February 19, 2010

Mailbag: Is this Georgia's year?

Since The Associated Press began crowning a college football national champion in 1936, 32 programs have hoisted a version of the trophy and 20 have won it more than once.

Some programs have won national championships in polls recognized by the NCAA in clusters. For example, Nebraska won three in four years (1994, '95 and '97) and Miami claimed four in nine years (1983, '87, '89 and '91). But some have waited longer between championships ... much, much longer.

Michigan went 9-0 and was voted national champion in 1948; the Wolverines didn't win their next crown until 1997.

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Compared to a 49-year gap between championships, a three-decade wait doesn't seem so bad.

Still, in this week's mailbag, we see that 30 years can seem like an eternity, especially for teams that in recent seasons frequently have come close only to come up short.

Spring dreams

When do you see Georgia winning a national championship again? I'm hoping 2011 is our year.
Moultrie, Ga.

Championship chasms
Here's a list of teams that have waited the longest between national championships. This list only includes teams that have won multiple championships.
TeamYear wonNext titleSpan
Michigan1948199749 years
Tennessee1951199847 years
LSU1958200345 years
Georgia1942198038 years
Pittsburgh1939197637 years
Texas1970200535 years
Ohio State1970200232 years
USC1978200325 years
Nebraska1971199423 years
Minnesota1941196019 years
Alabama1992200917 years
You're asking me to peer into a crystal ball to see when Georgia can win a crystal ball? Unfortunately, I don't have one, so I don't know. Therefore, let's focus on what we do know.

Georgia has won two football national championships in its history. The first came in 1942; the second was won in 1980. That's 38 years between national titles in Athens. Therefore, at that pace, expect a national championship in 2018.

By then, the Bulldogs will have had ample opportunity to recruit their next Heisman-winning running back, which history shows is vital to their national championship cause. Frank Sinkwich won the Heisman in '42 and Herschel Walker, the star of the '80 team, won it in '82.

Actually, Georgia doesn't need a Heisman recipient to win another national championship as much as it needs a little luck - and perhaps some clutch catches.

The Bulldogs were strong national championship contenders three times in the past decade, but just couldn't close the deal. They went 13-1 in '02, but Terrence Edwards dropped a potential touchdown pass in a 20-13 loss to Florida. Had the Bulldogs won that game, they would have had a good shot at playing Miami for the national title.

A late dropped pass also loomed large in a 16-12 loss to South Carolina in 2007. The Bulldogs went 11-2 in a season in which national champion LSU had two losses. Georgia also lost to Tennessee and thus needed the Volunteers to lose three SEC games. Though Tennessee often was in precarious situations, key missed field goals by South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky enabled to Vols to pull out wins that kept Georgia out of the SEC title game.

The Bulldogs then opened '08 ranked No. 1, but were weakened by a rash of injuries along the offensive and defensive lines.

Of course, you didn't ask for a history lesson. You asked for a prediction.

Most championship teams have strong defenses and reliable, experienced quarterbacks. This past season, Georgia had neither. Junior Logan Gray and redshirt freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will compete to be this fall's starting quarterback. We'll have to see if one emerges as a reliable passer.

Meanwhile, coordinator Todd Grantham was brought in to bolster a defensive unit that was the third-most generous in the SEC last season. Can he rebuild that unit back to usual SEC standards? Again, we'll see.

The good news for Georgia is that the program isn't in crisis. Certainly, Georgia expects more than the eight wins it posted this past season, but that at least is a respectable showing. Still, there are too many questions at this time to project the Bulldogs as serious national championship contenders in two years.

Punishing others

After watching the Reggie Bush/USC violations play out and having a friend whose son played major college football, I've decided that if USC is found to be in violation because of what Bush and his family did, then Bush should be suspended from the NFL for a year without pay. My friend said everyone knows the rules and is told what their responsibilities are under the rules. There is no way Bush was out of the loop on what his family did. If NCAA football is the minor leagues for the NFL, then some of these violations need to be linked from the college level to the pro level. Bush and his family were not innocent bystanders in the USC stuff, and they should not be allowed to walk away while costing the university and the team.
Norman, Okla.

I'd agree it's unfortunate that players who never played with Bush could potentially suffer an NCAA punishment. But I strongly disagree with the suggestion that Bush should be suspended from the NFL because of any possible improprieties involving his parents. That would penalize the Saints' organization, which had nothing to do with that scandal.

Though it may seem NCAA football is a farm system for the NFL, that's not necessarily the case. If it were, the NFL would be paying college players. It does not. True, the NFL drafts college players, but only after they've completed or relinquished their eligibility.

In addition, I doubt USC will be penalized too harshly, if at all. Seriously, is the NCAA now going to require programs to monitor players' parents? What would be next? Monitoring aunts, uncles and cousins? It's one thing to worry about where players live, what they drive, where they work and who they're associated with. It doesn't seem realistic that a player's family also would undergo that much scrutiny.

Back in 2006, when news surfaced that Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar and guard J.D. Quinn were paid thousands of dollars by a local car dealership for work they did not do, the ramifications were not that drastic. OU lost two scholarships for two years, but was not banned from TV or bowl appearances. I'd anticipate USC's punishment would be similar.

How many lineman?

Will Tennessee run a 3-4 defense this year under new coordinator Justin Wilcox?
Knoxville, Tenn.

Coach Derek Dooley has said Tennessee will use a four-man front on defense. Whether that's a 4-3 or a 4-2-5 remains to be seen. Wilcox used a 4-2-5 at Boise State, but that was in the WAC - which is more of a wide-open passing league than the SEC.

Plus, the Vols' defensive personnel doesn't appear conducive to using a 3-4.

Clemson concerns

Why doesn't Clemson get any respect? The Tigers won the Atlantic Division for the first time, played in the ACC championship game and, more important, return a lot of talent. No preseason ranking, no talk of repeating ... what gives?
Charleston, S.C.

Clemson's omission from some early preseason polls isn't necessarily a lack of respect. More likely, it's a lack of faith. Or maybe it's an abundance of memories.

The Tigers return seven offensive starters and six defensive starters from the '09 team that finished 9-5 and won the ACC Atlantic Division. But two of the starters who don't return are running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Jacoby Ford, the Tigers' two greatest big-play threats.

Spiller's loss is especially concerning. He was perhaps the nation's most explosive player last season and scored a touchdown in every game by run, reception or return.

Perhaps the main reason for apprehension about Clemson is its recent history. Since 2002, Clemson has finished a season ranked no higher than 21st. Three times, they've started the season ranked 18th or better but finished unranked.

In a weird statistical trend, Clemson has finished unranked in each of the past four even-numbered years - and 2010 is an even-numbered year.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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