Despite, or perhaps because, Mark Richt has an offensive background, his tenure in Athens feels like it's broken down by his defensive coordinators.
First came the Brian VanGorder era, 2001-04. After a year to get acclimated, UGA turned in three consecutive top ten finishes. The 2002 team won the league and went 13-1, which is the same or better than most of the national championship teams that have come since. Next came the Willie Martinez era, which included an SEC title in '05 and a top five finish in 2007 but saw the defense erode away. After a year to get acclimated in 2010, the Todd Grantham era produced a pair of SEC East titles before an injury plague in 2013 brought the team back down some. The Jeremy Pruitt era began well with a return to the ten-win plateau a year ago.
All in all, only the Martinez stint and the one-year hangover from it really included down years. UGA has otherwise been a consistent winner, far more likely to win ten games than not. The Bulldogs have what appears to be the most complete team in the division, are the only East team that can hang with the West squads in preseason All-SEC selections, and are close to a unanimous pick to take their half of the conference. So why, then, does it not feel like there is much excitement about this team in 2015?
It's probably because the focus in the SEC has become all about conference and national championships, and Georgia just hasn't won many of those lately.
The team has talent. Nick Chubb is appearing on Heisman lists and is in the running for the best player in the conference. But, the same could be said about Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, Aaron Murray, and Todd Gurley. None of them won the SEC, and Stafford and Green never even saw the inside of the Georgia Dome. Jordan Jenkins is a star in the linebacker spot, but so was Jarvis Jones. Though he came close along with Murray and Gurley, Jones never got a ring either.
The SEC is full of quarterback battles, and UGA is no exception. While people have been verbose in discussing Chad Kelly at Ole Miss, LSU's rough options, Jacob Coker's inability to take charge of the Bama job, Steve Spurrier's stated willingness to play multiple guys, and even the duel at Florida, I've basically only seen one opinion given about Georgia's situation: it's probably going to be Brice Ramsey. Ask any sportswriter about the battle in Athens, and they'll all tell you it'll be Ramsey because of his arm strength. I listen to three different college football podcasts, two of them from major media organizations, and I've yet to hear any of the hosts even attempt to pronounce "Faton Bauta".
The defense should be better in its second year under Pruitt's guidance. The team has an embarrassment of riches at running back, and the line comes back nearly intact. There are questions at receiver, not the least of which is whether Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will stay healthy through the season. As long as one of them does, it should turn out all right. He'll be paired with the promising tight end Jeb Blazevich, and we've seen that a team with a stout defense and good run game can win plenty of games in the SEC with only one wideout and one tight end making plays in the pass game. With Richt having a great history of developing quarterbacks, UGA has a great chance at living up to its billing as East favorite and a top ten team.
So are you excited yet? Probably not, because this is how it goes with Georgia every year. Talent? Check. Program stability? Check. Expectations? Check. Ring?
At some point this becomes a higher class Glen Mason Zone, which refers to how Minnesota got bored of Mason winning just a bit above the program's historical average and going to annual bowls while not breaking through to something higher. Every other team in the East would probably trade their 2011-14 results for Georgia's, and UGA is now generally expected to have the best season of any division team in 2015. But because this is how most post-Martinez era teams have been, UGA just doesn't stand out too much.
Maybe it's just a side effect of the West's win streak in the SEC Championship Game. The other East teams have more uncertainty to them, and uncertainty brings more intrigue. But Georgia? It'll probably win the thing and then lose in Atlanta, because losing in Atlanta is just what the East champ has done for six years and counting. Maybe it's also because UGA hasn't had any offseason arrests, which means the usual noise from the "Mark Richt has lost control of the program" meme has been absent.
Georgia will probably win at least ten games, maybe win the East before losing in Atlanta, and then go to a nice January bowl. There are worse ways to go through life. But maybe all the quiet means that the Bulldogs are getting to disrupt the middle part of that formula. After all, it's what people are saying about you at the end of the year that really counts.