Originally created 10/17/01

Area college football teams miss out on shot at greatness



Standing at the halfway house of the college football season and assessing the birdies and bogeys of the front side, area teams must be thinking the same thought:

If only we had a mulligan.

The 2001 season has been shaping up as something special for the big four programs of Georgia and South Carolina. With perhaps the finest across-the-board collection of talent and potential this region has ever seen, hopes were high in all four corners that this might be the year.

And if anyone had foreseen stumbles from Florida and Florida State, the giddiness in SEC and ACC circles would have been downright intoxicating.

But over hot dogs and Cokes as we make the turn, those bogeys in September and October leap off the scorecard and taunt our enthusiasm.

What if Georgia receiver Terrence Edwards had held onto that touchdown pass against South Carolina?

What if Clemson's electrifying quarterback Woody Dantzler hadn't fumbled that ball late against Virginia?

What if Georgia Tech's defense could have contained on fourth-and-13 against Clemson or tailback Joe Burns had fallen in-bounds in the end stages against Maryland?

What if Gamecock kicker Daniel Weaver could have gotten a little more air under that field-goal attempt at Arkansas?

What if?

Do-overs don't exist in college football. The margin for error among national championship contenders is thinner than an Alabama booster's alibi. The Bowl Championship Series opportunities in places other than Norman, Okla., Lincoln, Neb., Miami, Tallahassee or Gainesville, Fla., are agonizingly rare.

Folks in Columbia don't dream of Rose Bowls too often. Special seasons aren't sprinkled too liberally in the storied archives of Clemson, Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Opportunities to achieve ever-lasting greatness aren't as common as the cold.

You can hear the tortured refrain in the players' voices.

"We could have done so much great stuff," Carolina's Sheldon Brown lamented after the letdown at Arkansas.

This can still be a special season for all four teams. Clemson hangs in the hunt for the ACC championship as Dantzler rekindles his Heisman campaign. Georgia and South Carolina remain in the dogfight to win the SEC East. Georgia Tech can salvage its dignity with season-ending showdowns against Georgia and Florida State.

But as special as the 2001 season may end up being, it will long be remembered for what might have been.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said it best after his Bulldogs slipped out of Vanderbilt with a win on the heels of a defining victory at Tennessee.

"If we don't continue to get better, that victory against Tennessee will just be one great day," he said.

Great seasons, like great rounds of golf, are made by stringing together a series of great days and great saves. And one mental lapse can lead to one crippling bogey.

And even if you shoot 60 in the end, that bogey will forever echo the phrase ... what if?

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219