Mark Richt almost got him in 2012, almost pushed Nick Saban right off the top of the mountain.
Today, with Saban looking like the greatest college coach ever to shower in Gatorade, it’s important to realize that no program is uncatchable. Richt, the new boss of the Miami Hurricanes, had his former Georgia team so stocked with talent and so ready to compete on the national scale that the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide went right down to the wire in the 2012 SEC Championship game.
Was Alabama any good that year? Well, they managed to crush Notre Dame one month later at Sun Life Stadium to claim a second consecutive national championship and the third of four that Saban has won at the school.
And how about Georgia? Richt’s team came into that SEC title game ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and finished No. 5 with a Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska. The Bulldogs didn’t have the riches of Alabama, which featured future NFL starters like Amari Cooper, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and A.J. McCarron, but Richt did have a tough defense and sturdy offensive weapons like running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Aaron Murray.
Georgia led that conference title game 28-25 on a Gurley touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Then Bama got it back late on a touchdown bomb from McCarron to Cooper. Then, just like that, the Bulldogs raced all the way down to the Alabama 8-yard line with a chance to win and maybe steal a spot in the BCS title game. It didn’t happen. Time ran out and Alabama survived 32-28.
For the Hurricanes of 2016, however, the clock has just begun to run on Richt’s efforts to build another program worthy of competing, at least every now and then, with Saban and Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney and Bob Stoops and all the other headliners.
At the moment, Richt is hustling to push Miami toward a top-15 recruiting class. He’s already got a good quarterback in Brad Kaaya. He’ll do more, also, with the kids who committed to signing with Al Golden and largely are committed to staying with the Hurricanes now.
Miami can’t possibly be 58 points worse than Clemson, the national runnerup, or 58 points worse than anyone. It just doesn’t make sense, not if the coaching is sound.
Richt was 1-3 in his Georgia career against Saban, with the worst of it being a 38-10 Alabama romp at Sanford Stadium last October over a Bulldogs team that had been mistakenly elevated to No. 8 in the AP poll.
Richt’s only win in the series was in 2007, in overtime, when Saban was retooling the entire roster in his first year at Alabama. Like everybody else, including Florida’s Jim McElwain, Richt knows what a challenge it is just to stay on the same lap of any race with Alabama.
Miami doesn’t have to deal with Alabama every year, though. It’s more a matter of catching up to ACC rivals like Clemson, which came close Monday night to completing the first 15-0 season in NCAA history, and Florida State, the 2013 national champion, and North Carolina, which just won the Coastal Division with an 8-0 conference record.
A tough task, but there is a pattern for doing it. Half a dozen times Richt’s Georgia teams finished in the Top Ten. Once, he gave Saban fits at the end of a national title season for Alabama. How long might it take for Richt to make something scary out of Miami?
No telling. Maybe it won’t happen at all. But when you think about it, 2012 just isn’t that long ago. That game hasn’t changed that much.
Neither has Mark Richt.