Monday, August 25, 2008

Prelude to a Season... #3

#3.) Georgia

What You Need to Know: It stands to reason that a preseason poll can take one of two forms. The first is a ranking of teams based on talent. Clearly as you move up the poll, each position gained means more talent on the field. The second approach is trying to predict where these teams will finish at the conclusion of the year. This poll is more so a hybrid of the two. Georgia is without question the most talented team in the country. Pair them against any team in a best-of-five, and Georgia walks away with the series win, bar none. Do I think Georgia will be bringing hardware back to Athens, though? I do not. And I do not believe that Georgia will even be playing for the chance to engrave their name on another trophy.

Much has been made about Georgia's schedule and the brutality of it. The six-game stretch in conference play that features Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, and Florida. An unusual out-of-conference game against a Top 15 opponent on the road against Arizona State. They have trap games at South Carolina and at Kentucky, and quite frankly, I don't think there is any chance of this team running the table. In fact, to be so bold, it's a good bet Georgia won't be in the SEC title game and may finish tied for second in their division.

The Dawgs have all the pieces, though. One of the best head coaches in the business, Mark Richt, enters his 8th season as Georgia head coach. He's 72-19 during his tenure, including three SEC East titles and two SEC conference titles. They also have the talent, 17 starters returning, and a two-deep depth chart that rivals any in the country. They have experienced leadership in Matthew Stafford, a distinct homefield advantage in Sanford Stadium, and a fanbase that expects excellence and demands a title. And that's what scares me. The road is littered with potential potholes, the expectations are suffocating, and Georgia's season may be "over" before they even hit conference play.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Matthew Stafford: 2523 yds, 19 TD
RB Knowshon Moreno: 1334 yds, 14 TD
DT Geno Atkins: 14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks

Game To Watch:
There are four games which will decide Georgia's fate this season. Two on the road, two at home. The Florida and Tennessee games are must wins. Both are at home, and both are divisional opponents. Arizona State and Auburn are both on the road, and will provide the Bulldogs an opportunity to make their claim at a national title. Win them both, along with UF and UT, and the Bulldogs will be celebrating their school's 4th national title.

They'll Do Well If...
: The offensive line gains experience and confidence early. The Bulldogs can cope with the extreme amount of expectations, pressure, and scrutiny. Stafford makes plays throughout the game, not simply when his team is down and needing a miracle.

Season Outlook: This season is eerily reminiscent of 2004. Loaded Georgia team, expected to contend for the national title, and all that slipped away when they lost to Tennessee between the hedges. Expect Georgia to win a close game against Arizona State, but they'll finish the year 9-3 with all three losses coming in conference (Florida, Auburn, Tennessee). Georgia is still one of the most talented teams in the country, but this schedule and this conference is simply too tough for the Bulldogs to manage.

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