• The first #DearAndy mailbag of the offseason examines the 2018 playoff hopes of Georgia and Wisconsin, the rationale behind coordinator moves and the aftermath of the early signing period for recruits.
By Andy Staples
January 12, 2018

A classic national title game left us with some burning questions. I tried to tackle some of them Wednesday with a column about Alabama’s quarterback situation. But we’ll kick off the mailbag today with the other most commonly asked question…

From Nick: Do you think Georgia’s run is a flash in the pan? They lose a ton of senior leadership from this team. Do you think that is an overrated aspect? Schedule sets up nicely for 2018. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Georgia certainly doesn’t seem like a flash in the pan. The Bulldogs just missed a national title Monday night, but it feels as if they’ll get several more shots at the title in the coming years. Next year will require a leadership reboot with the loss of tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, rush linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and (most likely) linebacker Roquan Smith, so it may be asking a lot to expect a return next year.

That said, it’s possible there are talented young players from the class of 2017 just waiting for a chance. Offensive tackle Andrew Thomas started as a true freshman. Five-star class of 2017 signee Isaiah Wilson redshirted and should be ready to compete for a starting role in spring practice. The Bulldogs will lose much of their secondary, but if Smart has recruited well, the group that takes the field could wind up being more talented in 2018 than it was in ’17.

Jake Fromm will be back at quarterback, and he’ll get pushed by all-everything incoming freshman Justin Fields. This may not turn into a Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa situation—or a Jacob Eason/Jake Fromm situation, for that matter—but don’t be shocked if it does resemble the Chris Leak/Tim Tebow situation at Florida in 2006. A package for Fields could give the Bulldogs a change of pace on offense and force opponents to spend valuable practice time preparing for it.

If Georgia makes it back to the College Football Playoff in 2018, the Bulldogs might be a year ahead of schedule. The target year probably should be 2019. Given the resources and recruiting base at Georgia and the way Smart seems to be building, competing for a playoff berth should be a reasonable expectation every season from 2019 forward.

From Chris: Is Wisconsin a playoff team next year?

The Big Ten could get nasty next year, so it seems unlikely that its champ would be left out for a third consecutive season. So yes, if Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, it should be in the playoff. It’s the winning-the-league part that feels like the bigger challenge.

The Badgers bring back their entire starting offensive line, tailback Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook. They lose key pieces such as cornerback Derrick Tindal and end Conor Sheehy on defense, but the Badgers have had little trouble reloading on that side of the ball.

The biggest issue will be shoring up some of the athletic deficiencies exposed by Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers can afford to occasionally leave a gap unfilled against their Big Ten West opponents, but they can’t do that against the best of the Big Ten East. They’ll face Michigan—probably a much better version than the one Wisconsin beat in 2017—on Oct. 13 and Penn State in State College on Nov. 10. If Wisconsin wins the West, they’ll likely face one of those two or Ohio State or Michigan State in Indianapolis. This should not be a 2015 Iowa situation. We’ll know by November where the Badgers stand with regard to the best on the other side of the league.

It’s good that Wisconsin will be so veteran-heavy, because the Badgers won’t really have time to ease into conference play. Their first two Big Ten games are at Iowa on Sept. 22 and against Nebraska in Madison on Oct. 6. Those games could ultimately decide the West. And the Badgers can’t relax if they win both and get an early stranglehold on the division. The week after they play Nebraska, they travel to Ann Arbor.

From @jxgjxg1: When coordinators and position coaches leave for similar schools, is it usually to broaden their experiences (maybe Kendal Briles) or to get away from their current head coach (cough, Mike Elko, cough)?

Mike Elko didn’t leave Notre Dame for Texas A&M to get away from Brian Kelly. The Aggies were in touch with Elko before they made a run at LSU’s Dave Aranda, and Elko was going to stay with the Fighting Irish. When Aranda decided to stay at LSU for $2.5 million a year, Texas A&M went after Elko again. This time, the Aggies made an offer he couldn’t refuse. (Not in the Godfather sense; they’re just paying him a ton of money. In this case, $1.8 million a year.) A little more than a year ago, Elko was working at Wake Forest. Because it’s a private school, Wake Forest doesn’t have to release salary data, but it’s a safe bet that Elko’s salary has at least tripled and possibly quadrupled since then. In an industry with zero job security—with the exception of Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher and his fully guaranteed 10-year, $75 million contract—it’s nearly impossible to turn down that kind of money.

From Paul: What was good and bad about the early signing period? What does the future hold for it?

Most coaches loved the early period because while it added a little bit of stress in mid-December, it made late December and January much easier for them. Now they don’t have to spend this month babysitting committed players to ensure they don’t get poached by other schools. They also know exactly what they need, what everyone else has and who is available, so that will allow for very targeted recruiting for the final few spots. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy said he believed the change helped the Cowboys fend off poachers more easily. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said the new early period changed nothing about his life other than the fact that he’ll now wear his orange national signing day blazer twice a year.

There were a few minor hiccups, though. When Oregon got placed in the Las Vegas Bowl, it forced the cancellation of the Ducks’ last big planned official visit weekend before the early signing period began. (The game was on Dec. 16.) That left new coach Mario Cristobal and his staff scrambling to convince some recruits to delay signing and come visit the Ducks in January.

With three bowl games on that Saturday, that situation will affect only six teams a year. So don’t expect many changes yet. The response from players and coaches was mostly positive, and the powers that be likely will wait to see a few years’ worth of data before they make any tweaks.

From Adam: How many hours did @BruceFeldmanCFB sleep on the drive from Atlanta to Charlotte?

With the American Football Coaches Association Convention in Charlotte, it was an easy double-dip following the national title game. The problem is that writers who cover the title game don’t usually get to bed until about 5 a.m., and SI colleague Bruce Feldman and I needed to be on the road by 8 a.m.

Bruce did not sleep at all during the four-hour drive to Charlotte. He made sure to keep me talking as I drove. I even got treated to the live version of Bruce’s hit on The Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday morning. We weren’t the only ones making the trip, though. Max Olson of The Athletic had the back seat, and I can confirm that he sawed logs for a solid 25 minutes before a coffee stop in Greenville, S.C., roused him from his slumber.

As you can see by the photo, this is not me. This gentleman probably would have gotten away with it had he not also shoved mashed potatoes in his pants. I’m no master criminal, but I probably would have transported the mashed potatoes in my stomach to avoid leaving a trail.

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