Georgia football is in a preseason position it hasn't been in since not long after the above hiring. (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com)
The AP Poll was just released and the Bulldogs find themselves at an unfamiliar standing, ranking towards the bottom of the preseason poll. Georgia's number-23 ranking is its lowest since the 2001 season when the Bulldogs entered Coach Richt's first year unranked. Nevertheless, don't fret Dawg fans; Georgia football has a long history of its preseason ranking having little to no similarity to its final position in the AP Poll.
It all started 50 years ago... The Bulldogs were coming off an SEC championship season of 1959 and a No. 5 national ranking - their first AP final poll appearance in 11 seasons. Returning most of its team, including Fran Tarkenton and All-American Pat Dye, Georgia was positioned at 13th by the Associated Press pollsters. It was the first time the Bulldogs were preseason ranked since the AP first released preseason rankings in 1950.
En route to a disappointing 6-4 season, a favored Georgia team dropped its season opener to Bear Bryant's third Alabama squad by 15 points, falling out of the poll where it remained unranked for the next five-plus years.
After three final poll appearances after not being ranked in the preseason (1959, 1966, 1968) and three times ranked in the preseason but not finishing in the rankings (1960, 1967, 1969), in 1971, Georgia started (18th) and ended (7th) the same season ranked for the first time. However, there has been much inconsistency between where the Bulldogs began and finished many of their seasons as it relates to rankings.
The 1975 Bulldogs were suppose to be even worse than the six-loss team from the year before, but led by a "Junkyard Dogs" defense, Georgia won nine games and achieved a top-20 ranking. The 1978 team was forecasted to be dreadful; one media outlet predicted Georgia's game with Vanderbilt that year would decide who was the ninth-best team in the 10-member conference. Instead, the "Wonderdogs" shocked the nation, recording a 9-1-1 regular-season mark and an eventual No. 16 final ranking.
Georgia's national championship team of 1980 started off ranked only 16th. Of course, few writers knew how much an impact a freshman from Wrightsville would have. In fact, during the Bulldogs' historic run from 1980-1983, their average ranking in the preseason was 12th but they finished higher in each of the four seasons, averaging a ranking of better than 4th.
Recently, in five of Coach Richt's first seven seasons, the Bulldogs exceeded their AP Poll expectations. Notwithstanding, the last two years have been disappointments, ranking No. 1 in the preseason two years ago and 13th last season, only to finish 13th in 2008 and not ranked at all last year.
In the distant past, there were other unfortunate letdowns: The 1977 Bulldogs returned two backs - Kevin McLee and Willie McClendon - from the '76 SEC title team, who would finish their careers ranked first and third in rushing at the school, and three other players recognized as All-Americans, but the team handed Coach Dooley his only losing season in 25 years. Of course, no one imagined the '77 Dogs, who were preseason ranked 19th by the AP, would lose a school-record 35 fumbles and end their season playing a quarterback who was the sixth-stringer in summer practices.
In 2000, Jim Donnan made the infamous quote: “I’ve been waiting 55 years to be the head coach of a football team that has this much potential, and I guarantee you that we’re going to get it done.” The AP writers seemingly agreed with the coach, ranking the Bulldogs 10th in the nation. What followed was a four-loss campaign, a number-20 final ranking, and Donnan losing his job.
Three other Georgia teams - 1969, 1979, 1993 - started their seasons ranked 13th or better only to finish unranked and with a record of 6-5 or worse.
So, how does Georgia's varying beginning and ending rankings from past seasons relate to the current Bulldogs that kick off in two weeks? Probably very little, if at all. But, for those who might be feeling somewhat down regarding the lowly 23rd ranking, perhaps, here's a little comfort:
Besides the fact that Georgia has finished eight seasons in the AP Poll when they weren't ranked in the preseason... Of the seven seasons the Bulldogs were preseason ranked from 16th to 25th, they actually finished ranked higher in five of the seven years.
A few months ago, I showed that Georgia returning only a handful of starters on defense - something the media has pointed out ad nauseam - has no real historical significance. Now, it also appears that media members, at least those that have voted in the preseason AP Poll, historically have had a difficult time assessing the Bulldogs in the preseason.
Let's hope this is the case for 2010 as well.