Monday, August 31, 2009

CFI Countdown: #8 Georgia Bulldogs

2008 Record: 10-3 (SEC 6-3)
Bowl Game: Won Capital One Bowl vs. Michigan St. 24-12
Location: Athens, Georgia
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Overall: 82-22 (9th season)
@ Georgia: 82-22 (9th season)
Link to UGA Football Page

There are no number one rankings or Heisman favorites. There aren’t nearly as many magazine covers, and there isn’t a potential number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. But none of that means this group of Dawgs can’t be better than last year’s bunch. This year’s team won’t be as flashy and doesn’t have the same potential, but they should be a tougher, more physical team.

When the Bulldogs Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bobo (3rd season)
Scheme: Pro Style Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Mohamed Massaquoi

Even though Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno left with a combined three years of eligibility remaining, there is confidence that the offense could be better in 2009, and that might not be such a crazy idea. In senior quarterback Joe Cox they have the ideal replacement for Stafford. Now obviously, Cox doesn’t have the same fastball, but his arm is good enough and he has really stepped up as the leader in Athens according to all accounts. Replacing Moreno’s running and energy might not be easy, but sophomores Richard Samuel and Caleb King don’t lack for talent. There may not be one superstar back, but when was the last time Georgia didn’t field a deep and talented stable? A big reason for the good feelings is a healthy offensive line, especially if sophomore tackle Trinton Sturdivant can come back 100 percent after missing all of last season. He was impressive as a true freshman starter at left tackle in 2007. Other players with All-SEC potential include sophomore center Ben Jones and junior guard/tackle Clint Boling. This group is deep and talented—a weakness from last season has become a strength. If you are looking for a potential superstar on offense look no further than sophomore A. J Green, who made an impression around the SEC as a true freshman last season. Green is fast and capable of stretching the field with the size to go up and get the football in traffic—he’s a dynamic playmaker that will be near impossible to stop one-on-one. Senior Michael Moore has big-play potential as well, and there are high hopes for red-shirt freshman Tavarres King.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) SS A. J. Green (SO), 2) OT Trinton Sturdivant (SR), 3) OT/OG Clint Boling (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Willie Martinez (5th season)
Scheme: Multiple 4-3
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: CB Asher Allen, LB Dannell Ellerbe, DT Corey Irvin, DE Jarius Wynn

Last season the feeling was that Georgia would have one of the best tackle tandems in the SEC, if not the nation. Then Jeff Owens went down for the season with an injury in the season opener and Geno Atkins had a lackluster season...time for take two. Owens, a medical red-shirt after the injury, has a second crack at his senior season and the hope is Atkins, who many thought would leave early, will play up to his potential. There is also quality depth behind the two seniors. They also lacked a premiere pass rusher a year ago, which they hope will be rectified by sophomore Justin Houston, who brings big-time ability. Leading the linebacker corps is junior Rennie Curran from his WILL position—he is undersized but boy can he fly, and he packs a wallop when he gets there. Junior Akeem Dent, a solid tackler, mans the middle, with SAM Darryl Gamble very capable in coverage. Senior Marcus Washington is yet another player working his way back from injury. At cornerback, senior Prince Miller returns, with sophomore Brandon Boykin ready to step in for the departed Asher Allen. Allen was among the SEC’s best before declaring for the draft, but Boykin could even better. The most talented player on the Georgia defense, and maybe the entire team, is junior safety Reshad Jones. A wise decision was made when he decided to return to Georgia—good news for the Dawgs and Jones. As talented as Jones is—his size and speed combo is as impressive as any defensive back in the nation—he still needs to work on his understanding of the game.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) SS Rashad Jones (JR), 2) LB Rennie Curran (JR), 3) DT Jeff Owens (SR)

The Schedule

It will be an interesting September in Georgia and it all begins in Stillwater as they travel west to take on the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. A win there will send a message that this season, the Bulldogs will fulfill their potential. They follow that up with consecutive SEC games—South Carolina and at Arkansas—before closing the month out with Arizona St. between the hedges. If September is interesting, then October is downright enthralling. It starts off with a home game versus LSU and ends in Jacksonville against Florida. Those two tilts sandwich road tests at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The also play border rival Auburn and visit in-state rival Georgia Tech in November. Wow—that schedule is a doozie.

Pivotal Point

Get healthy and stay healthy, particularly in the trenches. It seemed like every week the Dawgs threw out a different starting five along the offensive line, which is no way to win football games in the SEC. Line play on each side of the ball needs cohesiveness, no matter the talent. Sturdivant, Boling, Jones, and sophomore Cordy Glenn are all projected among the best at their respective positions. Last year Stafford and Moreno didn’t lead them to the Promised Land, in part because of the woes up front. This year they could win because of the line. The same could be said on defense—Atkins and Owens make everyone better.

CFI Final Analysis

The 2008 Bulldogs didn’t handle having a bull’s-eye placed on them with a pre-season number one ranking well. (Not that 10 wins is a bad season.) They were the hunted. Now, they are the hunter. Can they pull off the upset in Boone Pickens Stadium? Can they stack up with the Bayou Bengals? Take a deep breath—could they knock off the Florida Gators? Will they reclaim their status as top dog in the Peach state? It says here that headman Mark Richt and company will relish that role and have a better season than people think.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies

Photos Courtesy of SEC Sports Media