For many Bulldog fans, Matthew Stafford's announcement on Jan. 7 to enter the NFL Draft was something they saw coming. Ever since Nick Saban and Company marched into Athens and justified the blackout by burying high expectations for the 2008 squad, it was widely speculated that Stafford was through.
Looking back at his career, a quick glance would see him as a cannon-for-an-arm kid who used the Georgia system only as a stepping stone to advance from Highland Park, Texas to his future NFL career (if the Detroit Lions are still classified as a legitimate NFL team).
Many skeptics have labeled Stafford as an over-hyped athlete, given his failure to win "the big game."
In his senior season, he was winless in arguably his three biggest games of the year against rivals Georgia Tech, Florida, and 'Bama. One interesting note is that none of those games were true road games—the Tide and Jackets picked up a victory in Athens, while the Gators rolled at a neutral location.
In his defense, the man cannot be blamed fully for every loss (he threw for 407 yards and five TDs against Tech), but to some extent, the big shot quarterback should take responsibility for some of the downfalls of 2008.
In his three years at Georgia, he had a handful of moments for which we will remember him once he departs. The one that stands out as "his moment" was his 25-yard picture-perfect touchdown to Mikey Henderson for the overtime win at Alabama in 2007.
Stafford has had some great late-game heroics, but many Bulldog fans feel he did not live up to his potential and is simply bailing on his team.
Stats do not lie, and when Stafford's numbers are examined, it is clear that he has done a lot more for Georgia than he is getting credit for.
He has shown tremendous improvement by increasing passing yards, completion percentage, and touchdowns each year. In his sophomore and junior years combined, he had a 2.2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In 2008, he amassed a UGA school-record 25 passing touchdowns.
Many feel the absence of Stafford in the 2009 season will be a crippling loss that will set the program back several years. Joe Cox will never be a future first-round pick, but he is solid enough to hold the fort.
The thing that most fans do not realize is the future benefits of having Stafford go pro.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. projects him as the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft, which would place him in Detroit (say your prayers for him each night, Bulldog fans). Recruiting at UGA will take a huge step forward if he does end up going that high.
To many young athletes, the prospect of playing for a pro-style offense at a school where the first pick was brought up seems very enticing.
While UGA may take a small step back at quarterback in 2009, Stafford's decision to go pro will likely lead to a brighter future in Athens.