BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 9-4; SEC: 4-4
Won Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Virginia Tech 31-24
LOCATION: Athens, Georgia
STADIUM: Sanford (92,756)
HEAD COACH: Mark Richt
OVERALL: 61-17 (6 seasons)
AT GEORGIA: 61-17 (6 seasons)
Who has the most wins among Southeastern Conference teams over the last five years? Not Louisiana St….not defending Champion Florida…that’s right it is the Georgia Bulldogs. The boys that play “between the hedges” have been one of the premier programs over the last six years under Mark Richt, who has just one less win than Jim Tressel does during the same span. Last season they failed to reach double digits in wins for the first time since 2001, Richt’s first season. What did they do the following season? Oh…just win 13 games and there is reason for optimism this year as well -- the Dawgs finished the ’06 season with three straight wins over ranked clubs.
WHEN THE DAWGS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Mike Bobo (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Danny Ware, Martrez Milner, Daniel Inman, Nick Jones, Ken Shackleford
Matthew Stafford could one day find himself walking to the podium in Radio City after the Commissioner of the National Football League says the words, “And with the first pick in the draft.” He is that good and he began to show some signs down the stretch of his true freshman season, which is why everyone involved with the Georgia program expects him to take a major step this season towards stardom. His receivers were a major disappointment last season, not helping matter with inconsistent play and dropped passes, nevertheless with talented seniors Sean Bailey and AJ Bryant back and junior Mohamed Massaquoi poised for a bounce back season, they could be part of the solution in 2007. The running game should be fine, no one is the clear cut “feature back”, however there is no shortage of talent in the backfield. According to reports, the offensive line jelled in the spring with true freshman Trinton Sturdivant, redshirt frosh Chris Davis and junior college transfer Scott Haverkamp joining two senior returning starters.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Matthew Stafford (SO), 2) Trinton Sturdivant (FR), 3) Thomas Brown (SR), 4) Mohamed Massaquoi (JR), 5) Mikey Henderson (SR), 6) Kregg Lumpkin (SR), 7) Fernando Velasco (SR), 8) Brannan Sutherland (JR), 9) Brandon Coutu (SR), 10) Sean Bailey (SR), 11) AJ Bryant (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Willie Martinez (3rd Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 3
KEY LOSSES: Charles Johnson, Quentin Moses, Paul Oliver, Tony Taylor, Jarvis Jackson, Tra Battle
Only three starters return on this side of the ball, but the Athens faithful have no reason to fret, they remain well stocked with top shelf talent. Players such defensive tackle Kade Weston, end Roderick Battle, SAM Darius Dewberry, along with a trio of corners (Bryan Evans, Prince Miller and Asher Allen) are six sophomores who got a taste of action last season and are ready for bigger roles. They will also count on redshirt freshmen Reshod Jones, who could be a star in the secondary, and linebacker Akeem Dent, as well as JC transfer Jarius Wynn at defensive end. Up the middle, veterans Jeff Owens (DT), Brandon Miller (MIKE) and Kelin Johnson (SS) provide some stability for the entire defense. As usual, the Dawgs will rely on their speed, which will allow them to get to the quarterback and swarm to ball carriers.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Kade Weston (SO), 2) Reshod Jones (FR), 3) Jeff Owens (JR), 4) Roderick Battle (SO), 5) Jarius Wynn (JR), 6) Dannell Ellerbe (SO), 7) Kelin Johnson (SR), 8) Brandon Miller (SR), 9) Ramarcus Brown (JR)
The rivalry games are key, and sorry Tech fans, I am not talking about the Yellow Jackets whom the Dawgs always beat. This is all about fellow Eastern Division competitors Florida and Tennessee. Since Mark Richt took over, his biggest stumbling block has been the Gators, he is just 1-5 against the University of Florida. Richt has handled the Volunteers, taking care of Tennessee four times out of six, however he has never defeated both in the same season. Their 20-13 loss to Florida in 2002 was the only thing between Georgia and an undefeated season. Last year, for the first time under Richt both the Gators and the Vols knocked off UGA. If the Bulldogs can defeat off both this season, it would all but assure them of a spot in the SEC Championship game and who knows maybe a chance at the BCS Title.
Maturity. Whenever talking about college athletics, to some extent the maturity factor is par for the course, but a particular point of emphasis for Georgia. Stafford can become an All-American type signal caller, which Massaquoi could help by stepping up after drops plagued him throughout his sophomore season. Then there are the seniors -- Brown, Lumpkin, Bailey and Bryant, who have yet to cash in on the vast potential they brought with them to Athens. Defensively, several players need to prove they are ready to handle expanded roles. Talent is nice to have, but it does not always ensure production on the field -- they could be a year away.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
Making the Bulldogs the highest ranked SEC East club is the first flip-flop of the season, as they pulled ahead of the Tennessee Volunteers in the preseason Top 25 Countdown. It is a bit of a risky pick considering they need both unproven players to move into starting roles, as well as underachievers to fulfill potential, however there is so much talent on both sides of the ball that enough players should emerge and come into their own in 2007. It all begins with Stafford, who could be the most gifted passer in college football.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #7 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown