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Friday February 5th, 2016 6:54PM

Opinion: Richt needs to put Dogs on track soon

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
About three months ago, I wrote on this very same spot that Georgia football coach Mark Richt is not on the hot seat -- not even close.

As it stands today, I still agree with my assessment -- as it stands today.

Lose this weekend at Mississippi State and Richt's seat may indeed start feeling some heat.

Now, I am not a reactionary, and I am not by any means suggesting that Richt's job is in jeopardy. BUT it is clear that, since 2006, Georgia has been relevant in the SEC title race only once -- 2007 ('08 started off OK but was put to bed pretty early by Alabama). And it is not unreasonable for Bulldogs fans to ask that they be in the SEC title hunt every season. In fact, new Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said as much just two weeks ago. (And with Georgia's resources, ample recruiting base and facilities, one could argue that the Bulldogs are one of the more underachieving programs in the nation.)

After posting the best nine-year record of any Georgia football coach, Richt has earned the right to try and lead the Bulldogs out of the wilderness they have wandered into over the past two-plus seasons. But, at the same time, he has to expect that Georgia fans are a little irritated that the Dogs have even ventured into mediocrity.

He is a victim of his own success and circumstance.

When Richt took over in Athens, Georgia was a program on the verge, a program badly jonesing for an SEC championship (19 years on hiatus when Richt took over in 2001). He delivered on that title in his second season in charge and subsequently made Georgia into a perennial SEC, and therefore national, power from 2002-05 (winning two SEC crowns and playing for three) -- thereby raising Dogs' fans expectations for a long dormant program.

Then the SEC landscape changed -- dramatically.

Urban Meyer took over at Florida. And not long after that, Nick Saban moved into Tuscaloosa. In between their national titles Les Miles, with no little amount of luck, claimed a BCS crown for LSU.

After being the equal to and -- with the exception of the Gators -- better than many of their competitors for four seasons, Dogs fans are left wondering when it's their turn again. And, after seeing their team underwhelm for two -- verging on three -- straight campaigns, many Georgia fans are beginning to wonder if Richt can compete with the goliaths that Saban and Meyer have created.

It's a fair question.

Richt is undoubtedly a good coach. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are great coaches. The question now is, can Richt find a way to elevate his program to the levels produced in Gainesville and Tuscaloosa? The early returns don't look good -- but, again, they are early returns.

Georgia's defense -- the Dogs' bane since former coordinator Brian VanGorder left -- will take time to learn the new system under first-year defensive guru Todd Grantham. But, after three games, it's also apparent that the Bulldogs' offense needs tweaking as well. Georgia fans were willing to forgive issues on one side of the ball, but problems on both sides seems too much for those that have watched the Bulldogs bring in and send to the NFL a No. 1 pick at quarterback (Matthew Stafford) and top draft choices at running back (Knowshon Moreno) and wide receiver (Mohamed Massaquoi).

There are obviously extenuating circumstances to the 2010 campaign. No one expected receiver A.J. Green -- Georgia's top player, regardless of position -- to miss four games due to preseason indiscretions. And the Bulldogs experienced a number of injuries to their offensive line in the preseason. That said, Georgia has rarely found itself on the losing end against programs like Arkansas and South Carolina in the same season (even though both of those teams may have their best squad in years). Georgia is 0-2 in the SEC for the first time since Ray Goff walked the sidelines in Athens, and the Bulldogs even find themselves underdogs to Mississippi State this weekend.

It's understandable why there is some unrest in the "Dawgnation."

That said, Richt has a real opportunity to unmake the bubbling 2010 mess. The Bulldogs will return Green after Saturday's contest and should face four straight opponents that are beatable -- heading into another game with Florida in Jacksonville. Should Richt somehow find a way to win that game and knock off Tech at the end of the season, there will be plenty of Dogs fans happy to apologize to the coach.

But if the Dogs can't find a way to pull out a victory this weekend in Starkville, Miss., there may be too many Georgia fans grumbling to even notice the remainder of the campaign.

-- Morgan Lee is sports editor for Access North Georgia
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