Last week, I re-watched the 2012 SEC Championship Game. I saw Aaron Murray outplay AJ McCarron. I saw a Georgia team with just as much talent — if not more talent — as Alabama. I saw a game that was decided in the final seconds by a matter of a few yards.

I saw Alabama win. I saw one team had Amari Cooper and one team did not.

To me, Cooper’s ability to burn a defense — like he did to Georgia on the game-winning touchdown throw from McCarron — was the biggest difference between those 2 teams that day. Sure, it would have helped if Georgia could have figured out a way to stop the run in the second half, but the plays that Cooper made as a true freshman in that game were the thing Alabama had and Georgia didn’t.

Jeremiah Holloman is not Amari Cooper, but when Georgia’s Friday news dump regarding the veteran receiver’s dismissal from the team hit the masses, I couldn’t help but think of that 2012 SEC Championship Game.

(Another reason for that might have been because that day we recorded an SDS Podcast episode on that game for our new series “It Just Meant More” that you should totally download when it comes out on Wednesday … even if you’re a Georgia fan.)

Georgia, as we know, was already facing massive depth issues at receiver this season. Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin were off to the NFL, as was tight end Isaac Nauta, and former 4-star tight end Luke Ford transferred to Illinois. With Holloman gone, that means the following things are true for Kirby Smart’s squad:

  • Top 5 on team in receiving yards from 2018 are gone
  • Running back D’Andre Swift has most receiving yards of any returning player
  • No returning wide receiver had more than 9 catches for UGA in 2018
  • No returning WR averaged more than 10 yards per game in 2018
  • 2 returning WRs who caught a pass in 2018
  • Of total receiving yards (3,177) in 2018 UGA returns 24% of that production
  • Of total receiving touchdowns (34) in 2018, UGA returns 18% of that production

Before we dig into how many 5-star receivers are on the roster and how some are in denial about the impact of Holloman’s exit, it’s worth getting some sort of historical perspective on this.

I looked at every Playoff team (2014-18). I wanted to figure out how many times a team overcame replacing its top 5 pass-catchers and still made the Playoff. To nobody’s surprise, that hasn’t happened.

In fact, here’s how many of each team’s top 5 receivers from the previous season returned before making their Playoff run (top 5 in terms of receiving yards):

  • 2014
    • Ohio State — 4
    • Oregon — 1
    • Alabama — 4
    • Florida State — 2
  • 2015
    • Alabama — 2
    • Clemson — 4
    • Michigan State — 3
    • Oklahoma — 3
  • 2016
    • Clemson — 4
    • Alabama — 3
    • Ohio State — 1
    • Washington — 1
  • 2017
    • Alabama — 2
    • Georgia — 4
    • Oklahoma — 1
    • Clemson — 2
  • 2018
    • Clemson — 3
    • Alabama — 2
    • Oklahoma — 2
    • Notre Dame — 2

What does that show you? All 20 Playoff teams had at least 1 of its top 5 receivers returning. Of those 20 teams, 16 (80%) had multiple top 5 receivers return, including every champion.

And now Georgia will attempt to do it with 0.

Granted, if you were going to pick a team capable of accomplishing that feat, Georgia might be the best bet. We’re talking about a team with one of the elite quarterback/running back duos in college football in Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift (also potential members of the highly exclusive 30-15 Club that I invented).

As many pointed out, the Georgia roster isn’t lacking offensive talent. Not in the slightest. The list of 4-star and 5-star pass-catchers who signed since 2018 alone is impressive:

  • 2018
    • 4-star WR Kearis Jackson
    • 4-star WR Tommy Bush
    • 4-star TE John Fitzpatrick
  • 2019
    • 5-star WR George Pickens
    • 4-star WR Dominick Blaylock
    • 4-star WR Mayika Tongue
    • 4-star TE Ryland Goede

That of course doesn’t include 5-star Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, nor does it include Miami transfer Lawrence Cager, who had 3 times as many touchdowns (6) last year for the Canes as any returning Georgia receiver. And if we really want to get specific, Tennessee tight end transfer Eli Wolf will at least add some leadership to that room.

Surely I’m not the first person to point out all of those potential weapons. Surely it’s possible that Georgia has someone step up like that 2017 Oklahoma team did with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, or perhaps a Bulldog receiver will emerge like Curtis Samuel did for Ohio State in 2016. Whatever the case, though, there just needs to be that guy.

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Pickens is the one who Georgia fans are most hopeful for. If you can believe it, Pickens was actually a higher-rated recruit than Cooper. By the time that 2012 SEC Championship rolled around, it was clear that Alabama’s receiving corps was Cooper and everyone else. He had double the catches, touchdowns and receiving yards of anyone on that roster as a true freshman.

What people might forget about that day was that when Alabama was trailing Georgia 7-0 in the final minutes of the first half, McCarron threw what he thought was going to be a back-shoulder route for Cooper, but Cooper thought it was going to be a fade in the corner of end zone. The result was a Sanders Commings interception that felt like a huge miscue for Alabama before the half, and it was all because McCarron and Cooper weren’t on the same page.

For all the talent that Georgia has at receiver, those are the moments that make it frustrating to be in this situation. That is, having so much turnover at that position for your veteran quarterback.

Last year, Fromm could audible at the line of scrimmage and call for a bubble screen to Hardman that could turn into a 25-yard gain. Last year, Fromm could face third down against a blitzing Florida defense and be perfectly in sync with Holloman on a back-shoulder throw in the end zone.

This year, who knows who will have Fromm’s trust. This is the benefit of having a quarterback who takes command of the huddle as well as anyone in college football. Think of how we’d be talking about Georgia if it had a temperamental returning quarterback. Instead, the Dawgs will turn to someone with a 23-5 record who played in 2 SEC Championships and 3 New Year’s 6 Bowls (counting the 2017 Rose Bowl). He’ll have one of the nation’s most promising backfields and possibly the top offensive line in the land.

If Georgia doesn’t have anyone who can stretch the field, though, 8-men boxes in the SEC have a way of diminishing those things. At times this year, we could get reminders of that.

What’s the best that Georgia fans can hope for in 2019?

That the unproven receivers issue doesn’t wind up being what holds Georgia back from ending its national title drought … again.