scholarship players. Take the receivers, for instance: Rhett McGowan and Taylor Bradberry, I would wager, were more likely to contribute next year than Sanford Seay.
People may be obsessing too much about spots 76-85 on the team. I know that in a sport where you have massive turnover every year it’s important to be ready to replace everyone. But there’s never any guarantee that just throwing a scholarship to someone will make him a usable part in the future.
Do you see next year as UGA's best chance to try to win a national title in football? Given the following year's turnover on defense is this going to be the best chance during Aaron Murray's tenure in your opinion?
- Alex K.
You hit on the key point: The defensive turnover. There are eight seniors projected to start on defense, and two more will be draft eligible (Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree). And who knows how long Todd Grantham will stick around before someone offers him a head coaching job, or an NFL coordinator’s job, if that suits him.
That’s not to say the future on defense is bleak after that, because of some of the 2011 and 2012 signees. But given all that’s back on defense next year, a third-year quarterback, and a pretty loaded group of receivers, 2012 would seem to be the year to pounce. It’ll just come down to whether the running game and pass blocking are at least average.
Having said all that, it’s not like next season is championship or bust, and if they don’t win the SEC championship you might as well shut down the program. It’s impossible to predict too far into the future.
How much talk, if any, have you heard about the Dawgs running the table this fall straight to the National Championship? I'd love your thoughts on whether those expectations may be a 'tad' high or even close to realistic.
- Dawg in Gator Country, Drew, Jacksonville, Fla.
Pretty much every early preseason poll I’ve seen for next year has Georgia in the top 10, and some in the top 5. So yeah, people are talking about it.
Two games, to me, are setting up to be the key towards any legitimate BCS championship hopes, and both are on the road: Sept. 8 at Missouri, and Oct. 6 at South Carolina. When the new SEC schedule was announced, and people decried Georgia’s break in not playing Alabama anymore, I keep reminding people that they weren’t giving Missouri enough credit. And then the Tigers went out and signed receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, perhaps the nation’s top recruit. That game won’t be a pushover.
That game will also be key because it will be a tone-setter. Replacing Alabama with Missouri is both a blessing and a curse, in that a loss in Tuscaloosa would have been easily forgiven, while one at Missouri will lead to more bridge-jumping by Bulldog fans. Then the trip to the other Columbia, in October, will either be a chance to make up for that, or to capitalize on it.
Besides John Theus, who I'm penciling in at tackle, we have 4 pretty good recruits waiting in the wings. Austin Long was 4 star top 10 tackle. Dantzler 3/4 star and Ward and DeBell 3+ star - all three listed at 6'7" with potential for growth. This is where the strength program rubber hits the road. Chances appear to be good that we can come up with another tackle out of this group of four. Who do you like? What have you heard? How big are these guys now? Is Long's back well?
DeBell had ankle surgery, but is supposed to be ready for spring ball. Otherwise I haven’t heard any health concerns with any of the linemen. The one situation still out there is Kolton Houston, and whether he’ll definitely be cleared to play next year. The expectation is he will be, but it’s not official yet.
I’ve been pretty consistent in predicting the line would be Theus at left tackle, David Andrews at center, and some combination of returning players (Dallas Lee, Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette) and one new player (Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler?) at the other three spots.
But spring ball always holds a chance for some movement. Burnette, for instance, came out nowhere last spring to earn his spot. And he could figure into some change again this spring; my friend Gentry Estes, who has an eagle-eye for practice shenanigans, noticed at bowl practice that Burnette was getting some work at center. I’m betting at least one or two linemen come out of the pack this spring to be competitors for starting spots. Beard, who is already enrolled, could be one of those guys.
Will Israel Troupe still be playing baseball in the pros? Or is his athletic career done?
If he does, it apparently won’t be in college. I checked with Christopher Lakos, the Georgia baseball team spokesman, and he said Troupe hasn’t practiced with the team this year and there are no plans for him to join.
Read your article “The news of the day, and what it all means”, why not move Justin Scott-Wesley to DB. Has the speed and size to make the move. Probably needs to lose a little weight to make the move but has everything else.
- CK Williams
He definitely has the speed. Scott-Wesley has been on the track them. It’s certainly an idea worth running up the flagpole, although again I would issue one of my normal buzz-killing cautions: They’re not, or at least they shouldn’t, be moving any players to defensive back just for depth, when that player could be a factor at his former position. Take the Richard Samuel position: I think we saw, based on the production at inside linebacker during the season, that the coaches decided he was more needed at tailback than on defense. So he moved. On the flip side, the offensive coaches wanted Branden Smith, but the defensive coaches wanted him more, so he stayed on defense and made cameos on offense.
After Marlon Brown and Crowell, I no longer trust the 'pick a hat' guys. So, I'm officially putting JHC on notice. Join me.
- Chill Penguin X (via Twitter)
He. We shall see. In retrospect, all the hullaballoo over one player may end up seeming overwrought if he doesn’t even end up playing this season.
Are you going to see star wars in 3D? And your thoughts on the monster front 7? ( rather than db depth)
- Drew Stewart
First off, there’s no way I go see the abomination known as “The Phantom Menace” in 3D. I’ll wait until the original trilogy comes out, which I assume it will in George Lucas’ selfless quest to continually share his dream with the regular people. (That dream to continue to find new ways to make money off of Star Wars.)
As for the front seven, yes it may measure with the best in the country, especially at linebacker. How many programs sign a bunch of five-star and four-star edge rushers, and it’s just a given they won’t start right away?
With Brandon Boykin gone, who is likely the top candidate to replace his as a kick/punt returner? I know Branden Smith was the primary back up returner last year, but he seems to have problems holding onto the ball. I say give Keith Marshall a chance.
- Patrick Lowe
That’s an interesting idea. Malcolm Mitchell could get a look too, and Nick Marshall would have if he hadn’t been dismissed. A player we just talked about, Scott-Wesley, might also be an intriguing candidate given his speed. Ultimately, though, I think it will be hard to keep Branden Smith out of a major role on returns.
At the end of the season I was slightly confused to see Aarron Murray on the SEC 2nd team at the QB position. This forced me to look passed his statistical accomplishments and look at his career so far. At the end I came to wonder if Murray really was as good as most think he is. He has played 10 games in his career against top 25 teams, including 2 bowl games, and has won 2 games (no bowl games obviously). 2011 Georgia Tech and 2011 Auburn. This according to the final schedule results on espn.com. Also, he has a horrible bowl loss to UCF. He has had multiple games where crucial errors on his part, 2010 Florida and 2011 South Carolina jump to mind right off the bat, have cost us games, although other aspect of the team let us down as well. I would have to say his two signature wins would be 2011 Florida (against a Florida team with a serious identity crisis) and 2011 Auburn (recovering from losing quite possibly the most dangerous offensive weapon to ever set foot on an NCAA Div. 1 football field). So Seth, do you believe that Murray is a championship caliber quarterback going forward? Do you believe he has what it takes to win the SEC/NC? Do you think that the coaches should open up the QB competition and see what Hutson Mason brings to the table?
- Bentley Driving Bulldog - Colorado.
I could probably just recycle my answer from a previous mailbag on this. Instead I’ll just shorten it: Mason has already been taken off the table, as he will redshirt to save a year of eligibility. Murray is the guy, barring injury or a Blair Walsh-like spiral. I do agree that Murray has had his down moments, and I didn’t vote for him for first-team all-SEC. But there was nobody else to pick for second team, trust me. (A.J. McCarron looked great in the BCS championship game, but prior to that was just ordinary.)
Murray is also just entering his junior year. Maybe Georgia fans have been spoiled watching David Greene and Matt Stafford win so early in their careers. But they both had much better running games and offensive line blocking. Georgia gave up the fourth-most sacks in the SEC this year, and had the fifth-ranked rushing offense – and it was much worse at the end of the year. But Georgia also had the league’s third-ranked passing offense. Do you honestly think it had a chance to be better with Hutson Mason? Would Mason have led the team to a win over Boise State, South Carolina, LSU or Michigan State? Does Mason, or even Christian LeMay or Faton Bauta, give Georgia a better chance to beat Missouri on Sept. 8?
My favorite part of the Super Bowl was the new GIJOE movie trailer.Did you think this was one of the most boring Super Bowls? The announcers could not get excited about anything until inside the two minute warning. The only reason the halftime show was entertaining is my love of awful music.
How much playing time do you see Amarlo Herrarra seeing next year? When he was in, he was all over the ball.
- Rusty Brown
My favorite commercial was the Doritos one, when the dog uses the tasty snack (free plug!) to bribe his owner into overlooking that he buried the cat. Now, as someone who likes cats and has owned them in the past, this might offend me. But as I’m fairly safe in assuming that no cats were actually harmed in the filming of the commercial, I’m okay with it.
Oh, and Herrera: I see him playing about as much as he did last year, as he prepares to ultimately step into a starting role in 2013. (And possibly before that, if injuries require it.)
Just think if we had the BCS crap in pro ball, the Giants would have been playing in Miami against the Broncos on Feb. 28th in the Who Cares bowl.
I doubt you would answer this one in mailbag: After reading the recruiting items about Saban and his BS-laden reply about recruits: Rank the SEC coaches in order of sleaziness.
Yeeaaaahhhh, I might pass on that one.
Say this at least for the Giants: At least they won their division, which, ahem, the BCS champion can't claim.
I know, I know. But in any event, it seems some of this BCS vs. playoff stuff is about to end, because the movement nationally, with the Big Ten on board, is towards the plus-one. Or a four-team playoff, which is really what it should be called. But then the argument will be whether there should be an eight-team playoff ... and then it will be whether it should be 16.
No one asked me - and it befuddles me why not - but my stance has always been eight teams would be just about right. It would preserve the importance of the regular season, while giving a shot to everyone that realistically deserves a shot at a national title.
Seth, I'm trying to get this girl to go out with me. What's your best pick up line?
I never developed a good one during my single days, although I can attest that “Hello, I’m a sportswriter!” wasn’t very productive.
My lovely fiance’, who tells me she doesn’t go chasing for numbers anymore, except during weeks I forget to clean the bathroom, passed on these pick-up-line memories:
“I remember one guy who said "Hey, I'm rich and handsome" and it made me laugh really really hard... which is really all you need to do to get a girl interested. …
“One guy had a rubber ducky as a prop and he asked me if I wanted to take a bath. That did not work. I've had a guy tell me that his friends bet him he wouldn't have the guts to hit on me, and so he made me take pity on him. Turns out that wasn't true, so I was kinda mad about it later, but that's not the point.”
And there you are honey, you finally were quoted in the mailbag! Now, I promise, I will go clean the bathroom.