We should start here with a note that trying to figure out how any team will do the following year based on their bowl game is generally a bad idea. In fact, one of the worst ways to try to figure out who might be a good team next year is by looking at who has "momentum" coming out of the postseason. A little more than a year ago, Georgia fans were celebrating a win against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl that was a sure sign they would rebound this season, while South Carolina was preparing to get leveled by Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
We all know, of course, how that turned out. The Gamecocks had one of the best seasons in school history, while Georgia had one of its worst in years.
So it's unwise to take too much away from the twin losses by two teams that were likely to enter 2011 as the SEC East favorites. But South Carolina's 26-17 loss to Florida State and Georgia's 10-6 defeat against Central Florida still showed enough signs to figure out one thing: The East is going to be any team's race next year. Again.
In fact, South Carolina's loss could leave the SEC East without a ranked team at the end of the year for the first time since the league split into divisions in 1992, depending on what happens in other games and how generous the pollsters are feeling. Even if the Gamecocks are still in the final standings, the East is undoubtedly closing off the worst season of its collective existence.
Georgia's offense was nearly somnambulant Friday, generating just 280 yards on 70 offensive snaps, an average of 4.0 yards. (In one of the oddest stats of the bowl season, Central Florida also averaged just about an even four yards a play.) Aaron Murray, who had all but secured his place on the SEC Media Days All-SEC team, threw two picks. And, of course, the Dawgs never scored a touchdown, opting to kick a field goal from the UCF 3 on a 95-yard drive that ended up being their best opportunity of the day. If Mike Bobo is still gainfully employed by the end of January, it will say more about the personal loyalty of Mark Richt than anything else.
And, from all appearances, we can go ahead and answer the question right now: Yes, Mark Richt is on the hot seat in 2011. Despite all the odd statistics you want to point out, the fact remains that he has now turned in the third straight disappointing season and the first losing season in Athens since 1996. (One of the captains on that year's team? Mike Bobo.) The bar that will be set for Richt will be up to the Georgia administration and, to some extent, the fan base. But to think that another subpar year will allow him to hold onto his job now is delusional.
South Carolina's problem, meanwhile, was not moving the ball but holding onto it. The Gamecocks wasted many of their 414 yards of total offense with five turnovers, one on a hard hit by Greg Reid that removed Marcus Lattimore from the game. Stephen Garcia threw three interceptions and caught more touchdown passes -- one -- than he lobbed. The running game managed to get by without Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery had 130 yards receiving, but none of that really matters when drives end up with the ball in the other teams' hands. In some respects, this was exactly the kind of game that got South Carolina its reputation in years past for being an upset-minded team that never could spring the upset.
But the Gamecocks were not in this game to win an upset, but to prevent one. In its last two games, South Carolina has raised serious questions about whether its ready to take its turn in the limelight that will be bearing down on the Gamecocks from the beginning of next season, whether they want it to or not.
Then again, who's going to stop them? A Florida team that's moving from a spread offense to a pro-style attack? The Volunteers, who seem to have as much to fear from the clock as from their opponent?
At this rate, every SEC East team that plays looks worse than the one before. Maybe Vanderbilt should be the division favorites. Momentum might not be worth all that much, but maybe it's better to have none than to have it moving in the wrong direction.