With all due respect to the bloggers and the Web media out there who have been busy projecting and predicting what this season holds in store for us for a while now, as I’m a child of the printed media era, this is the weekend that’s always been preview time for me with regard to football, as it’s the traditional point that the papers laid things out for us.
I’ve been working towards my own preview of Georgia’s chances, but I’m having trouble putting together a coherent overview of what to expect in ’09. So instead, this time around, I’ll explore a few themes that I’ve spent the most time pondering in the offseason leading up ’til now. Maybe a larger truth will emerge from that, maybe not.
- The pessimism, boss, the pessimism. I get that Georgia shows up on most preseason lists as a mid-teens program this year. It’s easy to see the departure of two first round draft picks and downgrade the team significantly. And the Dawgs’ disappointing 2008 season (more on that in a second) doesn’t help, either. But I also get the feeling that a certain amount of overreaction is in play here. Here’s something that Year2 posted over at Team Speed Kills yesterday that resonates with me: “This is one of the most misunderstood programs in the country since, despite going through perhaps its most prosperous era ever right now, a lot folks focus more on what it hasn’t done-win a national title or beat rival Florida on a regular basis.” One-fifth of all BCS-conference schools won at least ten games last year; as dysfunctional as Georgia looked at times doing it, that 10-3 record still put the school in the upper crust of D-1. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to fix, or that Stafford and Moreno weren’t high quality contributors, just that I’m not sure the cupboard isn’t a good bit better stocked than many pundits surmise.
- It’s the line play, stupid. I don’t know that I’m quite at the point of saying you can forget about everything else, but I’m pretty damned close to it. This team will live and die on how well the offensive and defensive lines perform this year. A solid offensive line will let Bobo use the playbook to his best advantage, which in this case means giving Cox the time to play an intermediate passing game and keeping some degree of double coverage off of Georgia’s one offensive superstar. I don’t worry about the situation at defensive tackle, but without some upgraded play from the defensive end position, Martinez will be hearing a lot more of this.
- Georgia’s got a puncher’s chance to win the SEC. Look, I’m not insane, nor have I been drinking the Kool-Aid (yet, at least). I know that Florida deserves to be a prohibitive favorite to play in the SECCG – it’s got the schedule, defensive depth worth drooling over and the best returning quarterback in the conference. But once you get past the non-conference stuff, their schedules really aren’t too different. The rest of the East is as weak as we’ve seen it in a while and Georgia, like Florida, only plays one of the powers from the West (Georgia’s the one that gets LSU at home, to boot). Assuming that the Dawgs hold serve against the rest of their SEC opponents, even if they lose to LSU and Florida wins, they still go into Jax knowing that if they beat the Gators (yeah, yeah, I know), they’re in the driver’s seat on the road to Atlanta. And don’t forget that this year, it’s Georgia with the open week before the Cocktail Party.
- It’s foolish not to give Mark Richt the benefit of the doubt. The man’s won at an 80% clip. His team’s record in opponents’ stadiums is ridiculous. His program recruits as well as any other in the country. Seriously, how much do you want to downgrade him? No, that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. His misread what he had to do with his team last year and it cost him. But every little thing I’ve seen out of Richt in this offseason reinforces my image of a head coach who identified the shortcomings – both in himself and in his program – and has taken them head on. That’s no guarantee of success, of course, but given Richt’s track record, I’ll take my chances.
No one, including me, has any idea how this will translate onto the field. For one thing, there’s that team disappearance thing that’s plagued these guys for several seasons now that’ll be the canary in the coal mine as to this year’s chances as far as I’m concerned. If Richt’s truly got things fixed, that’s where we’ll see it, even if there’s a loss or two on the way.
I’ve seen the resolve and the focus show up in ways that you hope will pan out. Things feel much more business-like; I don’t think you’ll hear any talk about black outs or endzone celebrations in 2009. But you can’t account for the impact of injuries and you don’t know how the team will respond to that moment of crisis until it happens.
I’m not going to predict the results of individual games here. From my not so lofty preseason vantage point, that stuff tends to wash out – a team wins one unexpectedly, and loses one it shouldn’t. The concern I do have about the schedule is the cumulative effect of Georgia playing seven straight weeks against conference opponents and BCS-conference teams. I don’t see how the Dawgs emerge from that run without a blemish or two on their record.
If they can get out of that stretch 6-1 or even 5-2, though, things actually set up well for the remainder of the season. There’s the bye week leading into the Florida game to allow for recharging the batteries, followed by Tennessee Tech, the one true breather game of the year. And after that, the team doesn’t leave the state.
Right now, I don’t think it adds up to any worse than a 9-3 regular season mark. And with a little luck on the injury front (and surely they deserve that, at least), I think 10-2 is the likely result.
Now you can pass me that tasty beverage.