Going to the beach outside summer months can be risky. It’s a time when the weather is warm enough to be enjoyable, but the water ought to come with a “proceed with caution” sign.
But you’re at the beach! You want to embrace your surroundings, so you dip your toes in with apprehension to test the water, to see if it’s warm enough, to determine whether or not to emotionally invest yourself in the full beach experience.
This feeling, a combination of hopeful skepticism and blissful ignorance, sums up the state of affairs surrounding Georgia football at the moment.
I covered the Bulldogs for two years and understand the history of this program — whatever Georgia fans are feeling, I get it.
And right now, they have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. The Bulldogs are 6-0. Their defense is one of the best in the country, giving up an average of just 10 points per game, ranking second overall in scoring defense behind only Penn State. The run game features four backs that would probably be the feature back on any other team.
Jake Fromm, once thought to be insurance — forgive me — for Jacob Eason, looks wise beyond his years, calmly calling the shots pre-snap and making smart decisions. Whether he stays there is a question that can be avoided for as long as Eason continues to heal.
But the bottom line is Georgia is smoking teams, shutting out Tennessee on the road and putting up 45 on Vanderbilt in Nashville the past two weeks.
Dominant performances and playing a complete game from start to finish, have been a bit of an anomaly in recent years, even in good chunks of 2016. That cannot be stressed enough: this physicality, this type of winning, is new, a welcome adjustment of expectations.
Even so, Georgia fans have conditioned themselves to know better. A 2008 team with Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green that entered the season with perhaps the highest hopes of any Georgia team in the past 10 years fluttered against Alabama before finishing strong. Recent years have seen losses to both rivals and teams that conventional wisdom says the Bulldogs just can’t lose to, from a game-winning staging of hot potato at Auburn in 2013 to a Josh Dobbs heave at Sanford Stadium in 2016.
Georgia has not won an SEC title since 2005, and hasn’t appeared in one since 2012, a game that is the highest-profile microcosm of Georgia’s struggles to get over the hump, running out of time inside the Alabama 10-yard line, a touchdown away from winning and likely playing for a national title. It’s one of the main reasons cited for Mark Richt’s dismissal — year after year, Georgia was winning, but not enough.
So with each passing victory on an admittedly so-far soft schedule, and every climb in the AP Poll — Georgia currently sits at no.4 — things start to get a bit more real. It’s been a long time since Georgia has been a part of the national conversation — to even see a number four next to Georgia’s name brings a double take.
The rest of the schedule in 2017 looks favorable. Florida, a team that has had Georgia’s number the past three years despite featuring various character actors at quarterback, just lost to an LSU team that was a week off of a loss to Troy. Auburn will be a tough test, and Georgia Tech is decent, but the Bulldogs could very well have the East wrapped up by then. That would likely set up a five-years-later rematch against Alabama, with Kirby Smart going up against his former team.
It’s a bit premature to talk national championship for Georgia this year. But the remaining of the season is a test for how likely it will be in the future.
It’s also a chance for the fragile psyche of Georgia fans to be permanently altered, to pull up an umbrella, pick up a good book, and take comfort in the fact that, after years on edge, things will work out in the end.