Smith: SEC East is most important title to win

The following article is by Loran Smith and appears courtesy of the Athens Banner-Herald:

If Georgia ended last season as the best team in the nation, as some suggested, that naturally dictates the high preseason ranking that the Bulldogs enjoy today.

Championships, however, are not won in the preseason.

All analyses and forecasts regarding a bowl berth in Miami, where the national champion will be determined, hinge on one key development – representing the SEC East in the conference title game.

Had Georgia achieved that objective last year, it would have given the Bulldogs the opportunity to play LSU. Victory in the Georgia Dome would have enabled the Bulldogs to play for the national championship.

When last season is reviewed after the Bulldogs escaped disaster at Vanderbilt – the public became acutely aware that on the swing of one play in three games in which Georgia did not compete, there was the likelihood that the stars might have aligned just right for the Bulldogs.

One play, going the other way, in Tennessee’s games with South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and the Bulldogs would have returned to the Georgia Dome.

Before anybody makes reservations in Miami, reservations should first be made for Atlanta. To get there, the preseason’s No. 1 team must win road games at South Carolina, LSU, Florida (in Jacksonville), Kentucky and Auburn.

Most observers felt that Georgia was a better team than Tennessee at season’s end, but by winning in Knoxville, the Volunteers received the title game berth.

Georgia’s team and coaches were savoring an opportunity to play LSU last year. They were confident that they could match up favorably with any team. There was criticism of the BCS that dropped the Bulldogs in the standings when the bowl matchups were decided.

LSU had no prayer of playing for a national title with two losses had the Tigers not won their division and advanced to the Georgia Dome – which is why a team that doesn’t figure the division title to be the most important title of all, is a team likely to get blindsided. To win any championship, a team must maintain a hungry attitude and win the close games – like Georgia’s last national championship team in 1980.

Those players were hungry for success after the embarrassment of failure in 1979. They had something to prove. The current Georgia team does not have that same motivation. This team’s motivation is that it deserves its preseason ranking and will set out to prove it, by winning early and gaining momentum.

In 1980, six of Georgia’s games were decided by a touchdown or less. The Bulldogs won every one. The current Bulldogs must not only develop that habit, it must avoid becoming complacent with all the attention and preseason hype.

How hungry is this highly ranked bunch? Only time will tell.

– Courtesy of Athens Banner-Herald

5 Reasons Georgia Will Win It All

Article courtesy of Sportingnews.com —

5 Reasons Georgia Will Win It All:

DT Geno Atkins, Jr. Few in the land can play defensive tackle like Atkins. Just don’t expect him to tell you about it. “He’s so quiet that you don’t think he’s focused or into this thing,” says Willie Martinez, Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “But you click on a film, or it’s game day, and he’s right there.” His stats scream superstar: 41 tackles (14 1/2 for loss), 37 hurries and 7 1/2 sacks in 2007.

RB Knowshon Moreno, So. The best tailback in the South, Moreno began his march to greatness with a 188-yard, three-touchdown effort in a victory over Florida last season. “He is the fuse to their offense,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown says. He might also be a Heisman Trophy candidate — we’re betting Moreno has big games against Arizona State, LSU and the Gators during Georgia’s championship run.

QB Matthew Stafford, Jr. Stafford (6-3, 237) arrived from Texas with an imposing figure and a heck of a fastball. Over the past two seasons, says an SEC coach, “he has learned how to pitch.” Thanks to better touch on his throws and better decision making, Stafford went from seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2006 to 19 and 10 last season. If those numbers improve further in 2008, watch out.

CB Asher Allen, Jr. For 25 games, Allen had one interception on his resume. Then he picked off Hawaii’s Colt Brennan twice in the Sugar Bowl, showing a flash of the playmaking ability he’ll use to help the Georgia defense this season. A longtime threat as a return man, Allen will cover receivers from South Carolina’s Kenny McKinley to Tennessee’s Lucas Taylor. A few more interceptions against those guys will lift the Dawgs toward a national title.

LB Rennie Curran, So. Curran was a bit player for the first two months of last season. “Then,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez says, “the coaching staff got smarter and started playing him.” Curran started on the weak side in five of Georgia’s final six games. He collected nine tackles for loss and three sacks and earned a handful of freshman All-American honors. This year, look out — he won’t be scrambling to learn the defense.

Which Freshmen Will Play?

Athens — Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno burst onto the national scene last season — albeit not really until about Game 7 — as a redshirt freshman, which in this day and time is somewhat of rarity.

These days the general attitude among college football coaches is if a true freshman has any notable talent, that player is going to play the first season he’s on campus. To a lesser extent Georgia coach Mark Richt thinks that way, too.

Including walkon running back Kalvin Daniels, the Bulldogs played six true freshmen last season, four of whom were regular starters by the end of the season. But for the most part Richt would rather redshirt every player he can. His philosophy is every player, no matter how gifted, can benefit from an extra year to mature physically and emotionally and to adjust to life as a student-athlete.

Ultimately you want to try to gauge if a guy is really ready to play. If he’s at a position where you’re absolutely hurting for depth, he may have to play sometimes. A lot of guys aren’t ready emotionally or physically and sometimes you’re just stacked at a position. That was Knowshon’s situation. There were talented guys and veteran guys ahead of him.”

That’s been the case increasingly the last few seasons. As a result, Richt and his staff have been able to redshirt more liberally.

There are currently 29 scholarship players on the roster that have redshirted and that doesn’t include any of 21 freshmen from this season’s incoming class, the majority of which — likely more than two-thirds — will sit out this season.

The question going forward is, is there someone in the current group of redshirt freshmen who might make the kind of impact Moreno did?

Fellow tailback Caleb King is the easy guess. He was the most decorated signee of the 2007 freshman class and he is slated to backup Moreno at tailback this season. Odds are good that, barring injury, he’ll be given ample opportunity to shine.

Here are five others that may be a little less obvious:

Justin Anderson, Tanner Strickland

6-5, 328, right guard, Hargrave Military Academy

6-5, 328, right guard, Berrien

There is a good chance one of these two players will start the first game. Anderson, nicknamed “Bean,” was one of the most highly regarded signees of 2007, earning SuperPrep All-America honors. But coaches have said inconsistency has held him back. He’s currently listed as the starter at right guard. Strickland, considered the No. 18 prospect out of Georgia by Rivals.com, was sidelined with foot problems last season but catapulted up the depth chart with his performance in camp.

John Knox

6-2, 194, free safety, Statesboro

The Bulldogs are set with starting safeties CJ Byrd and Reshad Jones and they’re very pleased with the development of redshirt sophomore Quintin Banks. But defensive coordinator Willie Martinez says Georgia needs at least a four-player rotation at that position and, so far, Knox is the leading candidate.

“He knows more than he did last year,” Martinez said. “He’s able to run our defense a lot better because he has the experience of going through our spring and fall last year. He still needs more consistency. He’s got a ways to go. But he just needs more practice.”

Charles White

6-1, 217, middle linebacker, Blythewood, Columbia, S.C.

White was nearly called into action when injuries ravaged the linebacker position last season. Though he came to Georgia as an outside linebacker, he’s the sole scholarship player slated to play the Mike, or middle, linebacker position behind preseason All-SEC selection Dannell Ellerbe. Georgia has only nine players on the second line of the defense, so they’re all going to have to play.

Israel Troupe

6-1, 215, flanker, Tift County

A recent injury aside, Troupe remains a favorite to crack the Bulldogs’ wide-receiver rotation this fall. Considered the top receiver in the state by both Rivals and Scout, Troupe put his considerable baseball talents on ice this past spring so he could concentrate on becoming a better football player. He’s down on the depth chart right and special teams will be his initial contribution but look for speed and smarts to get him on the field more and more throughout the season.

Aron White

6-4, 228, tight end, Rock Bridge, Columbia, Mo.

The experimentation at wideout is over. While he remains third string behind Tripp Chandler and Bruce Figgins, the Bulldogs have some “packages” to take advantage of White’s exceptional speed. Though he didn’t gain as much weight the last year that coaches had hoped, he’s an optimal player for special teams — big and fast with a need to impress.

– Courtesy of AJC.com

Will SI Cover Jinx Dawgs?

If Georgia’s schedule weren’t tough enough, the Bulldogs now have an added obstacle this season: the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Ranked No. 1 by the magazine, Georgia — with tailback Knowshon Moreno, quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe featured — is one of five football teams on the cover of the college preview edition. Others include: Florida, Missouri, Ohio State and Southern Cal.

It has been 14 seasons since a team featured on the preview cover has gone on to win the national championship — that was in the 1993 season when Florida State’s Scott Bentley nailed the game-winning kick against Nebraska.

Since then, teams have had zero luck after being splashed on the cover of the popular magazine. In 2007, five schools were featured on separate college football editions — Arkansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Southern Cal and West Virginia. Michigan got upset by Appalachian State in the season opener; Stanford stunned Southern Cal; West Virginia got tripped up by Pittsburgh at the end of the season. Arkansas finished 8-5, and Oklahoma finished 11-3.

In 2006, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Texas and West Virginia were featured on the preseason covers, but Florida defeated Ohio State for the national championship.

This year, Sports Illustrated is predicting Georgia to edge out Florida for the East Division title. Then, the magazine expects the Bulldogs to knock off Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Georgia will try to overcome a jinx that first hit the school in 1981 when running back Herschel Walker was on the Aug. 31 cover. Less than a month later, he fumbled twice and failed to score in the defending national champ’s 13-3 loss at Clemson.

– Courtesy of Augusta Chronicle

Dawgs Nab Sports Illustrated Cover

Dawgs fans — Don’t forget to pick up today’s issue of Sports Illustrated, featuring your Georgia Bulldogs on the front cover!!!  Sports Illustrated is the latest publication to name the Georgia Bulldogs #1 in their Top 20 rankings.

Seven Most Important Games of 2008 — Georgia in two

In every college football season there are a handful of games that are critical to determining the eventual national champion.  This season there are a handful of teams that have the most realistic opportunity to play in the BCS National Championship Game, but they all have key games that could either help or derail their chances. 

The following are the seven most important games of 2008.
 
7.     Auburn at West Virginia
If West Virginia wants to play for the championship in January, they must win all their games.  That includes a tough date with South Florida and an even tougher date with the Auburn Tigers.
Bill Stewart, in his first season as the head Mountaineer, will be severely tested by the Tigers, who were picked by the media to play in the SEC Championship Game.
The Tigers must travel to Morgantown though, and the Mountaineer faithful will be out in force.  I have a feeling that won’t mean much to Tommy Tuberville and his Tigers.  The SEC is full of bigger and louder stadiums.  But will the Tiger defense be ready for Heisman candidate Pat White?
If West Virginia wins this game, it will give them a boost of confidence that could propel them to the undefeated season that has eluded them the last couple of years.
6.     Ohio State at Wisconsin
In what will likely be a battle for the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes will travel to the rough confines of Camp Randall Stadium.  The Badgers are tough at home, and the Buckeyes have not fared well there under Jim Tressel.
But that was against Barry Alvarez’s Badger teams.  Bret Bielema hasn’t gotten the best of Jim Tressel yet.  The bottom line for the Buckeyes: Win this game or your national championship hopes are over.
5.     Missouri at Texas
Missouri came so close last season.  As far as regular season matchups go, their trip to Austin may be the toughest on the schedule.  The Tigers have everyone believing they are destined for a trip to the Big XII Championship Game. 
The Longhorns, on the other hand, are slightly sliding under the radar.  Sure they have to replace Jamaal Charles and Limas Sweed, but can anyone remember the last time that Texas didn’t finish the season with at least 10 wins?
4.     Florida at Tennessee
After last season’s beatdown at the hands of the Gators, the Vols will be looking for payback.  Yes, they lost David Cutcliffe to Duke and Erik Ainge to the NFL, but there are capable replacements for both.  New coordinator Dave Clawson will move players around more, which should be confusing to defenses.
The Gators’ pass defense must improve, but that may be the only weakness for this team.  Florida must win this game, with a tough matchup against LSU and the colossal matchup against Georgia coming in the next few weeks.  A loss here could be very bad for their SEC and national championship hopes.
3.     Georgia at LSU
If the Bulldogs want to get to the BCS Championship Game this season, one major hurdle will be going into Baton Rouge and getting by last season’s SEC and National Championship winner, LSU. 
LSU doesn’t rebuild, but this season will be the closest they have come to “rebuilding” in quite some time.  Still, they are LSU, and Tiger Stadium is one of the toughest college stadiums to play in.  Georgia must bring their A-game if they want to win.  A loss by the Dawgs would mean a serious hit to their national title hopes.
2.     Ohio State at USC
The biggest non-conference game of the season has national title implications written all over it.  The most dominant program from the Big Ten this decade will meet the most dominant program from the Pac-10 this decade, pitting arguably the nation’s top two defenses and top two coaches against each other. 
Ohio State and USC have combined for 11 BCS Bowl appearances, five National Championship Game appearances, two BCS National Championships, 10 conference championships, and four Heisman Trophies since 2001.
The winner of this game will be on a fast track to the 2008 national championship and will be in full control of their destiny.  The loser may not be completely out of the race, but they will have taken a serious hit. 
1.     Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
This game is as big as it gets.  Most likely, this season’s “Cocktail Party” will be a matchup of two top five teams fighting for a right to play in the SEC Championship Game, not to mention the national title implications for both schools.
Then there is this little business of last season’s game.  We all remember it well.  Knowshon Moreno takes the handoff, leaps into the end zone to score the first touchdown of the game, and then is surrounded by his Georgia teammates—yes, all of them, jumping up and down and celebrating wildly in the end zone.
A shot had been fired.  Georgia went on to win that game 42-30, but the Gators remember—the head Gator maybe most of all.
“That wasn’t right.  It was a big deal,” Urban Meyer says in his new book.  “And it will forever be on the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team.  So we’ll handle it.  And it’s going to be a big deal.”
This game is going to be a big deal…a very big deal.
– Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

Sports Illustrated Ranks Dawgs #1

The Bulldogs are No. 1 for the second time.

Sports Illustrated will rate Georgia as the top team in college football when the magazine hits the newsstands on Wednesday.

Among the excerpts in the magazine:

“Go ahead. Try to find a weakness. … Look closely for the chink in the armor of the team that features a third-year starter at quarterback (Matthew Stafford), possibly the second coming of Herschel Walker (sophomore Knowshon Moreno), one of the nation’s best linebacker tandems (Dannell Ellerbe and Rennie Curran)…

The rest of SI’s top 10 are: Ohio State, USC, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas Tech, LSU and Wisconsin.

Georgia debuted at No. 1 in the USA Today/Coaches poll last week.

– Courtesy of AJC.com