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

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

FSN South, SportSouth to Preview Dawgs

Georgia Bulldogs are Preseason #1

Georgia Bulldogs are Preseason #1

ATHENS——-Beginning on Monday, August 4, the Georgia Bulldogs’ 2008 football season will be previewed in a 30-minute show that will air a total of eight times on either FSN South or SportSouth, it was announced by the regional sports network.

FSN South, which reaches more than 12 million homes across a 6-state region, will air the Georgia preview this coming Monday at 7:00 p.m. (EDT). It will repeat the program the following afternoon at 12:30 p.m. The first of six airings on SportSouth will take place Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and the final broadcast will be Wednesday, Aug. 13 at Midnight.

FSN South has produced a 30-minute preview show on each of the 12 Southeastern Conference teams. Each features highlights and in-depth interviews with head coaches and top players. Georgia’s preview will feature head coach Mark Richt, as well as linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

The complete list of showtimes for the Georgia preview follows:

On SportSouth:
Monday, August 4 at 7:00 p.m. (EDT)
Tuesday, August 5 at 12:30 p.m. (EDT)

On FSN South:
Tuesday, August 5 at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)
Wednesday, August 6 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT)
Wednesday, August 6 at 5:00 p.m. (EDT)
Wednesday, August 6 at 10:30 p.m. (EDT)
Saturday, August 9 at 7:00 p.m. (EDT)
Wednesday, August 13 at Midnight

– Courtesy of Georgiadogs.com