Steve Hummer: Might Georgia face harder go in SEC than we first thought?
As Georgia ventures into SEC play this weekend, a warning: Teams in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear. Getting through the next two months unmarked on the way to a presumptive reckoning with Alabama is not the given it once, very recently, seemed.
Just maybe when playing in the Fortune 500 of conferences – and one day the SEC may include exactly that many teams – best to take nothing for granted. Best not to be so intoxicated by the season-opening TKO of Clemson that through the haze of delirium you are led to believe Georgia is just now getting to the cream-filled center of its schedule.
But I worry. And if you’re a properly scarred Bulldogs fan, you worry, too. You wear doubt like a birthmark.
The worries shouldn’t mount Saturday, when the Bulldogs open the conference itinerary at home against South Carolina. The Gamecocks are game, but at this stage of development under Shane Beamer are punching out of their weight class. They are 2-0, but had to rally Saturday to beat one of the lesser Carolinas – East. For the Bulldogs, the challenges down schedule in October are the ones looking more formidable than they did just a couple of weeks ago.
We’ll know more after this weekend when a couple of those future opponents themselves get real tests. But as of now, while Georgia figures to be favored in every game from here to the end of the marked road, there are a few matchups that might cause the gambling public to recalculate how it’s going to risk next week’s groceries. Three to be exact:
Oct. 2 vs. Arkansas: Yes, Arkansas, the one-time refuge of Bobby Petrino and his road rash, the same program that lost 19 consecutive SEC games before Sam Pittman arrived in 2019.
But you suspected that Pittman, the former high-personality line coach at Georgia who could recruit road graders like a one-man department of transportation, would get the Razorbacks back to respectability. If nothing else, he would quickly transfuse toughness into that program. And here they are, having just beaten Texas by 19 points.
They have Georgia Southern and a possibly over-valued Texas A&M to play before coming to Athens, where they just might make life difficult.
Oct. 9 at Auburn: Another program on the mend, that finds itself leading college football in scoring defense and No. 2 in scoring offense, outscoring its two opponents by a combined 122-10.
Now for a bit of perspective. The War Eagles opted to begin their season by juggling tomato cans, taking on Akron (1-24 in its past 25 games) and FCS Alabama State. Any number attached to them is a mirage. Including its ranking (22nd). Including the one that makes Bo Nix out to be fifth in the nation in passing efficiency.
It would get harder for Auburn if only it played an intramural schedule from here. But much more than that, it faces four teams now in the top 10. If it gets by at No. 10 Penn State this weekend, the Georgia fan may want to arch one eyebrow at the prospect of playing these Tigers.
Oct. 30 vs. Florida in Jacksonville: The 2-0 Gators get the ultimate crash test Saturday against Alabama. Nick Saban has been on a tear lately, breaking out all his old hits – even reprising the term “rat poison” (for toxic media influences) in trying to get his team to believe it’s not as good as everyone knows it is. So, it should be properly salty for Florida.
Still, by the time the Gators arrive at the banks of the St. John’s River, Dan Mullen may well have figured out his quarterback situation. And you really don’t want that coach operating with a high-functioning quarterback.
His designated starter, junior Emory Jones, has sputtered, throwing twice as many interceptions in two games (4) as touchdowns. Meanwhile redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson has come on to stoke the fires of controversy, going 6-of-11, for 192 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions in quite limited exposure.
Playing some second tier in-state competition, Florida also ranks second in the country in rushing offense. There’s enough here on hand to make even a gift-of-the-gods level defense like Georgia’s pay attention.
Playing an SEC schedule is supposed to be harder than a brisk walk. Just as Kirby Smart would want it, there are ample examples of possible peril facing the Bulldogs to keep his team glued to the task at hand.
We all know that Georgia is very, very good. Maybe good enough to skate through the rest of its schedule. But we also know that neither the program nor its fans have the earned the arrogance to believe that’s what will happen.