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

Everyone’s Right; It’s All About the Schedule For Georgia

You know the old saying: if you say something enough times, most people will start to believe it.

It often holds true in sports, specifically in college football. For example, some recent conventional wisdom says that Ohio State should be barred from ever playing for the national title again, that players magically shave a few tenths of a second from their 40-yard dash times when they commit to SEC schools, and that Tim Tebow’s bum shoulder caused Florida’s defense to give up 42 points in last year’s loss to Georgia.

None of those things are true, of course, which is why I tend to greet any widely-held off season belief with a healthy amount of skepticism.

Unfortunately for fans of preseason No. 1 Georgia, though, there’s one such opinion I’m having a hard time trying to disprove. That is, on its best day, Georgia might be the best team in the country this year, but a brutal schedule will not allow a chance to prove it in the BCS championship game.

Though the schedule has been discussed ad nauseam this summer, here’s a quick refresher: Five teams ranked in the preseason coaches’ poll, as well as the twenty-sixth- and twenty-seventh-ranked teams, five of them away from home.

I’ve tried to look at this thing from every angle over the last several months, and in this case, conventional wisdom is right on the money. In order to realistically play for a national championship, the Bulldogs would have to go no worse than 11-1 against that schedule and then win a rematch with LSU, Auburn or Alabama in the SEC title game, a feat I’m not willing to predict. (Yes, I’m aware LSU won it all last year with two losses, but judging by 100-plus years of college football history, a two-loss team playing for another national title is much less likely than Georgia running the table this season.)

Plain and simple, the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs would have to be one of the greatest (and luckiest) teams of all time to finish the year with fewer than two losses. It’s not just the number of ranked teams they must play, but the order in which they must play them.

As a longtime college football fan, I’ve found that teams need more than just great players, which Georgia has, to win championships. They need to stay relatively injury-free and catch a few breaks along the way. The Bulldogs know this all too well, as starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant was lost for the season with a knee injury earlier this week.

But it’s hard to stay healthy while playing back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, which allows very little time for recovery. And it’s only natural for a team that’s running on fumes to need some lucky bounces to escape from a tight conference game with a win.

That’s why I expect to see Georgia lose early, once during a three-week run of games at South Carolina, at No. 16 Arizona State, and home against Alabama. The Gamecocks will be breaking in a new quarterback and coming off consecutive games against North Carolina State and Vanderbilt, but if the Bulldogs get past that one, they must take a cross-country flight the next week to take on a Top 25 opponent. Then they’re right back home for another tough conference game.

his is the type of stretch in which injuries begin to pile up and fatigue can take its toll. Depth comes into play, and though Georgia should end the season as one of the deeper teams in the country, it often takes longer than two or three weeks for new contributors to settle into their roles.

And even if the Bulldogs do get through the first eight weeks unbeaten (they also have No. 18 Tennessee at home Oct. 11), there’s that four-week stretch that could be as daunting as any team has ever faced: at No. 6 LSU, versus No. 5 Florida in Jacksonville, at Kentucky, and at No. 11 Auburn. No breaks. No home games. Half of the conference schedule.

I think it’s extremely generous to predict a 3-1 record over those four weeks. Because the games come so late in the season, those teams’ biggest question marks will have long been answered.

LSU’s only potential weakness lies at quarterback, but by the time they face the Bulldogs, the Tigers’ new signal caller will already have faced Auburn, Florida and South Carolina on the road. If Florida sees any improvement from a young defense, it could make a case for being a stronger title contender than Georgia. And Auburn’s new spread offense should be well in place by the twelfth week of the season.

This is not to say Georgia absolutely cannot win the national title more than a few are predicting for them this season. It’s just that, more than any other legitimate contender out there, the Bulldogs are facing an uphill battle.

It’s not enough to be a great team, even if you’re dealing with a weak schedule. You’ve got to have luck on your side.

And looking at their schedule, the Bulldogs might want to think about trading in those black jerseys for a little of Dublin High’s green and gold this year.

So even if it might be foolish to make projections about so many games that, in some cases, are more than three months away, if I was forced to do so, my best guess would be that Georgia ends up as the best three-loss college football team anyone has ever seen.

– Courtesy of the Dublin Courier 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.

Bulldogs Face Tough Road To Miami

Hoover, AL – When Florida captured its BCS national crown in 2006, the road to the title was treacherous. The Gators survived with one just loss, while defeating Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas and Ohio State.

The Georgia Bulldogs are the preseason favorite by some publications to the win the national championship this season. The Bulldogs schedule closely resembles Florida’s 2006 challenge.

Georgia has its usual SEC East opponents and faces three of the top teams in the Western Division — LSU, Auburn and Alabama. The Bulldogs make trips to Baton Rouge and Auburn.

“It’s going to be tough. Our bodies are going to be tired going from this team to that team. You’ve just got to fight through it,” said Georgia defensive lineman Jeff Owens. “You just have to look in the mirror and know what you are here for. We’re here to win games. We are going to have to be great to win all of the big games. You can’t say your a good football team if you can’t win the big games.”

– Courtesy of Arkansas Sports Network

More Nat’l Title Talk

Courtesy of AP:

The Georgia Bulldogs were still celebrating a Sugar Bowl victory when the national title talk started.

A mere year in advance.

“That’s too long to be chewing on that bone,” protested Bulldogs coach Mark Richt Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days.

Sorry, coach. It’s your turn.

Judging by preseason — and postseason — buzz, Georgia might just be the best bet to bring the powerhouse SEC a third straight national championship and a fourth since 2003.

Two big reasons: Stars such as tailback Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford among 17 returning starters. A runner-up finish to LSU in January, capped by a blowout Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii.

The challenges, which Richt rattles off much more readily: Road games at Arizona State, defending champ LSU and Auburn. A grudge match with Florida, which won the national title two years ago but lost to the Bulldogs last season.

“Here’s our deal: We know everybody on our schedule can beat us,” Richt said. “We know everybody in our division can and has beaten us.

“Everybody we play, they all know how to win. We don’t sit there and say we got this one and that one and boy that will be a tough one. We know they’re all going to be tough. When we win games, I feel relief. I know every victory’s a tough one.”

Especially in the SEC, where teams take turns battering each other around for eight Saturdays each season. Not to mention the league championship game, which Georgia didn’t even make in 2007.

“It seems like we just knock each other out week in and week out,” Bulldogs defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. “But who knows who’s going to play for the national championship in January. There’s a long road ahead.”

And, of course, a lot of potential roadblocks.

Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer, the dean of current SEC coaches, said the league is in the best shape of his 16-year tenure. He’s one of five SEC head coaches who have won national titles, joining South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (at Florida), Alabama’s Nick Saban (at LSU), LSU’s Les Miles and Florida’s Urban Meyer. Three are in the SEC East.

“I guess we just happen to be playing in the best division in the best conference in the entire country,” said Fulmer, who won it all in 1998.

The West isn’t bad either. LSU won national titles in 2003 and ’07, and Auburn’s ’04 team was unbeaten but didn’t get to play for the BCS title. Plus, former Louisville and Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino has taken over at Arkansas, while Mississippi has former Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt at the helm.

“Our conference is the toughest conference in the country,” Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. “We’ve got more national championships, we’ve got more players in the pros. So our talent level in this conference is the best in the country. The quality of our coaches is the best in the country.”

While Georgia seems to have the fewest question marks, Florida and LSU are also projected as highly ranked teams opening the season.

The Bulldogs incidentally play those teams in consecutive weeks Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. They can consider themselves marked Dawgs.

“I think it will be a very big game to say the least,” Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. “It could be (two of the) top few teams in the country playing that game with the right to play in the SEC, maybe national championship, for the winner of that game. They’ve got a great team.”

LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson said the Tigers aren’t wasting time admiring their championship rings. Miles won’t let them.

“When we got our rings in June, Coach Miles told us to move on and put it behind us,” Jackson said. “It’s really not hard to move forward if you have a team that is hungry like we are. We know what we have to do.”

Richt knows what his team has to do too: Handle the hype. At least four preseason publications have picked the Bulldogs preseason No. 1. The AP preseason poll will be released in mid-August.

“It’s a curse if you think it gives you a sense of entitlement to where you think you don’t have to prepare,” Richt said. “It could be a blessing if you look at it as one of the greatest opportunities of your life and you put the work in to even be in position to have a chance.”

New York Newspaper Predicts a Bulldog National Championship

On Wednesday, July 23, New York Metro Newspaper ran a story about top summer sports stories. #7 was as follows: “Tim Tebow. We debated this one for quite some time, but the Heisman Trophy winner, who dabbled this summer as a doctor in the Far East, is slightly overexposed. Tebow was treading in dangerous water when he was photographed wearing Crocs. Then, he nearly drowned when he refused to be on the Playboy All-American team due to his religious beliefs. It makes us even more confident about our Georgia Bulldogs-as-national champs prediction, though. Noshawn (sic) Moreno wouldn’t be caught dead in Crocs.”

TRUE THAT!