Entering the season, Georgia stood to be favored in 10 and maybe 11 games. As it happened, the Bulldogs were underdogs at Ole Miss, always seen as their toughest game, and against Tennessee the next week. Everything before and after figured to have Georgia bearing the minus sign on the betting line.
Look now. Georgia is a 7-point underdog to Florida on what’s considered a neutral field. For comparative purposes, Duke is a 6-point underdog at Georgia Tech, and the Blue Devils are winless in ACC play. (Also: The Gators have played once since Oct. 1, that at home against Missouri, so it’s not as if they’ve had a rousing month.)
Should the Bulldogs lose in Jacksonville, there’s a chance they’d be an underdog at Kentucky (yikes) the next week. As it stands, Auburn figures to be favored at Sanford Stadium on Nov. 12. Yes, things can change. (Me, I’m not sure Georgia will lose to Florida.) Still, this was supposed to be the back nine of the 2016 schedule, and not a back nine with an Amen Corner interspersed. What happened?
Georgia lost to Vanderbilt. That’s what.
You can get away with looking so-so as long as you don’t actually lose to anybody terrible. When you do, those narrow escapes become debits — hey, you almost lost — and not whatever-it-takes triumphs of resourcefulness. Georgia has been outscored by nine points this season. Its margins of victory are 14 points, nine, two and one.
Then again, this same Georgia was within a football’s grasp of seizing control of the SEC East. Had the Bulldogs beaten Tennessee — and for most of the game they outplayed Tennessee — they surely would be 6-1 headed to Jacksonville, which would have put them near the top 10 in the national rankings. And they wouldn’t be a touchdown underdog to Florida, which has beaten nobody.
The point being: As disappointing as Georgia has been, it came very close to having the sort of season that would have had Bulldog fans barking, as opposed to growling. That can happen. Had LSU gotten one more second at Auburn, it might have been Gus Malzahn who was fired the next day, not Les Miles. Mark Richt always conceded that his career arc could have been different had Auburn’s Horace Willis batted away David Greene’s fourth-and-14 pass to Michael Johnson on Nov. 16, 2002.
To say the Bulldogs might have been 6-1 isn’t to suggest they’d have been a world-beater. They’ve played seven games and looked tepid more times than not. But this schedule wasn’t oppressive, and of Georgia’s opponents only Auburn appears much better than we thought it would. (And that could be a function of having played six home games. The Tigers still might finish 7-5.)
Seven games in, Georgia remains a team in the throes of transition. Some of that was inevitable. Losing to Vandy was not. But the Bulldogs have a chance to make something of 2016. As grim as it seems today, there’s not a game left that’s unwinnable.
From today’s AJC: After seven games, we ask: What is UGA under Kirby Smart?