All talk about getting shortchanged by the BCS aside, this past season turned out about as well as any Georgia fan could have expected when things got underway last summer (and considerably better than what we were thinking at halftime of the Vandy game). An 11-2 final record, a lofty end of season ranking and a seven game winning streak to close out the year should be the cause for much rejoicing.
But it’s been more satisfying than that. This was the year that we finally saw the program not back down in Jacksonville. This was the year when we saw Stafford grow into being someone who had his “Hobnail Boot” moment and lead his team to a big road win in crunch time. This was the year that we saw some linebackers step up and stabilize a position that had all sorts of question marks coming in. This was the year that we realized that our defensive line coaches could take a bunch of relatively unheralded players and mold them into a group that led the SEC in sacks.
This was the year that Georgia found another elite running back in Knowshon Moreno.
This was the year that Stacy Searels proved that Herbstreit gets things right now and then (he told Buck and Kincaid on 680 The Fan before the season started that Georgia had just hired the best offensive line coach in the country).
Most importantly, this is the year we found out that Mark Richt knows how to build a program for the long haul. I’m not sure this was his best coaching job in terms of milking the talent on the field as far as it could go – what he accomplished in ’03 with no offensive line, no big time running back and tons of injuries still amazes me – but as far as lifting Georgia to the next level on the national stage, I believe we’ll look back at 2007 down the road and say this is where he made it happen.
Here are a few reasons why I think that’s the case. You’ll note that most of these interrelate.
- Reloading, not rebuilding. There’s been a dramatic overhaul of players in the last two seasons, and that trend actually accelerated going into this season which kicked off with one of the least experienced teams Georgia ever put on the field. Still, the Dawgs went 20-6 in that time period.
- Recruiting. Always a strength under Richt, it looks headed to a higher level. Last year we saw Georgia Tech make some inroads in the state; that turned out to be a mere blip. Georgia has dominated in state recruiting this year in a remarkable fashion and still continues to get a few out of state blue chippers to fill in its needs.
- Buzz. Don’t laugh. You can be colorless and do quite well in the SEC, but if you want serious national prominence, there has to be something about your program that gets the media and the public to pay attention. Moreno’s style, the blackout against Auburn and, of course, The Celebration all raised the public awareness of Richt and the Dawgs. It’s not a coincidence this season that Georgia received its highest finish in the polls under Richt, or that so many national pundits rate Georgia’s chances so highly in 2008.
- Identity. For a variety of reasons, this team didn’t really coalesce and develop a personality until the middle of the season. Early on, it appeared that the coaching staff knew where it wanted to go, but it took some time to figure out how to best deploy the talent. By season’s end though, there was little doubt about what kind of team Georgia is (as Mr. Tebow informed Mr. Brennan).
This is all just a start, of course. At some point in time Georgia needs to make an appearance in a BCS title game to cement these gains. Whether 2008 is the year that happens is hard to say. On the plus side, Georgia returns 17 starters on both sides of the ball. On the flip side, they’ll have to do it playing this schedule.
One good thing about that schedule is that it’s tough enough to provide some margin for error, especially given the lofty ranking we anticipate the Dawgs will start the ’08 season with. It’s likely that they could lose a game (except for the SECCG) and still remain in the hunt for the BCS title game.
Think about the hype which should surround this string of games:
- October 11: LSU at Florida
- October 25: Georgia at LSU
- November 1: Florida vs. Georgia
We may wind up with the biggest WLOCP ever. In other words, Georgia has a real opportunity to raise its profile to an unprecedented level. For the coaches, players and fans, that’s all you could ask for in ’08.