College Football Previews: #1 Georgia

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At long last, we've reached the start of college football season and the end of our sojourn through the top 25. Thanks a ton to all our 25 writers for helping us get ready for the new season. Our final preview is brought to you by Doug Gillett of Hey Jenny Slater. Do enjoy. By the way, the above picture comes courtesy of a reader email letting us know that Matthew Stafford is a fixture on the freshman sorority introduction party-scene. If I were a Georgia fan this would make me feel better about his maturity in the pocket. Guy's making solid decisions off the field. Also, how many years of income would you give up to be Matthew Stafford in Athens for a month? Post the analysis in the comments. I'm going with two years. Minimum. BIGGEST STRENGTH The vast majority of the attention given to Georgia in the offseason has focused on our offense — specifically a public-intoxication offense, a drunk-driving offense, an assault offense, and several others. (Thank you, I'll be here all week.) But defense is what's driven the Dawgs all throughout Mark Richt's tenure, and it's what's going to drive us this year. Our defense returns all but two players; we bring back our entire starting linebacking corps and three of four D-linemen, and the one guy we lose in the secondary, free safety Kelin Johnson, is replaced by a sophomore (Reshad Jones) who actually finished the '07 season with more tackles than Johnson had despite having only two actual starts. In fact, Jones and WLB Rennie Curran were responsible for the team's practices being moved to sparsely inhabited Ware County in the spring, as the speed with which they hurled themselves at ball carriers caused regular sonic booms that were deemed intolerable by Athens residents living near campus. Last year we only returned three defensive starters, yet still managed a top-20 finish in total D, holding opponents to an average of 323 yards per game; this year I don't think the fans or coaches are going to be satisfied unless we hold at least one team to negative net yardage. I'm hoping it's Georgia Tech, but that's just me. There are some issues there. BIGGEST WEAKNESS Widespread doom and gloom was predicted for last year's offensive line, which consisted of two returning starters and three freshmen — yet under the direction of new OL coach (and future Exalted Hero of the Bulldog Nation) Stacy Searels, they allowed only 15 sacks and paved the way for a thousand-yard rushing season from true freshman Knowshon Moreno. So when this year's line had to replace two starters, including 2nd-team All-SEC center Fernando Velasco, I was like, “Pffft, whatever, we're gonna be fine.” But then left tackle Trinton Sturdivant tore every freaking ligament in his knee in fall practice, including several that were previously unknown to medical science, and I officially started to worry. Knowshon's still going to get his yards — as will fellow tailback Caleb King, most likely — but without Sturdivant to protect Matt Stafford's blind side, it's going to be incredibly difficult to keep Staff's jersey as clean as it was last year. Stafford is actually a better scrambler than he's ever gotten credit for, but the pundits seem to have pegged 2008 as the season he breaks out as a passer and starts adding zeroes onto the end of the NFL paycheck he'll start receiving sometime in the next few years, and it's going to be hard for him to meet those expectations if he's busy being chased all over the southeastern United States by the Kirston Pittmans and Eric Norwoods of the world. (Ordinarily this would be a great spot for me to segue into a passive-aggressive whine about how diabolical Georgia's schedule is this year, but y'all are all intelligent, attentive people who have surely read up on that already, so I'll move on.)


(Knowshon loves the same parties. And slightly askew pink hats.) DISEMBOWELING My immediate instinct — as is that of most Georgia fans at this point, I'm sure — is to lay into Urban Meyer, he of the third-person references and the ongoing pouting over Georgia's end-zone celebration in Jacksonville last year. But I've probably done that to death, so howsabout I piss in Steve Spurrier's Cheerios for a little while. After years of being the Great Satan to Bulldog fans everywhere, the Ol' Ballcoach fell off our hate-dar a little bit by moving to Columbia, South Carolina, after the end of the 2004 season, but whatever humility he gained through a self-imposed exile to college-football Siberia was gone by Week Two of last season. After beating Georgia in Athens — his first such victory in three tries at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks' first win over the Dawgs since 2001 — Spurrier decided the time was right to pop off about how overrated Georgia was, given that the Dawgs had at that point lost five straight SEC East games. What Steve, in his hubris, evidently forgot was that South Carolina's talent level leaves him considerably more vulnerable to karmic bitch-slaps than he ever was at Florida, and not only did his own then-sixth-ranked Gamecocks proceed to lose to Vanderbilt at home, that loss kicked off a five-game season-ending face plant that left the 'Cocks 6-6 and dateless for bowl season. Those Homecoming losses to Vandy sure are a bitch, ain't they, Steve? Toward the end of that spirit-crushing streak you could start to see in Spurrier's face that little twinge of regret over paths not taken, wondering if he might have been better off spurning the Gamecocks entirely four years ago and simply taking up golf full-time; few things would please me more than for a relentless Georgia ass-whupping this year to be the loss that sends him over the edge. The thing is, South Carolina could actually be pretty good this year, assuming that any of their QBs manage to excavate their heads from their respective rectums, but if there's any justice that won't happen until long after the Dawgs meet the 'Cocks in Columbia on September 13. When I was working at The Red & Black during my junior and senior years at UGA, we'd have an unofficial contest in the newsroom after each year's Georgia-South Carolina game to see who could come up with the most offensive headline for the game recap — trust me, “Dawgs Spank Cocks” was nowhere near the worst of what we came up with — and for the sake of the fresh-faced, idealistic young reporters now following in our footsteps at the R&B and carrying on our proud tradition of giving Georgia's journalism school a bad name, I want the Dawgs to pound the 'Cocks unmercifully this year. (See what I did right there?)