2007 RECORD: 11-2; SEC: 6-2
Won Sugar Bowl vs. Hawaii 41-10
LOCATION: Athens, Georgia
STADIUM: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
HEAD COACH: Mark Richt
OVERALL: 72-19 (7 seasons)
AT GEORGIA: 72-19 (7 seasons)
The Dawgs enter the season atop both polls, but their elevation to the top of the football world began long before anyone put pen to paper to vote this summer. The public began viewing Georgia differently last season, when they took it to the Florida Gators, and it had nothing to do with the much-ballyhooed end zone celebration. The shift in perception was about going toe-to-toe with the defending National Champs and future Heisman Trophy winner, then leaving zero doubt as to who the best team was that day. The Bulldogs were ranked 20th before beating the Gators and jumped to No. 10 following that win. They continued to move up until they reached No. 1 in the preseason polls.
WHEN THE DAWGS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Bobo (2nd Season/8th at UGA)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Thomas Brown, Sean Bailey, Chester Adams, Fernando Velasco, Trinton Sturdivant
Matthew Stafford is the most talented pocket passer in the college game and if his production matches his raw ability, the junior signal caller can take this offense to new heights. Stafford can spray passes across the field the field with ease--starting corner Asher Allen says only the JUGS machine throws the ball harder. To take that next step in his development, Stafford needs to become more accurate and push his completion percentage from 55.7 percent to over 60 percent. The easiest connection he will make—and arguably the most effective—is a handoff to super sophomore Knowshon Moreno. The New Jersey product isn’t the biggest or fastest back, but don’t tell that to the defenders he has run by or run over. Moreno plays the game at his own pace and is able to energize the entire unit. Don’t be surprised if the Dawgs look to a pair of freshman skill players in TB Caleb King and WR A.J. Green to be difference makers this season. The Achilles heel is the offensive line. They suffered through some growing pains last year with Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis and Josh Davis starting as freshmen. That maturation process was supposed to pay dividends in 2008, but with Sturdivant out for the season, they are scrambling for starters along the line once again.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) QB Matthew Stafford (JR), 2) RB Knowshon Moreno (SO)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Willie Martinez (2nd Season/8th at UGA)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Marcus Howard, Kelin Johnson, Thomas Flowers
The Georgia defense is overlooked, but truth be told, the defense is the strength of this team. Traditionally, the best defenses “Between the Hedges” start up front and in the middle, which is the heart of this defense. Senior Jeff Owens and junior Geno Atkins are two of the better tackles in the game; each can penetrate, each can occupy multiple blockers. Behind them is the soul of this defense in linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Rennie Curran. Ellerbe mans the middle and after a pair of disappointing seasons, this talented tackler finally broke through as a junior. He can cover sideline-to-sideline, as can his second year cohort Curran, who has lived up to his billing from day one. They have a solid, experienced secondary with cover corner Asher Allen, hard-hitting SS C.J. Byrd and FS Reshad Jones, a superstar in the making. Coming off the edge and hoping to help the DBs will be pass-rushers Jeremy Lomax (Sr.) and Roderick Battle (Jr.). Freshman Justin Houston is another name to remember.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) LB Dannell Ellerbe (SR), 2) FS Reshad Jones (SO)
The tallest hurdle the Dawgs must leap to reach the BCS Championship game is their brutal schedule. Everyone in the SEC has a tough road, but no one more so than Georgia. First, they play in the East, which features five bowl teams from a year ago. Florida is a top ten team, Tennessee a top 20 team and South Carolina resides just outside the top 25. SEC teams play their entire division and three teams from the other division—Georgia has to play all three ranked teams from the West—Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Out of conference, they play the Arizona St. Sun Devils (No. 15 in the AP Poll, No. 16 in the Coaches Poll). In all, they play six ranked teams. Of their four foes in the top 15, none comes to Athens to take on the Bulldogs—UGA must travel to Tempe, Baton Rouge and Auburn, while taking on the Gators in Jacksonville.
Matthew Stafford: Yes, the offensive line is the biggest question mark and yes, the schedule is the toughest in the nation. But you know what can overcome all of that? An uber-talented signal caller with a rocket arm, and that’s what they have in Athens. Stafford wears No. 7 in honor of John Elway and, like his idol, has enough potential to be the No. 1 overall choice once he decides to move on to the NFL. But for now, Stafford has his sights set on a different kind of No. 1. He can be a difference maker. Georgia scored 12 points in their loss to South Carolina and 14 in their loss to Tennessee. Both times, Stafford failed to connect on even half of his throws, completing just 45 percent of his passes in the two losses. When he completed a majority of his tosses, the Dawgs were a perfect 10-0 in 2007.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
The Bulldogs have the pieces to win it all—a big time quarterback, a franchise tailback and a speedy defense bent on taking no prisoners. But that darn schedule keeps popping up. For the most part, regular season losses in college football can be pretty unforgiving although LSU won the national championship last season despite two losses. Georgia may need similar good fortune this season. The Dawgs are deserving of their number one ranking, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish and for the second consecutive year, the Athens faithful may end up wishing there was a playoff system in place.
Friday, August 29, 2008
2007 RECORD: 11-2; SEC: 6-2