I have to admit I didn’t see this coming: Athlon Magazine picks Georgia to win the SEC East in 2011. Athlon isn’t alone in dispensing the preseason optimism, either.
I can’t say I’m ready to jump aboard the bandwagon, but it might be a useful exercise to lay out where I think the pluses and minuses of the program are at the moment, so here goes.
What I like:
- Kicking game. Butler and Walsh are so good, they tend to get overlooked. Boykin is an excellent return man.
- Aaron Murray. Bobo’s quarterbacks don’t have sophomore slumps.
- Defensive front seven. G-Day convinced me that there’s depth on the d-line and lots of athleticism in the linebacking corps. And that’s before John Jenkins shows up.
- Tight ends. Georgia is absolutely loaded at this position, which is a good thing, considering the wide receivers.
- O-line starting five. Again, I saw enough at G-Day to think Friend will be able to cobble together a functional starting line.
- Year two of the defensive scheme. I do think we’ll see noticeable improvement due to where they are on Grantham’s learning curve.
- The schedule. Yeah, the first two games are huge. But if Georgia can avoid imploding at the start, it’s really set up for a good run.
- The state of the SEC East. Pretty much speaks for itself.
What I’m uncertain about:
- Secondary. Until the walking wounded return and we see what the Dream Team brings to the table, it’s hard to say whether this bunch will be good or bad. A better front seven should help. I’m thinking we may see more freshmen play here than expected.
- Running backs. Ealey’s gone and Crowell’s coming in. Maybe that’s an upgrade, maybe not. And don’t forget they’ll be breaking in a new starter at fullback.
- Mike Bobo’s playcalling. As I’ve said before, he has it in him to be a very good coordinator. What he’s lacked is the courage of his convictions. Maybe A.J.’s departure turns out to be liberating; we’ll know that’s not the case if we see Carlton Thomas run between the tackles on third-and-long.
What gives me the willies:
- Offensive line depth. There is none. Any injury to a starter is a scary prospect right now.
- Wide receivers. What I saw at G-Day, outside of Tavarres King, was a pedestrian looking bunch. This is another area where we might expect some impact from an incoming freshman or two.
I’m choosing to ignore all the happy horse shit talk about S&C and the team’s mindset. I’ve been burned too many times before buying into that stuff. (Although, to be fair, maybe some credit is due for Georgia’s zero offseason troubles with the law so far and Richt’s willingness to part with contributing players who may have let their attitudes get in the way.) They’re going to have to show me right out of the gate against Boise State that they really have turned a corner before I’ll think differently.
Which is not to say it’s not important. In fact, as Grantham noted, in all seven of the team’s losses last season, the Bulldogs were leading or within one possession during the fourth quarter. That’s the sign of a team that wasn’t prepared to win, either physically or mentally. My lists have more positives than negatives right now, but if this year’s team can’t ready itself to play a full game consistently from week to week, it’ll wind up being another disappointing season. And that’ll be on Mark Richt.
Bottom line, I can see Georgia winning as many as eleven regular season games in 2011. But I can just as easily see another six-win season if things don’t go well at the beginning. What do y’all think?
UPDATE: By the way, Richt reminds us again why we want the man to succeed.
“Georgia is a heck of place, the University of Georgia, the city of Athens. I was at a great place at Florida State, working for the greatest coach in college football. I was not in a hurry to go anywhere unless it was a special place that I wanted to finish my career in.
“Here’s the thing about me: I know a lot of coaches take jobs and maybe know in their mind that if a different job showed up, I would take that one instead. I had a few opportunities to take head jobs along the way at Florida State. But the question always came back to me and to my wife: Is there where you want to live the rest of your life?
“She’s like ‘Why do you ask that?’ I said, ‘Because I’m not going to go to a school thinking in my mind that there may be a better place to go.’ … These young men, they’ve had enough disappointment in their lives, and they’ve had enough people in their lives leave them, enough people that haven’t followed through with what they’ve promised. I just don’t want to be one of those guys.
“So that’s why I’m at Georgia. That’s why I love Georgia and want to spend another 10 years at least.”
We do too, Coach. Make it happen.