ATHENS, Ga. -- Well this is unexpected.
Prior to the season, it seemed entirely possible that Georgia could be 4-3 by the time it reached the open date prior to the Florida game. But a Bulldogs fan who enjoys a friendly wager could have gotten great odds if he wanted to bet that the four wins would include victories over LSU and South Carolina and that two of the losses would come against Missouri and Vanderbilt.
That's the kind of topsy turvy season it has been for Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC), which was a BCS championship contender 10 days ago and now must convince itself it still has a chance to contend in the SEC East.
“Obviously playing Florida is enough to get anybody motivated to play, but when you look at the league, everybody's got two losses but Missouri, so it's not impossible,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his Sunday teleconference. “Missouri's got five more conference games, so mathematically it's not over. To me, I'm going to fight till it's over, and I think the coaches and the players feel the same way.”
Technically Richt is correct in that four SEC East teams -- Georgia, Florida (4-3, 3-2), South Carolina (6-2, 3-2) and Tennessee (4-3, 1-2) -- have two conference losses and must hope that No. 5 Mizzou (7-0, 3-0) stumbles down the stretch. That's certainly possible considering that the Tigers must still play South Carolina and Texas A&M, among others, but their pursuers from within the division might need to focus more on getting their own houses in order for the time being.
Missouri throttled Florida, which is crippled by injuries, on Saturday, while South Carolina lost to Tennessee and might have to face the Tigers without starting quarterback Connor Shaw. And Georgia's promise-filled season quickly turned into a disaster when many of its most important players dropped from the lineup.
With debilitating injuries choking a formerly productive offense, a pair of costly targeting penalties hurting their cause and two special-teams mistakes leading to easy points, the Bulldogs blew a fourth-quarter lead in Saturday's 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt.
Despite that ugly loss, where Vandy outscored the Bulldogs 17-0 in the fourth quarter, Richt insisted that his team won't give up on the season.
“I think we'll be fine, really,” Richt said. “I think we've got a really good group of players -- not only talent, but as people. These guys are really good people. I know the coaching staff is going to be working hard and believing and knowing there's a lot to play for.”
That leaves plenty for Richt and his coaching staff to clean up, a process that he said will begin in earnest during staff meetings on Monday.
“[Monday] will be a big day,” Richt said. “... I'll meet with the offense, defense and special-teams coaches tomorrow. We'll view the film together, we'll talk about personnel, we'll talk about anything that we might need to change as far as scheme or if we need to open up a competition somewhere along the way.”
Richt announced that All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley and receiver Michael Bennett should return from injuries in time for the Nov. 2 game against Florida, which will return some punch to the Bulldogs' floundering offense. He added that leading receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) -- both of whom suffered injuries against Vanderbilt -- are both questionable for the Florida game, adding to the lengthy list of Bulldogs who have missed time because of an assortment of physical ailments.
That sums up Georgia's season, as it does for all of the leading contenders in the East, each of which has dealt with injuries to major players so far. Richt can't explain the trend, but he has felt its effects all too painfully.
“It may be that it's not necessarily more injuries than more injuries to guys that are more recognizable or guys that are starters. There's usually a pretty long list of injuries throughout a team,” Richt said. “It seems like more starters, maybe, more guys that have made a lot of plays in their career. But I don't know why that is. It's just one of those years.”
Yes it is, and it's in danger of ending with a tremendous thud.
The Florida game is now less than two weeks away. Richt, his coaches and players now have their work cut out just to salvage what was developing into a storybook season only a couple of weeks ago.