Chip Towers over at the AJC poses an interesting question in response to Pete Fiutak’s mailbag over at College Football News. Is Mark Richt intense enough to win a national title at Georgia? It’s an interesting question and one that I’ve certainly considered over the past eight years. Fiutak basically states that he used to believe that Georgia was a program that was good and in position, but just needed the lucky breaks to go its way. He now believes with the rise of Florida back to uber-elite status under Urban Meyer, the presumed rise of Alabama under Nick Saban, and the continuance of LSU at the top, the SEC is becoming too difficult to win on a consistent basis. Fiutak believes that Georgia may have to ask itself the brutally unfair question of whether Mark Richt is the coach to get Georgia over the proverbial hump.
I tend to agree with Towers’ assessment. He argues that there have been some pretty darn good teams under Richt but due to extenuating circumstances found itself on the outside looking in when it came to college football’s biggest prize.
My personal belief is the same as T. Kyle King’s. I believe Coach Richt is the right man for this job and that he will eventually surpass Vince Dooley as Georgia’s all time winningest coach on the gridiron. I believe that luck plays a huge part in what teams win national titles. Some would argue that luck is no more than opportunity presented through preparation, but I argue differently.
Florida and LSU have won the last three national titles despite having at least one loss. Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, there have been 11 #1 vs. #2 National Championship Games. Of those 22 teams, 11 have been undefeated and 11 have had one or more loss. My argument is that once you lose a game, you have to get breaks to get into the national title game as you have lost all control over your own fate (Auburn in 2004 excluded). Considering that 50% of the participants in the national title game have owned losses going into the game, it seems reasonable to assume they needed a little help to get in, whether it be voters swinging the weight of rankings or teams in front of them losing.
LSU 2007, Florida 2006, and Tennessee 1998 are my favorite examples of breaks just going their way that led to eventual national championships. LSU lost its season-finale at home to Arkansas, but managed to get in the game after mind-boggling losses by West Virginia and top-ranked Missouri on the final weekend of play. Florida in 2006 needed not one, but two blocked kicks against South Carolina as well as a complete face plant by Southern California against UCLA to make it into the big game. Tennessee in 1998 is the one that still bothers me to this day. Clint Stoerner could run that play 100 times and never fumble, but he managed to in that game? Ole’ Fulmer had a lot of lucky breaks (and some pretty damn good teams) during his tenure up there on Rocky Top, but none more than that.
In 2002, Georgia lost a game against Florida that left many in Bulldog Nation shaking their collective heads wondering what happened. The Dawgs never got another chance at the title that year as Ohio State and Miami decided to lose to no one. I still firmly believe that was the best team fielded under Mark Richt and likely could have beat Miami or Ohio State at year end, but lost a game and two teams in front of them didn’t.
In 2005, Georgia’s DJ Shockley is injured the week before the game with Florida. That 2005 team was playing at such a high level and then got put on the wounded duck throwing back of Joe T III against the hated Gators. The result was a familiar one in Jacksonville. Georgia then proceeds to lose to Auburn in its next week despite having the services of a not 100% healthy Shockley and with two losses never sniffs the national title game. One could argue it wouldn’t have mattered as USC and Texas were pre-season #1 and #2 and didn’t lose, but the injury to Shockley was an undeniably unlucky break that championship teams can’t afford. For more examples, See : Dixon, Dennis and the 2007 Oregon Ducks.
My point is that championship teams need not only be great, but they need to be lucky at times. Now as far as intensity goes, I’ve obviously never set foot in the Georgia locker room or on the practice field, so I don’t know how Coach Richt’s temperment is on the field. My only knowledge is from friends in college that were on the football team and they all claimed that Coach Richt was not one to tangle with. He certainly was fiery enough to order the entire team to take an 15-yard penalty against Florida in 2007. He was fiery enough to let the seniors choose to wear black jerseys for not one, but two home games. I don’t think his drive or his intensity are up for questioning
Bobby Bowden, Tom Osborne, and Joe Paterno all took a long time to win their first national championships. It wasn’t for a lack of good teams, but rather they didn’t get breaks to go their way. As long as Coach Richt has Georgia consistently winning 10+ games per year and has the program in a reloading, not rebuilding mentality, the breaks will come.
The defining bar for Coach Richt is going to be the one hump that no Georgia coach has gotten over since Vince Dooley quit roaming the sidelines for the men clad in Red and Black. It’s that orange-and-blue hump in Jacksonville every year. I get the strange feeling that if Coach Richt’s teams start defeating the Gators more consistently those breaks will come more frequently. It will be interesting to see if Fiutak’s mailbag makes it to Coach Richt’s bulletin board and he comes out with a fierce determination like we’ve never seen. Like I said, the breaks will start coming Georgia’s way once Georgia starts celebrating more frequently on Halloween in Jacksonville.