“What? Me panic?”
That seems to be the attitude of Georgia coach Mark Richt as the season quickly approaches… and his roster size slowly dwindles. Over the summer, the number of scholarship players at UGA has been a hot topic. Depending on who’s doing the counting the Bulldogs have seen that number drop below 70, inch back above 70 with a number of walk-ons handed schollys last week, or move all the way back up over the 75 mark.
According to Marc Wieszer of The Athens Banner-Herald, the Dawgs currently have 69 players who were “recruited to the program on scholarship.” The NCAA maximum is 85. All teams have attrition and injuries, but to be 16 scholarship-caliber athletes down before Game One is not a good thing. Especially not in the SEC.
But Richt isn’t showing any sign of jitters to his team:
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt us… I think our scout teams will be fine. Sometimes a really eager walk-on does better than a scholarship guy who’s bummed out he’s being redshirted.”
True or not, that’s not a spin you hear everyday.
The reality is that UGA is ranked #6 in the nation and is favored to win the SEC East. Most league followers believe the Dawgs have an advantage in their division thanks to an “easy” schedule. But anyone who’s watched the SEC over time knows there is really no such thing as an “easy” SEC schedule. (Anyone remember Florida’s 2008 BCS championship team losing at home to Ole Miss? Or LSU’s 2007 BCS championship team losing t0 Kentucky?) Also, anyone who’s watched the SEC over time knows that contending for a BCS crown usually requires more than 69 scholarship players.
But no one seems to be paying much attention to the warning signs and from my vantage point that’s not a good thing for Richt. He’s expected to reach Atlanta and field a Top 10 team in 2012. If he doesn’t, it will be viewed as another disappointment on his watch.
“If we stay healthy throughout, we’ll be OK,” Richt claims. And Wieszer astutely points out that SEC teams can only travel with 70 players for road games anyway.
But if UGA doesn’t stay healthy — and most teams don’t — they’ll start having to use more and more walk-ons to fill bigger and bigger backup roles. That’s not the traditional recipe for championships.
Georgia should be good — very good, in fact — but I still believe the expectations are being set a bit too high considering the roster situation and the difficulty of their conference. Time will tell.