Jamie Newman's exit was shocking, but it doesn't change much in the SEC East: It's still all about the Cocktail Party
After a summer of hype that included preseason All-SEC selections and Hesiman predictions, Georgia quarterback Jamie Newman announced that he has opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns over the coronavirus.
The ripple reaction across the college football landscape to the former Wake Forest quarterback’s decision was swift and immediate. National and regional writers alike asked whether it changed the landscape of the SEC East. Others pointed to the talented quarterback room Kirby Smart has assembled in Athens, one that includes a former 5-star talent in USC transfer JT Daniels.
What is lost in all of this is the move by Kirby Smart to bring in 5-star JT Daniels after he had brought in Jamie Newman. So many people scratched their head about that bit of roster management. Looks like a damn genius now. pic.twitter.com/XUjN8pp1AL
— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) September 2, 2020
Meanwhile, Georgia fans’ reactions ran the gamut, from despairing questions about whether the program was cursed to delusional claims that Justin Fields was sailing back into the fold to save the day.
You’ve got to love Twitter dot com, but back here on planet Earth, the decision by Newman, who was practicing and scrimmaging with the team ahead of Georgia’s Sept. 26 opener at Arkansas, was certainly a stunner.
Newman’s skill set, which included speed, escapability in the pocket and a huge arm, made him an intriguing first-round caliber prospect with NFL scouts and appeared to give Georgia the type of dual-threat weapon the program briefly had and lost with the aforementioned Fields. Coupled with the SEC’s best defense and a Todd Monken system seemingly tailor-made for Newman, it was easy to see why Georgia was widely perceived as a national championship contender.
That’s out the window now, and Georgia must regroup and recalibrate.
But what’s the real impact of the loss of Newman, both on Georgia and the SEC East?
ESPN analyst (and Georgia legend) David Pollack suggested the impact was immense, tweeting that Newman’s decision to opt out changes his national championship prediction:
With Jamie Newman as Georgia’s QB I was going to pick them to win the Natty. Now? Back to Bama/Clemson
— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) September 2, 2020
Is that fair, or just a heat of the moment reaction based on hype?
At least in this writer’s view, it’s more of the latter.
The grisly, hairy dawg truth is the idea Newman was going to lead Georgia to the promised land was based on a series of stacked inferences: the idea that Newman, who had been a mostly average collegiate quarterback statistically, would make a gargantuan production leap given the chance to play in Monken’s system surrounded by Georgia’s elite talent.
The analytics suggest Newman’s monster games came against overmatched defenses. That Elon film, for example, will be fun to watch at the NFL Draft next season.
But when facing defenses with quality talent, Newman was pedestrian.
In fact, in Newman’s 3 games last season against top 40 S&P+ defenses (Clemson, Michigan State, Virginia Tech), his team was 0-3 and he completed 34-of-79 passes (43%), averaging a paltry 5.7 yards per attempt, with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Those numbers are pedestrian at best, and his rushing yards in those games (40 rushes for 136) were hardly terrifying.
Would he have performed better with Georgia talent as opposed to Wake Forest talent? Probably. But transforming from a guy who threw for 175 yards and completed under 50% of his passes in the Pinstripe Bowl into a guy headed to the Heisman ceremony always seemed more football fan fiction than fact.
Sadly now, we’ll never know.
Here’s what we do know.
Georgia is still going to be very good.
The defense hasn’t opted out, the receiver room will be the most improved in the country and JT Daniels, once he’s cleared for contact, has been a more productive Power 5 quarterback than Newman was to begin with. If Daniels isn’t cleared, a Georgia staffer this week gushed to me about D’Wan Mathis, and the Bulldogs signed Carson Beck, the consensus No. 2 quarterback out of the state of Florida, in their last recruiting class. Kirby Smart isn’t going to pout, and neither should Georgia fans. They will still be a mean machine in red and black this autumn.
Meanwhile, Florida is still going to be Florida, a really good football team that has won 2 consecutive New Year’s 6 bowl games and was going to contend for the SEC East again even if Newman played.
I’ve written all summer that the Gators, even with Newman in the mix, have the SEC’s best returning quarterback in Kyle Trask, at least in terms of statistical production and proven experience against elite defenses. That doesn’t change with Newman’s departure — the only change is that Terry Wilson Jr. now inherits the title of SEC East’s second-best quarterback.
For Florida, well ….
Nothing changes… still have to beat UGA.
— David Waters – Gators Breakdown (@GatorDave_SEC) September 2, 2020
That was going to be true no matter who took snaps for Georgia. Nothing changes.
What little does change, then, is the size of the door opening for the rest of the SEC East.
Daniels is a big talent, but like Trask, a pure pocket passer. He’s not going to beat you with his legs, and that means you can scheme Georgia differently. If you are really good up front, like say … Kentucky … you will have a chance.
Maybe the door opens now for the Wildcats, who feature 2 preseason All-Americans on the offensive line, have a terrific quarterback in Wilson, and return 8 starters (plus Kelvin Joseph!!) to a top 15 scoring defense and top 25 S&P+ defense. The Wildcats’ early schedule is favorable, save the opener at Auburn. Can they push Georgia on Oct. 24?
What about Tennessee?
The Vols feature one of the nation’s most underrated and talented offensive lines. Jeremy Pruitt has the players believing — and why wouldn’t they after closing last season with 6 consecutive wins and a Gator Bowl victory? Jarrett Guarantano is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, but if he’s consistent, and UT develops some perimeter playmakers, look out.
What about Missouri? There’s a lot of talent on that roster, and Eli Drinkwitz’s guys might be too naive and young to realize they aren’t supposed to contend yet.
A Georgia football team with questions at quarterback may just open the door in the East. But then again, maybe Georgia had questions at quarterback to begin with. Jamie Newman opting out just complicates the answer to those questions.
It doesn’t change that if Georgia wins the Cocktail Party, with Daniels or Mathis or even Beck under center, it likely still wins the SEC East.
Same as it ever was.