Upon hearing that the coaches had bestowed their No. 6 preseason ranking on the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs, UGA fans' reactions generally fell into one of two categories: "Wow, this could be a big year for us" or "Oh, man, we're screwed." After the 2008 season, it'd be hard to blame a majority of Bulldog Nation for leaning toward the latter.
That season, of course, a loaded Georgia team was anointed the preseason No. 1 by both the coaches and the sportswriters, only to get blindsided by Nick Saban's first great Alabama squad between the hedges in their fifth game of the season; the 2008 team ended up with a 10-3 record and no SEC title, and the program had arguably begun the slide that bottomed out with a losing record in 2010.
Ever since then, most Dawg fans seem to have held their collective breath when the preseason rankings are released. Other than the outlier '08 season, though, the notion of the Georgia Bulldogs as consistently failing to live up to preseason expectations under Mark Richt is something of a myth. Here's the history of their preseason rankings vs. their final post-bowl rankings in each of Richt's 11 seasons so far.
Georgia has finished better than its preseason AP ranking five times and undercut that ranking five times, and finished exactly where the sportswriters said it would last season. Meanwhile, the Dawgs improved on their preseason coaches' poll ranking six times and fell short five. Viewed over the course of Richt's entire tenure in Athens, then, the Dawgs have generally conformed to expectations.
And as with everything else about Richt's tenure, the most troublesome period came from 2008 to 2010, when the Dawgs fell short of both the writers' and the coaches' predictions each year (and twice failed to earn any kind of postseason ranking at all). Of course, in 2009 and 2010 the pertinent question wasn't "Why did good Georgia teams fail to meet expectations," it was "Why did bad Georgia teams have any preseason expectations in the first place." Granting a preseason top 25 ranking to the 2010 team might have been a charitable gesture on the part of the pollsters, but for a team that was breaking in a brand-new QB and defensive coordinator one year after belly-flopping out of the final rankings entirely, it was underserved.
Of more relevance to this year's situation is the terrific stretch from 2002 to 2004, when the Dawgs were either in the top 10 or just outside of it in every preseason poll. In '02 and '03 they bettered their preseason rankings in the final polls, in '04 they came up just a bit short, but each time they exited the season with 10 wins and a ranking in the nation's top seven.
What did the Dawgs have those three seasons that the 2009 and '10 Bulldogs didn't? Among other things, a veteran quarterback and an elite defense -- both of which the team will have in its arsenal as it heads into 2012.
So while the last few seasons have certainly been frustrating for Georgia fans, the notion of Richt's Bulldogs as consistent underachievers relative to preseason expectations doesn't quite hold up. While the sample size is small, a preseason top-10 ranking has been, more often than not, a good thing in terms of what it portends for the Dawgs' situation by season's end. This year, it's not just the coaches (or, more likely, their SIDs) who are predicting good things for Georgia -- everyone from ESPN's "College Football Live" to preseason publications such as Phil Steele, Athlon and Lindy's have Georgia in the top 10 as well. The bitter disappointment of 2008 notwithstanding, perhaps it's time for Bulldog Nation to embrace the high expectations and view them as a goal rather than a burden.