Three-Point Stance: Kirby Smart, underappreciated players, coaches
Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with his thoughts on Georgia's need to win it all this year, 10 more underappreciated players from the last 20 seasons and an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of top coaches.
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1. FOUR REASONS WHY KIRBY SMART HAS TO BREAK THROUGH IN 2021
I wrote about this last week in Fact or Fiction, and decided to expand on why I believe that this is the year, Kirby Smart. You have proven to us that you are one of the best recruiters in college football and your roster is absolutely loaded with elite players. I don’t see any weaknesses on your Georgia roster. Here are four reasons why you need to break through and win it all this season:
1. Roster talent — The weapons are amazing. JT Daniels at quarterback, a three-headed attack at running back, a solid offensive line, amazing depth at receiver and tight end mismatches like Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert. Defensively, the Bulldogs have a loaded front seven lead by Jordan Davis and Nolan Smith. The question mark, the secondary, now has Derion Kendrick and Tykee Smith to go with Lewis Cine and some emerging corners. There are no weaknesses on this team.
2. The schedule — Starting off with Clemson is both a curse and a blessing. It will prepare Georgia for elite competition early on in the season and a loss won't impact the Bulldogs' playoff hopes if they take care of business in the SEC. And after Clemson it’s a nice, easy schedule with the program's level of talent. UAB, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Auburn should all be wins heading into the tough stretch of Kentucky, Florida and Missouri. Georgia should win all three games with two at home and then breeze through Tennessee, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech and onto the SEC title game a against Alabama. Even a loss in that game could still lead to a playoff berth if the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 at the time.
3. The field — Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson are all replacing first-round quarterbacks and Texas A&M is replacing a third-rounder. Only Oklahoma, with Spencer Rattler back at QB, has an offense that can scare the Bulldogs' defense and the Sooners have their own defensive shortcomings. The field is narrow as usual and this is the year to take advantage with so many new quarterbacks.
4. The pressure — Smart did this to himself with his recruiting ability and roster talent at Georgia, but that’s a good thing. Think of this as league golf compared to playing with your buddies. Every putt counts and there are no gimmes, so the focus should be lights out. That focus and pressure will be great for a team that will need it to break a 40-year streak.
2. MORE UNDERAPPRECIATED PLAYERS SINCE 2000
I’m having so much fun looking back at underappreciated players since 2000 that I’ve decided to list 100 of them, 10 at a time. Here are 10 more players you will remember but don’t get enough respect.
LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt — A consensus All-American as a junior, he effectively single-handledly beat Georgia and Auburn to get the 'Dores to a bowl game in 2016, and lead the conference in tackles. He was a tackling machine and one of the most versatile defensive players of the past decade.
RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina — Oh, what could have been. Lattimore burst on to the scene as a freshman with more than 1,600 total yards, and game-breaking ability. A series of knee injuries, including a nasty one against Tennessee, derailed what would have otherwise been one of the great careers in Gamecock history.
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia — Most fans did not appreciate how good and consistent Murray was until he was gone. The SEC's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, Murray was a four-year starter who never threw for fewer than 24 touchdowns in a single season.
LB Josey Jewell, Iowa — Jewell accounted for more than 120 tackles in each of his last three seasons as a Hawkeye, and as a senior won the Ronnie Lott IMPACT trophy. He was a consensus first-team All-American after totaling 132 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions. A true three-down linebacker.
LB EJ Henderson, Maryland — The only two-time All-American in Terrapins history, Henderson was the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2001-2002. The winner of both the Bednarik and Butkus award, he is unquestionably the best player in program history, yet rarely gets mentioned with the all time greats.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt — Fitzgerald gets plenty of attention as an NFL star and future Hall of Famer but his two-year college career was epic. As a freshman at Pitt he had 69 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 scores and he followed that with 92 for 1,672 and 22 scores before he went off to the NFL. He finished second to Jason White in the 2003 Heisman voting.
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama — Let’s show some love for offensive linemen as Jones was one of the best to ever play the position in college. Jones won three different national titles at three different positions — guard, tackle and then center — and was a two-time consensus All-American.
TE Chase Coffman, Missouri — Talk about consistency from start to finish, Coffman had 247 catches in college for 2,659 yards and 30 scores in four years at Mizzou and never had a season with fewer than 500 yards receiving.
S Roy Williams, Oklahoma — Williams was a ball hawk with great timing for the Sooners and was known for making huge plays. He set a school record for defensive backs in 2000 with 12 tackles for a loss and won every award he was eligible for the next season. His play against Texas in 2001 is immortalized with a mural plaque and is one of the most memorable plays in the Red River Shootout when he caused a key fumble to seal the game.
DE David Pollack, Georgia — Pollack was a three-time first-team All-SEC defensive end and was a sack machine during his time in Athens. His 36 career sacks is still the Georgia career mark and only Herschel Walker had as many All-America honors.
3. MORE TOP COACHES
I’ll keep on rolling down my list of the top 20 coaches in college football. I continue today with Nos. 10-6.
10. Mario Cristobal, Oregon — Many criticize Cristobal on this list as a top-10 coach because of a few bad losses but he’s won the Pac-12 twice and his recruiting and player development enhance his budding in game abilities.
9. Ed Orgeron, LSU — Ed O was once considered a very average head coach until 2019 happened and, as one of few active coaches with a national title, he deserves top-10 status. A legendary recruiter, he’s also a solid game planner.
7. Mack Brown, North Carolina — Mack Brown won it all with Texas but his recruiting and coaching run recently with North Carolina could be more impressive. He’s a great recruiter and talent developer.
6. Ryan Day, Ohio State — Day can recruit, we know that, but he also develops players and is excellent with game plans. There is little doubt he will win a national title.