After perusing my normal interwebs stops over my morning coffee today I came across the Senator’s “preview” for Georgia football this year. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together about what I think about this year’s edition of the Georgia Bulldogs and what my realistic expectations for this team are. I honestly haven’t been that active lately other than the occasional quick hit thought or something I feel really passionate about. I partially blame the Atlanta Braves for this. They honestly make me feel like Michael in The Godfather : Part III. Every time I try to not care about their season they go and win six out of eight and suck me back in. I also partially blame this on the Georgia State Board of Accountancy which is making my life a living hell the last few months. I’m finally back in the mood for some Georgia talk after I got to spend Wednesday night in the Classic City and now am utterly excited about the upcoming football season. So without further ado, here are a few of my general thoughts on the 2009 Georgia Bulldogs in no particular order with more to follow next week:
- Georgia will be just fine and is more talented than anyone is giving them credit for. Admittedly no one should get better by losing your two best players to the NFL. I remember this happening a few years ago on the Plains when they lose their entire backfield to the NFL Draft and came out the next year to win nine games and very nearly won the SEC West. Now, do I have similar high lofty expectations for the Dawgs this year? Not at all. I just find it mildly amusing that the departures of Stafford and Moreno are seen as back-breaking prospects by the media bourgeoisie. I think USC loses like five guys in the 1st round every year, and despite this they’re always in the mix because Pete Caroll is a great coach and recruits great players. I don’t believe that Georgia is on the level of USC with all the blue-chip talent, but I believe that Mark Richt has elevated Georgia to the status of schools like Oklahoma and Texas that consistently have great talent and are going to always be in the mix for their conference championship no matter who they lose to the NFL.
- It’s all about the lines. Needless to say, we are finally clear from the dark cloud that enveloped Athens known as Neil Callaway. Stacy Searels did not get enough recognition for the job he did last year. He took a line full of freshman and reserves and somehow through his voodoo and duct tape managed to keep it intact and performing strong (granted having Stafford get rid of the ball quickly and Moreno making some of the most impressive two yard runs you’ll ever see didn’t hurt). With a ton of experience and the return of Trinton “Jitterbug” Sturdivant to the left tackle position, the offensive line is the least of Georgia’s concerns this year. It is the best line in the SEC and may very well by the best line in the country behind USC. Defensively, the rotation of Jeff Owens/Geno Atkins/Kade Weston/DeAngelo Tyson is likely the strongest tackle group in the conference. Obviously, we’re all familiar with the shortcomings of the defensive ends last year and what that meant to the overall defensive performance. I don’t expect the ends to be world-beaters by any means, but I certainly expect some sort of improvement especially now that Coach Martinez and Co. have decided to put the ‘tweeners like Marcus Washington at the DE spot in obvious passing downs for some added pressure. Ultimately, I agree with the Senator. This is where the season will be won and lost for this team. Look at what being strong upfront did for Alabama last year despite having no obvious stud running back and a QB that wasn’t a threat to beat you with his arm.
- Don’t sleep on Mark Richt. There’s a reason that everyone but the fringe loonies of the Georgia fanbase loves the guy. After two decades of wallowing in unfulfilled dreams and mediocrity (I’m looking at you Ray Goff and Jim Donnan), Georgia finally got the guy to put it all together. While the Ray Goff experiment was an utter failure, Jim Donnan had promise and upgraded the talent base in Athens by a large margin. Mark Richt has been able to keep the talent base at a high level while also coaching at a high level. I’ve been firmly on the Mark Richt bandwagon since “The Hobnail Boot”game in Knoxville his first year and I ain’t going anywhere. When the expectations are the lowest is when he does his best work (see 2003, 2005, and 2007). All signs point to him understanding what happened last year and how to prevent that from ever happening again. I genuinely hope that the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs will be remembered in the same vein as the 1988 Florida State Seminoles. Highly hyped teams, both pre-season #1’s for the first time in school history, both flamed out spectacularly during the season. Georgia in embarrassing losses to Alabama, Florida, and GA Tech; Florida State in a 31-0 beat-down from Miami in the season-opener. I have faith in Coach Richt and I believe he knows what needs to be done and is doing it. I’m going on record to agree with T. Kyle Kingin the belief that Coach Richt will coach his last game at the University of Georgia as the winningest coach in the program’s history. You don’t just win at an 80% clip by mistake. The guy is going to get the bounces at some point to get to the ultimate stage, but he firmly has this program on cruise control at the 9-10 win mark. Honestly, there is a razor thin margin at times between 12-0 and 10-2. For evidence, see 2007: LSU.
- Willie Martinez will still be the defensive coordinator come opening day in 2010 . I was vocally and adamantly against retaining Coach Martinez after the Georgia Tech loss last year. After some time to reflect and re-watch some of those painful moments from last year, it’s hard to lay the blame entirely at his feet. I don’t think the general college football fan truly appreciates how much injuries impacted this defense last year. They only see a lot of points and lay the blame on the DC (something I was very guilty of last year). After re-watching those games, most of the times guys were in the right position and just didn’t make a play on the ball or the player. I counted three dropped INT’s against Vanderbilt for crying out loud. The bowl game against Michigan State was reassuring and I think we’ll see the Junkyard Dawg defense that we’ve come to know this decade in a full force this season. The only way I truly see Coach Martinez in genuine hot-seat status is if the defense continues this perplexing trend of disappearing for an entire half one or two games each season.
I’ve vacillated on this team ever since Moreno and Stafford declared their intentions to enter the draft back in January. Realistically, if those two had stayed, Georgia would probably be a pre-season #2 or #3. I originally was in the camp of thinking an 8-4/7-5 season was very likely, but after a long off-season I’ve come around to expect a 9-3/10-2 campaign. I think that’s the talent level of this team and the difficulty of the schedule. Breaks could go one way and push the team down to 7-5 or the other way and bump the team up to 11-1. Right now I believe Florida is the class of the East and maybe the entire country just like every other sane person. I don’t believe they’re unbeatable as many seem to anoint them. Alabama last year and Auburn and Georgia in 2007 showed how you have to play if you want to beat an Urban Meyer coached Florida team. You have to smack them in the mouth early and keep doing it the entire game. If you play scared or tight against Florida, like we have for the better part of the last two decades, they’re going to eat your lunch. However, I still am predicting a loss in Jacksonville this year for Georgia (I was born in 1984 and I don’t care what T. Kyle King says about 19 year cycles; until I see a Georgia squad win two straight I will always consider a win over Florida a fluke). So right now, I believe this is a team that should win 9-10 games, but could very easily lose 4-5 just because of the ridiculous gauntlet to open the season. All I know for sure is that September 5th can’t get here fast enough. I’ll add a few more things next week as well as preview on the season opener against Oklahoma State.