AUBURN AL - NOVEMBER 13: A.J. Green #8 of the Georgia Bulldogs pulls in this reception against Craig Stevens #46 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13 2010 in Auburn Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Some people apparently couldn't see the Google Fusion tables, so I've put in different charts that should work.
Officially, A.J. Green's Independence Bowl jersey cost $1,000 -- at least to the agent that bought the outfit from the then-Georgia wide receiver. But in recent months, it's become vogue to question whether the jersey cost Green and Georgia far more.
Green, of course, was suspended for the first four games of the Dawgs' season after the NCAA learned of the sale. Georgia went 1-3 in those games, dropping the expected boom on Louisiana-Lafayette before a three-game in-conference skid that quickly turned out the lights on the Dawgs' SEC Eastern division hopes. Even Green's return didn't seem to help immediately; in his first game back, Georgia lost to Colorado, perhaps the worst team in a BCS conference and among the worst in college football at the time.
Things changed the next week. Georgia slammed Tennessee, 41-14, then plowed through Vanderbilt and Kentucky by similar scores before taking Florida to overtime. (Are any of those first three teams great powers? No. But neither was Colorado last year.) In fact, Georgia scored more than 30 points in each of the regular season's last seven games before, it seemed, running out of motivation in the ugly Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.
So can all of that -- or even a good portion of it -- be attributed to Green's return. Maybe, maybe not. The numbers aren't entirely clear, certainly not as clear as the surface score and the meme would lead you to believe. First, per-game numbers in SEC games.
Now, per-play numbers.
As you can see, passing numbers only ticked up slightly. (And before you ask, Georgia wasn't quickly out of the games it lost during the first four games, so it wasn't like they were chucking the ball all over the place just to catch up.) Running numbers actually got the greatest boost out of Green's return -- assuming there was a boost.
It's enough to make even head coach Mark Richt metaphorically throw up his hands when asked about it as SEC Media Days.
I don't know how much A.J. not playing the first four games made a difference. I mean, we were 1-3 after that. I mean, I think we probably would have had a little better record if he was there the whole time. ...
Absolutely not making an excuse. Those teams we played, they whooped us. We played Colorado. He came back and Colorado whooped us. It wasn't like as soon as A.J. showed up, we were going to win every game. That's not the case.
And it's worth remembering that the first three SEC teams Georgia played were probably all among the five best in the conference: BCS-bound Arkansas, SEC East winner South Carolina and Mississippi State. The last five were one team that would end the season ranked -- not to downplay that we're talking about the national champion Auburn Tigers there -- and the remainder of an awful SEC East.
But it's also not easy to dismiss Green's possible effect. Sure, the passing numbers might not actually be up that much -- but just having a threat like Green on the field forces you to devote more men to the pass, if for no other reason than to sometimes double-team Green. There's no doubt that could have helped the running game to some extent.
Like too many what-ifs, Georgia fans and coaches will probably never know if their season would have been better if A.J. Green had decided to hold on to his Independence Bowl jersey. But I have a feeling that they would have preferred having taken the chance and avoided the question.