Mark Richt has plenty of supporters for the job he's done at Georgia, but there is also a segment of observers that wonders whether the program is stagnating under his leadership.
On the one hand, Richt has led the Bulldogs to double-digit wins in eight of his 14 seasons. A win in the Belk Bowl against Louisville would boost the count to nine. In the hyper-competitive SEC, Richt's teams have won two SEC conference titles, claimed the East Division six times, and compiled an 8-5 record in bowl games.
But the most recent of those conference championships was in 2005. Georgia, meanwhile, hasn't made one of the four major bowl games since 2007. And in three of the past five seasons, the program finished the season unranked.
Even so, it's tough to shrug off a guy that wins 74 percent of his games while playing in the SEC. But in today's college football climate, the past isn't always embraced as a predictor of future success.
Nebraska fired Bo Pelini this year even though the coach had never won less than nine games in a season. And the Bulldogs and Cornhuskers ended up in more or less the same place the past two seasons: They played one another in two straight bowl games, splitting the series.
Schools are taking a hard look beyond the simple win-loss record when trying to decide whether a coach should be retained or let go. Going off the evidence, there's a strong case to be made that Georgia is positioned to bounce back strong the next few years.
The key ingredients: A strong cast a returning stars and a measurable improvement on the recruiting side of things.
Earlier this month, Georgia got the good news that Leonard Floyd, Malcolm Mitchell, and John Theus are all turning down the NFL draft to return for another season with the Bulldogs. It's believed that Jordan Jenkins will do the same. Although Floyd will miss the Belk Bowl, he'll be a key contributor to the defense next season, while Mitchell and Theus will bolster the offense.
That return of NFL-caliber talent is a huge boon for any college program -- particularly one like Georgia, which plays in a league where the talent gap between first- and eighth-place is razor-thin. And it can help bridge the gap and set the tone for a second straight strong recruiting class for the Bulldogs.
Georgia's recruiting game suffered a slight dip in performance in 2012 and 2013, when both classes clocked in at 12th nationally. That's nothing to sniff at, but again, we're talking about the SEC, where the 2012 ranked fourth in the conference.
That's essentially where the Bulldogs finished this season, second in their division. And it's borderline acceptable as a year-by-year result.
In 2014, the Bulldogs rebounded with a class that ranked seventh overall. This year, the class-in-progress currently ranks third nationally. According to Rivals, Georgia has commitments from two players that rank in the top eight nationally across all positions in Terry Godwin and Trenton Thompson.
Those two, along with fellow five-star defensive back Rashad Roundtree, bring some of the star-caliber talent that Georgia needs to refill its well.
Those young talents will be brought into a team with veteran leadership and a bright future. If Georgia is looking to reclaim some of the excellence it flexed early in Richt's tenure, this combination could prove instrumental -- not only heading into next season, but several seasons down the road.
And in the minds of many coaches, the next season begins with bowl season, where plans for the future start to take root. Whether Georgia capitalizes on this opportunity remains to be seen.