College football’s long layover between the end of the regular season and the bowl games isn’t just tough on the players. It leaves us, the fans, going through withdrawal. It does, however, provide a great time to reflect on the past three months and even look ahead to next season.
Except for a few odd twists and turns, this season went about like most expected for our local teams. Alabama was expected to be a national championship contender. We figured Auburn would have some growing pains with such a young team and a killer schedule. There was every reason to think Georgia would bounce back from a 6-7 disaster -- especially with an unusually soft schedule. Ditto for Georgia Tech.
Sure enough, Bama is back in the BCS championship game, Auburn struggled to find an identity, Georgia and Georgia Tech made significant improvement.
Where they go from here is where it gets interesting.
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Get used to seeing Bama in the top five. The Crimson Tide is 47-6 over the past four seasons. They’ve won with three leading rushers -- Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. They’ve won with three starting quarterbacks -- John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. They’ve won with turnover on the offensive line and only one big-time receiver, Julio Jones.
They’ve won because Nick Saban has assembled top five recruiting classes year after year and that doesn’t figure to change any time soon.
Chances are, they won’t have another Richardson because such special players come along once every 20 years. But Coffee was good enough to win 12 games, and Eddie Lacy should be better.
Everyone else is at a crossroads.
As relieved as most Georgia fans are to have answer last season’s debacle with their fourth SEC East Division championship, there remains a dissatisfied segment who maintain that the four-win improvement in the regular season will backfire on the Bulldogs.
The improvement means renewed job stability -- and probably even a contract extension -- for Mark Richt, whom many Dog fans believe will never win a national championship.
Maybe they’re right. Ten wins against a watered down schedule was soothing to the wounds of last season’s 6-7 finish, the Dogs’ first losing season since Jim Donnan’s first season. But if this is as good as it will ever get under Richt, the disenchantment could return.
Many Dog fans, if not most, would like to see Richt hire an innovative offensive coordinator and make Mike Bobo the quarterbacks coach. That’s possible but not too likely.
Auburn and Tech face key coaching decisions, both involving defensive coordinators. Ted Roof left Auburn to take the same position at Central Florida, a curious move even if it does reunite Roof with George O’Leary, his boss at Georgia Tech.
Roof is a good man and a good football man. He’s someone parents should want their sons to play for, and alumni should want to have representing their school. In the context of college football being about more than winning games and championships, such qualities should not be easily dismissed.
Regrettably, what can also not be dismissed are these statistics: 405.75 yards per game allowed, 78th in the country; 29.33 points per game allowed, 80th in the country.
Hiring the right defensive coordinator could determine whether Auburn gains or loses ground on Alabama.
Tech made the change two years ago, bringing in Al Groh. But the results have been unimpressive. Paul Johnson has brought respectability back to the Yellow Jackets’ program. But a loss next year to Georgia would run his losing streak to the Bulldogs to four games. If that were to happen, the Jackets could be looking for more than just a defensive coordinator.