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

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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