They’re hovering, like vultures over a slow-fading animal.
For years, the vocal minority of Georgia fans have asked, pleaded, begged for the program to rid itself of Mark Richt.
Only the longest-tenured coach in the SEC hasn’t obliged because, after two mediocre seasons, his team has won 22 games over the past two.
Richt lives in the Tommy Tuberville bubble that ultimately burst at Auburn. Under Richt, the Georgia program constantly competes at the top of the SEC East. The Bulldogs have appeared in five SEC Championship Games, winning two in 2002 and ’05.
That was always the problem in Tuberville’s tenure, too.
Until a coach at a traditional program wins a national championship, there’s always a “but.”
Richt and Tuberville differ there.
For Tuberville, the black mark on his otherwise pristine record came from inexplicable losses. Tubs made a living at Auburn by winning huge games on big stages – often when the Tigers were underdogs.
Richt has the opposite issue. His teams have been known to take care of business against inferior opponents – even blowing them out for the most part.
The issues have been in big games. Richt’s teams have struggled on the biggest stages – such as the SEC Championship Game or the annual rivalry against Florida.
Defenders of Richt argue that every game he loses becomes the biggest game of the season. When the Bulldogs win a huge game – as they did last year in a physically grueling battle against the hated Gators – the “big” game became the SEC Championship. If Georgia had won that one, the “big” game would have become the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame.
Until Richt wins it all, defenders claim, the ever-moving tag of “can’t win the big one” follows him around.
The opposite side of the argument gets ugly quickly.
After the 38-35 season-opening loss at Clemson, Richt and Georgia are just 2-12 against top-15 teams over the past five seasons. If you’re trying to become an elite program – or, in the case of Georgia, if you fancy yourself an elite program already – consistently losing to the top competition is the wrong way to go.
To put Richt’s record into perspective, Nick Saban has led Alabama to a 15-4 record against top-15 teams over the same time period.
Saturday’s game against a top-10 South Carolina team will either help Richt slightly improve that mark – and save his season – or will watch it fall to 2-13.
Many Georgia fans are happy with the stability Richt has brought to their program in the aftermath of the Jim Donnan era.
The others, though, have seen enough.
Saturday’s game against South Carolina isn’t a last chance. That came years ago. All Saturday’s game can do is serve as a reminder to the vultures of what they dislike. And if Richt wins, those same fans will point back to last week when the Bulldogs lost at Clemson and say nothing has changed.
Here’s a look at Georgia in games against top-15 teams over the past 5 seasons:
2013 – at Clemson, L 38-35
2012 – vs. Alabama*, L 32-28
2012 – vs. Florida*, W 17-9
2012 – at South Carolina, L 35-7
2011 – vs. Michigan State*, L 33-30
2011 – vs. LSU*, L 42-10
2011 – vs. South Carolina, L 45-42
2011 – vs. Boise State*, L 35-21
2010 – at Auburn, L 49-31
2010 – vs. Arkansas, L 31-24
2009 – at Georgia Tech, W 30-24
2009 – vs. Florida*, L 41-17
2009 – vs. LSU, L 20-13
2009 – at Oklahoma State, L 24-10
* - Denotes neutral-site game