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June 9, 2011

Operation Turnaround II

Twenty years ago, "Operation Turnaround" culminated with a win over Arkansas in the Independence  Bowl and a 4.5-game improvement from 1990.

At this time exactly two decades ago, Georgia was likely coming off its worst football season of the modern era.  The 1990 team finished its dismal year with a 4-7 record... and the Bulldogs were fortunate to have won that many games. 

Of course, unlike the latest edition, the '90 squad had somewhat of a legitimate excuse for its poor play as numerous injuries, players quitting, and suspensions took its toll on the team, leaving it, on the whole, extremely young and inexperienced (and with quarterback Joe Dupree - a guy who couldn't even start at Georgia Southern - starting for the Bulldogs at the end of the year). 

As the 1991 season loomed, a hopeful Coach Ray Goff and the Bulldogs deemed their upcoming campaign as "Operation Turnaround." 

Rebounding from a seven-loss year while returning eight starters on offense (not including Andre Hastings, Shannon Mitchell, Mack Strong, and true freshman Eric Zeier) and 10 starters on defense, it certainly appeared a turnaround was in order.  However, the so-called preseason experts didn't necessarily see it that way as no one predicted the Bulldogs would finish in the top half of the 10-team SEC.

Regardless, the Dogs proved any doubters wrong as Operation Turnaround was an absolute success.  Georgia achieved a 9-3 mark, including victories over 6th-ranked Clemson, LSU, Auburn, Georgia Tech, a ranked Ole Miss team, Arkansas in the Independence Bowl, and finished its vastly improved season ranked 17th in the final AP Poll.

Presently in 2011, the Bulldogs are coming off their first seven-loss year since the aforementioned '90 team.  Nevertheless, don't fret as it appears another Operation Turnaround could very well be in store for the UGA football program.  

Unlike in '91, Georgia is forecasted to rebound in a major way.  The college football previews, namely Athlon, Lindy, and Phil Steele's, all have the Bulldogs ranked 16th or higher in the nation.  Heck, even the esteemed Beano Cook believes Georgia will be playing for the national championship come January.

The BCS title game?  Following a losing season?!?  Perhaps never before, in the history of college football, has there been so much expected from a team that lost more games than it won the previous year.   

More or less, the preseason forecasts all point to the same things for a quick turnabout in 2011: a manageable schedule, a defense that should improve in its second year under Todd Grantham, an experienced offensive line that cannot be any worse, and Aaron Murray developing into one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

Maybe add a new strength and conditioning program and a head coach on the hot seat, and all of these considerations appear to be a recipe for a legitimate shot at a championship, whether it's of the BCS type or merely a divisional title.

Notwithstanding, uncovered is an intangible reason - one you won't find mentioned in many preseason previews - why Georgia will unquestionably have an Operation Turnaround, Part II: History has shown the Bulldog Nation, when Georgia has stunk it up in football one year, the Dawgs have always responded in full force the next. 

Since Coach Vince Dooley came to UGA nearly 50 years ago, the Bulldogs have endured just six losing seasons, and none of those have come in consecutive years.  Only Ohio State, Alabama, Southern California, Nebraska, and Tennessee can also claim not posting back-to-back losing seasons during the same time period.

Furthermore, Georgia differs somewhat historically from those five traditional football powers in that when coming off a losing year, not only have the Bulldogs improved but they have bounced back significantly:

1963-1964: 4-5-1 to 7-3-1
1977-1978: 5-6 to 9-2-1
1990-1991: 4-7 to 9-3
1993-1994: 5-6 to 6-4-1
1996-1997: 5-6 to 10-2

In Georgia's five prompt turnarounds, the team averaged a whopping 3.4-game improvement from one year to the next, including 4.5-game improvements in both 1991 and 1997.  The least improvement came in 1994, when the Bulldogs were 1.5 games better than the season before.  (However, I'd like to point out, the 6-4-1 team of '94 was evidently a damn fine team, finishing ranked 13th in the entire nation according to the Billingsley Report - one of the BCS computer rankings.)

Obviously I'm being rather light-hearted.  The fact Georgia had significant improvement from one year to  the next decades ago shouldn't have any bearing on the 2011 season.  However, there must be something in the water (or Powerade, according to Coach T.) the UGA football program has been drinking...  One must admire how Georgia hasn't been a back-to-back loser since 1963 and, more notably, how the Bulldogs have responded after suffering through the rare losing campaign.

For the upcoming season, it's difficult to agree with Beano but I undoubtedly see a significant upswing for the Bulldogs.  Being the history enthusiast and believing it quite often repeats itself, I acknowledge the 3.4-game average of improvement and forecast Georgia going 9-3 this upcoming regular season.

Moreover, Operation Turnaround II, like the one from 20 years ago, should be a successful one.  And also like the first "operation" in 1991, it will remove a Bulldog head coach from the hot seat... at least, for the time being.


Jim Stewart and Susan Storter said...

Father Tereshinski and his trusty Novice Thomas exorcise the demon of "Underperformance" from the University of Georgia football program.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, I am concerned that a 3-game improvement may not be enough if one of the 3 regular season losses is to UF. My contention has been that Coach Richt's record vs. the Gators is the main reason he is feeling the heat. He would have essentially the same record against UF that Goff & Donnan had combined with a Jax loss this year. If we beat UF and lose 3 other games, I think he's safe. A loss to UF without an SEC championship game appearance may be difficult to overcome. What say you?

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Patrick-what's the deal with the helmets in the picture against the Hogs? I think they're cool lookin'. I've been following the dawgs for a long time and don't rememebr those.

Patrick Garbin said...


Thanks for reading and posting. I agree - a lot of the heat Richt has been getting is because of his Goff/Donnan-like success against the Gators and, if he was ever going to beat Florida, a win in 2011 could be a "job saver."

Personally, I go back and forth. Part of me thinks that he definitely needs a win over Florida to secure his job while the other part believes that as long as Georgia goes 10-3, or even 9-4, Richt will most likely stay, even if there's a loss to Florida.

Tough call...

I'll add, if we're ever going to beat the Gators, now is the time as Florida could very well struggle more this year than last.

Patrick Garbin said...


Good eye noticing the helmet change for the 1991 Independence Bowl.

The adding of a black stripe and black facemask for the game was the only real change to the Georgia helmet for more than 30 years (1964-1995). What's interesting is that the change was just for the one game while no real reason was ever given in the media why the one-game change took place...only that "the seniors wanted it," or something like that (if I'm remembering correctly).

In 1996 when Donnan arrived, you probably remember how the helmet was similar to the '91 bowl edition - black stripe but no black facemask.

Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

When an 8-3 record went to the Independence Bowl, not a 6-6 record, and the SEC Champion played in the Sugar Bowl year-in and year-out. Those were the days and I miss them.

matthew b said...

This is why I love UGA football. It is folks like you who take the time to love their game and their team. I am a UGA Alum and feel that coach Richt is just keeping the seat warm for some hotshot! This is a game of what have u done for me lately and he has not done much lately! USC is going to wipe the floor with us since AJ is off to the BUNGELS. I will stay turned to this blog.

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