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Prelude to a Season: #12

12.) Georgia Bulldogs

GeorgiaWhat You Need to Know
For the Bulldogs, 2009 shapes up nothing like 2008. 08 began with monumental expectations, numerous #1 rankings and show stoppers in the backfield and under center. There were question marks surrounding their schedule and the offensive line, and those may very well have been the undoing of a potential Cinderella 2008 for the Bulldogs. After losses in conference to Alabama and Florida as well as a season finale heartbreaker against Georgia Tech in Athens, the Bulldogs were relegated to the Capital One Bowl, where they promptly dispatched Michigan State. 10-3, a Bowl win, and another good season for a head coach with an 82-22 would be reason for celebration for most teams, but not this one. This one who was expected to contend for a national title, and watched the hardware instead go to conference rival Florida.

Unlike 2008 where the Bulldogs were long on talent at the skill positions but short on experience in the trenches, 2009 sees Georgia return 7 starters on the offensive side, none of whom play QB or RB. Everyone knows Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford departed but lost amidst those two was WR Mohamed Massaqoui who was lost in the shadow of other receivers but a talented threat for Stafford. Among the returners is standout sophomore WR A.J. Green, who led the team in receiving yards last season. Also returning is every starter along the offensive line, who have a year of experience together under their collective belt. The heavy burden of replacing Moreno and Stafford fall to senior QB Joe Cox and sophomore RB Caleb King, who have the benefit of a veteran offensive line protecting them as they learn the ropes of the toughest conference in football.

Defensively, Georgia returns 7 starters to a unit that was ranked 10th in the SEC in terms of scoring defense and 6th in the conference for total defense. They lose Jeremy Lomax and Corvey Irvin on the defensive line, as well as CB Asher Allen. Leading the defense this year falls to two juniors, LB Rennie Curran and SS Reshad Jones. Curran will get nods on All-American ballots given another outstanding season, and Jones is an outstanding athlete with remarkable field presence, just as likely to make a jarring hit as a highlight reel INT. Georgia needs to markedly amp up their pressure and pursuit of opposing QBs, as they were only 72nd in the country in sacks last season.

The schedule for the Bulldogs is tough but not nearly as tough as the murderers’ row in conference like 2008. Their out of conference schedule opens and closes with significant tests, against Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech, both on the road. In conference, their road tests are Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vandy, while their home contests are South Carolina, LSU, Auburn, and Kentucky. Their annual rivalry with Florida is contested in “neutral” Jacksonville.

For Richt and the Bulldogs, 2009 is a season about restoring the glory of a program that definitely did not live up to lofty preseason aspirations last year. The Bulldogs may be a year away from contending for a conference title, but this is a team capable of beating anyone on their schedule.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
WR A.J. Green: 56 rec, 963 yds, 8 TDs
LB Rennie Curran: 115 tkls, 3 sacks, 10 TFL, 2 FF
SS Reshad Jones: 76 tkls, 2.5 TFL, 5 INTs

Game to Watch
For Georgia to entertain dreams of playing in the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship they must first win the East division, and their ability to do that will rest on their performance in their Halloween showdown with Florida. A win not only shocks the SEC and the nation, but puts the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat for the conference championship berth.

They’ll Do Well If…
… Joe Cox steps into the starting quarterback role and succeeds from the get go. Cox and company get a stout challenge to open the season, where a win means added confidence and the chance to do something unexpected. A loss knocks Georgia down a peg in the national polls, as well as creates a sense of urgency amongst the fans and players.

Season Outlook
Georgia in any other conference would be a championship contender. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they play in the toughest division of the toughest conference around. Out of conference, Oklahoma State would be a tough test any time, but opening the season against them on the road with an unproven batch of skill players doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs. However, in a game where defense figures to be key, give me the Bulldogs. In conference, a loss against Florida is the only “given” in our mind, as the Bulldogs will be favored in every other contest. The season-finale against Georgia Tech is a toss-up, with the advantage going to the home team. When the dust settles on 09, Georgia will be on the outside looking in for the SEC Championship, but at 10-2 and 7-1 in the SEC, that’s a fine season and worthy of a major Bowl game.

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