When the preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll came out and Georgia wound up at No. 6—just behind Oregon and just ahead of Florida State—Bulldog nation unnecessarily drew a collective gasp as memories harkened back to 2008.
After all, that fateful season is firmly entrenched in the minds of UGA fans after a preseason spot atop the totem poll of college football powerhouses quickly turned into a 10-3 record, no SEC title and a whole bunch of tails tucked between legs.
That one season helped to propagate a myth that the Bulldogs aren't able to live up to preseason expectations.
You know, because one season isn't a small sample size or anything.
Since Mark Richt took over as the head coach of the Athens-based university in 2001, the Bulldogs have managed to outperform their preseason coaches' ranking six times and have failed to live up to their lofty spots on five separate occasions.
Last year, UGA went into the season at No. 22 and came out at No. 20, and the trend of three consecutive declines in the rankings was halted in its tracks.
This season is not going to be 2008 all over again. Dawgs fans won't have deja vu as the Bulldogs fail to seize the moment and waste their second top-10 preseason ranking of the past eight years.
2008 was an anomaly, a season in which anything and everything went wrong, starting with a loss to Alabama in a blacked-out Sanford Stadium, reaching a low point with a 49-10 shellacking at the hands of the hated Florida Gators and culminating in a loss to Georgia Tech to end the regular season that snapped a seven-game win streak against the Yellow Jackets.
When the Bulldogs failed to live up to the expectations in 2009 and 2010, it wasn't because the team underperformed. Instead, the rankings were simply too high to start the year.
I was in Athens for both of those seasons, and no one was quite sure what the coaches were thinking.
The 2009 team was coming off the season that shall not be spoken about any longer and was in no way deserving of a top-15 ranking.
The 2010 squad was overrated because of the presence of a new defensive coordinator and Aaron Murray, a sparkling new toy at quarterback.
This season, the expectations are justified.
Aaron Murray is returning to school and gives the Bulldogs a veteran quarterback who should be a contender for the Heisman—not a front-runner, but a contender—throughout the season. That veteran presence as a signal-caller is a new luxury for the Bulldogs, who have lived through Joe Cox and a developing Murray in recent years.
Additionally, the Bulldogs are going to have one of the best defenses in all of college football.
This will be Todd Grantham's best squad yet, one that returns 20 of its top 22 players to its 3-4 scheme after ranking fifth in the nation in total defense last year.
No matter what defensive position you look at, Georgia will have elite talent.
Finally, the schedule is set up for the Bulldogs to succeed. They avoid the murderous teams of the SEC West, as the calendar is entirely devoid of Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.
If the Dawgs can get past Missouri in the second week of the season, they will be the heavy favorites to take home the title in the SEC East. The game against the newest SEC team will be tough, though, as Chase Vasser, Sanders Commings and All-American Bacarri Rambo are all suspended for the game.
While the secondary is deep enough to live up to the challenge—especially with the transition of Malcom Mitchell from offense to defense—the unranked Tigers could still pull off the upset and derail the Bulldogs' hopes of a championship season.
Even if that happens, Georgia has enough talent and veteran leadership to rebound and have a successful season.
With the schedule, the presence of Murray and the championship-caliber defense that will go to work between the hedges, the Bulldogs are in prime position to live up to their lofty preseason expectations.
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