I had a thought yesterday while thumbing through my Phil Steele. For whatever reason, last year I didn’t crack mine open near as much, and that is something I have been trying to rectify so far this summer.
2011 was a big year for a couple of SEC programs-Georgia and South Carolina. Prior to the 2011 season, I said that a program can fall down pretty quickly, but can also rebound and have success again. You could argue that if either one of those teams didn’t have a big year of improvement, you could make the case that one-if not both-of these schools would be looking for a new head coach.
I had this conversation with someone not too long ago: how long would South Carolina hang on to Spurrier? Here is his win/loss record from 2005-2010: 7-5, 8-5, 6-6, 7-6, 7-6, 9-5. You could give him a pass for a couple of years coming into a mess of a program, but even in year 4 and 5 they were losing six games. How many new head coaches, six years into their career at a school, would be allowed to stay on with a 6-6 record? Shoot, Georgia fans were ready to send Mark Richt off for a couple of bad years.
Prior to 2011, South Carolina’s bowl record was staggeringly bad. Carolina went 1-4 in bowl games in Spurrier’s first 6 seasons. Didn’t even make a bowl in 2007 when at one point in the season they were #6 in the country (before losing to Vanderbilt without even scoring a TD).
Even in 2010 when Spurrier guided the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship Game, he did so under auspicious circumstances. Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia were all very bad. South Carolina won the SEC East with 3 losses-the first time in the Division’s history that has happened. In 2010, two of Carolina’s three conference losses were losses to Kentucky by 3 and Arkansas by 21.
Now, Spurrier being Spurrier gave him a pass and he did inherit a mess.
Richt’s success from 2001-2007 is well documented, and just as well documented are the struggles from 2008-2010. The low point for me was after the Boise State game in 2011. I thought we were going to be much improved following the disaster that was 2010. I actually had a sense of encouragement after the heartbreaker against South Carolina. But losing two games in a row to non-SEC opponents was tough. I really thought Georgia might go 4-8 that season.
And there was a mirage in 2009. Going 8-5 is not great, but after losing Knowshon, Stafford and Massaquoi, well a step back is to be expected. But in reality, that 2009 team was awful. AWFUL. UGA Got extremely lucky to not have a losing record in 2009. Just think if there were back to back losing seasons in 2009 and 2010-that is another post for another day. The 2010 team was actually improved in just about every way-except the one that counts in W/L.
But all of this is water under the bridge now. South Carolina is rolling along. They have only lost 4 games the last two seasons. Georgia has been the beneficiary of fortunate breaks in the schedule, but won the games they were supposed to and only have two conference losses the last two seasons (both the Carolina), have made the SEC Championship game in consecutive years, was a mere 5 yards shy of a National Championship, and is the preseason favorite to go back to Atlanta for the third year in a row (for the record, my early lean is on Carolina making it back to Atlanta).
Neither school had to make a tough decision for a coaching change following the 2011 season, as they were both able to get the ship turned around. Both schools are poised for good 2013 seasons. I’ve rambled on long enough, but the interesting question is a couple of years from now, both programs will be losing key talent, so will the success continue? I think it is more likely for Georgia to continue to be good than Carolina.
But this season, Carolina’s schedule is very favorable. The 2013 match-up will determine the SEC East winner, and if Carolina wins, should put them in the driver’s seat for a spot in the National Championship game.