I instantly became a big fan and supporter of Mark Richt when he first arrived in Athens 10 years ago, primarily because I knew he was a better alternative than the guy that was before him.
Nevertheless, as we are all fully aware, under Richt's guidance, the Bulldogs' on-field performance has significantly slipped the past two-plus seasons, beginning in 2008.
The continuing fall from grace became even more evident to me with Georgia's 31-24 loss to Arkansas on Saturday - the Bulldogs' second defeat to a ranked opponent in as many games.
Now, I'm nowhere near siding with the collection of grown (and I use that term loosely) men I witnessed Saturday, chanting "Fire Mark Richt!" outside the stadium following the setback. Notwithstanding, whether it's coaching, a deficiency in talent/recruiting, lack of team discipline, or some of each, Richt's Bulldogs, unlike before, simply have had a difficult time since 2008 defeating reputable, "good" teams, like in the case of Arkansas.
What was once commonplace has become seemingly a rarity.
In Richt's first seven seasons, Georgia recorded an impressive 24-13 mark against teams ranked (entering the game) in the AP Poll, including a perfect 5-0 in BOTH 2002 and 2007.
I'd be willing to bet that was one of the best - probably top five or so - records against the ranked in all of college football during the same time period. Of all SEC teams, it was in fact second best, only behind LSU:
2) Georgia, 24-13
South Carolina, 9-22
Ole Miss, 5-20
Miss. State, 3-24
However, since the start of the 2008 season, the Bulldogs are only 4-8 versus ranked teams. To make matters slightly worse, four of the eight losses came at home AND facing an underdog, while only one of Georgia's four victories could be considered an "upset" (Georgia Tech, 2009).
The SEC vs. AP-ranked teams from 2008 through last Saturday:
Ole Miss, 5-3
T-5) Georgia, 4-8
T-5) South Carolina, 3-6
Miss. State, 2-10
I believe a team's record against ranked opponents over an extended period of time can be an adequate indicator of success, or lack thereof, especially when compared to a previous or succeeding era or regime.
We've all heard of those who somewhat degrade the Vince Dooley era, declaring that if Herschel Walker and the early 1980s are omitted, the coach's career at Georgia is merely average. Such critics seem to forget, aren't aware of, and/or weren't around during the decade and a half leading up to Dooley's arrival.
After tying 11th-ranked North Carolina in 1950, under Coach Wally Butts and later Johnny Griffith, the Bulldogs were a dismal 2-25-1 against AP-ranked teams through 1963. Only a year later under Dooley, Georgia upset No. 9 Florida and for the next 10 games versus ranked opponents, remarkably went undefeated (8-0-2) through the 1968 regular season.
Talk about improving a football program... The Bulldogs' prompt advancement was especially extraordinary considering it came under the direction of an unproven coach in his 30s, who turned around a program that had been steadily deteriorating since the late 1940s.
In 25 seasons at Georgia, Dooley was a respectable 33-32-4 against ranked teams. Ray Goff followed that up with a Miss. State, Kentucky, or Vanderbilt-like 4-21-1 versus the ranked. The Jim Donnan era was certainly a step up from Goff; however, Donnan's inability to defeat reputable opponents was one of the main reasons for his firing.
Against ranked opposition, Donnan was 7-13, an even better record than Richt's recent 4-8 under the same circumstances.
Of late, it seems like football at Georgia has gone back 10-to-15 years ago, reverting to a time when defeating a good team was a treat instead of the norm.
Will Richt get things turned back around at Georgia? Maybe...hopefully.
Until then, they're right back where they started from in 2001, when Donnan's Dogs seemed to annually settle as the third- or fourth-best squad in the SEC East instead of the former Richt teams, who, not long ago, defended their position as a top, if not the best, team in the entire conference.