After a preseason ranking of No. 1 last year it goes without saying that the bulldogs did not live up the expectations. Georgia Bulldog program in some ways has been tap as the program of long term consistency but not getting over the proverbial hump and winning the big one.
The Bulldogs have a tough program with tough players and excellent coaches. You know you have been in a Dawg fight when you play this team.
But with Stafford and Moreno declaring early for the NFL Draft and some key players on defense the Bulldogs and all other SEC fans are curious to see if the program re-loads or if they are in a re-building mode.
With 2009 Spring Practice upon us I decided to take a look at the schedule of the Bulldogs. Georgia find themselves with a tough out of conference.
They go play a Big 12 team in Oklahoma State and then they entertain a Pac-10 team at home in Arizona State. And, then there is the SEC Schedule.
What were they thinking? Navigating this schedule with success will have college football talking top ten ranking. Failing in just two of these games though and we are talking about gaining experience and building character for next year.
So, there are some key games that make or break their season. There also some games that are just flat out rivalries. Games that you can circle on your calendar right now as must sees. Here are my top five games on the Bulldogs' schedule:
September 5, at Oklahoma State
The Bulldogs travel west again to return the home and home favor to the Cowboys. I think right from the start we will see what Georgia has to offer after losing some key players on offense and defense.
Right away we will get a glimpse of how this young team handles away games; how Joe Cox will lead this team; and what Caleb King brings to the rushing game as the every day back. It has been said that King and Samuels may be more durable and stronger than Moreno and may break more tackles but I think that remains to be seen.
Either way this is huge for the Bulldog program. Right from the start this is their chance to say we have reloaded, we are the SEC, our defense is back, and Stafford who. That's a tall order but I would venture to say that Richt will have this team ready.
For Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, receiver Dez Bryant and offensive lineman Russell Okung are all returning.
The concern lies once again with the defense. Oklahoma State has not had a defense ranked any better than 74th since 2002. They are hoping the recruits and new defensive coordinator they have brought in will change that.
I venture to say Georgia is a touchdown ahead when the whistle blows.
Prediction: Georgia 24 Oklahoma State 17
October 3, Louisiana State University at home
This match up is always a dog fight. Mark Richt himself once said, "Death Valley is loudest he has ever experience." I expect nothing different this time. Georgia went into Baton Rouge last year and pounded LSU's defense for fifty-two points.
It was a match-up of two of the best RB's in the SEC. Moreno had a 68 yard touchdown run in the third quarter that virtually put the game away and he rushed for 163 yards. Charles Scott from LSU rushed for 144 yards.
Georgia had the edge at QB last year as Stafford threw for two and ran for one. LSU's QB Jarrett Lee didn't fair so well as he threw for three interceptions. Two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Along the way though LSU discovered a quarterback in Jordan Jefferson. Couple that with the No. 1 Recruiting class by ESPN's standards and you have another great game coming up this year. These defenses are known for some heavy hitting.
I don't doubt that this will disappoint any fan on that front. So, you can definitely circle this one as the Tigers head into Sanford Stadium with I am sure revenge on their minds. I am predicting an upset here as I think the additions the the Tigers made will be instant contributors.
Prediction: LSU 28 Georgia 24
October 10, Tennessee Volunteers at Tennessee
For the first time in the Lane Kiffin era Tennessee welcomes Georgia into Knoxville and Neyland Stadium. There are so many sub-plots to this where do I start? How about with the fact that Kiffin did everything thing he could raid Richt's staff and garnish Rodney Garner away.
Garner is known for his Defensive line coaching but he is also known as an outstanding recruiter. There is something in Dawg land now known as "The Plane Watch."
Tennessee's staff sent a plane for Garner and as Dawg fans reported back and forth on Dawgvent whether Garner was sited getting on. Luckily for Georgia he never showed at the airport and later told Lane Kiffin no thanks.
Second. Kiffin hasn't been making many friends around the SEC and that is including Coach Richt. Kiffin was reported as saying, "Richt is asleep when it comes to recruiting." Now we Gator fans have our own beef with Kiffin but, I am sure that Dawg fans will be looking forward to this game.
Also, the last time the Bulldogs went to Neyland Stadium I don't think most of his team showed up. The game was over by the second quarter as it was 28-0 at halftime.
Georgia never threaten the outcome in the second half. Even though this game is in Knoxville I think Georgia is in a better depth position than Tennessee.
Yes, Kiffin has a great staff and yes he had a outstanding recruiting class, and yes there is daddy Kiffin but I think Tennessee have bigger holes to fill than the Dawgs. I think the Bulldogs come up big in this one.
Prediction: Georgia 30 Tennessee 17
October 31, Florida Gators, in Jacksonville, Fl
I don't know how you top the anticipated game of 2008. It was a game talked about by ESPN and other coaches. It was deemed as the game to watch by Randy Shannon of the Miami Hurricanes. He stated, "don't watch our game, please watch Georgia-Florida, I guarantee you something will happen in that one."
It was known among all gators that the football players had to do all spring and summer drills in reps of 188 for this. That of course was how many yards KnowshonMoreno had gain in the 2007 Clash in Jacksonville. So it was payback time for all.
We all remember the celebration in the end zone. It was debated and argued about for the entire year. Was it right? What was Richt thinking? From this Gator fan in looking back at it, it was a smart move.
But, now comes the game in 2008. So many side stories. Both teams ranked in the top ten. Both teams looking for the drivers seat in this SEC East Division Race. The winner goes home with their fate in their hands. The loser has to hope for some help later on. By now everyone knows the results but just case you missed it it was 49-10 Florida.
And, to add insult Meyer call three time outs in the last minute and half. I assume that was payback for the celebration in the previous year but, maybe it could have been for Emmanuel Moody to get more yards like Coach Meyer said.
Now, that is debated by all Florida and Georgia fans. The 2009 game is revenge again, Will Georgia be able to answer? Will they have enough depth to compete with the Tebow lead Florida Gators?
This is still a major match-up if you want to win the East in the SEC. Again key contributors now in the NFL Draft for Georgia. And, Florida's key losses are limited to Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. All of this makes this a must see again. I think Richt will have something up his sleeve again.
Losing 16 out of the last 19 does not sit well with such a competitor as Coach Mark Richt. And, even though he and his coaching staff have only been apart of a few of these losses. It was one of the reason he was hired. Beat Florida!
I think there is too much strength coming back in all phases of the game. I think Florida takes the nod at special teams, defense and offense. By no means will Georgia lay down though. And, they will come to hit. They key may come down to the inexperience at QB for the Dawgs.
Prediction: Florida 28 Georgia 17
November 14, Auburn Tigers, at home
To a lot of Georgia this is just as big of a rival as Florida and Tennessee if not bigger. This is a border war. And, the fact that the whole black out jersey hoopla started with Auburn adds to this match-up.
In fact even with a mediocre season at hand for the Auburn Tigers they played Georgia tough in 2008. As matter of fact with just 11 minutes to go in the fourth the Tigers took the lead.
But, Georgia wouldn't be denied as they came storming back with a drive of their own that was culminated with a 17 pass from Matthew Stafford to AJ Green. Georgia never relinquish the lead after that. The trend is that these two teams seem to win on each other field. That has not happen the past two season as Georgia has taken them both.
There is no love loss between these two. Auburn's new Head Coach Gene Chizik even tried to raid the Georgia coaching staff and hire away Rodney Garner from the Bulldogs in the off season.
This I would consider a re-building season for the Tigers. They recruit the same high school players from Auburn, Alabama to Athens, Georgia. With the late coaching changes in Auburn Georgia won that war too and finish in the top 10 or 15 most recruits polls. But, expect no sympathy from Georgia.
This is a bragging rights game and Georgia will do all it can to dominate. Both teams will have new quarterbacks this year. I think though Auburn's needs on offense and defense makes this an easy win for the Bulldogs.
But, because of the rivalry Auburn and Georgia both have this one circled on their calendar. Families are making plans and arguing about their sons and nephews on the perspective teams right now. And, we are not even near the Spring Games. This is a point to game.
Prediction: Georgia 24 Auburn 7
November 28, Georgia Tech, at Georgia Tech
If you were to poll Georgia or Georgia Tech fans from Athens, Ga to Columbus, Ga who is the their biggest rival they all would say each other. Georgia are the Puppies and Georgia Tech are the Bumble Bees. This is a hated one.
The last time Georgia Tech took a game in the series was 2000. But, feeling like they had found there Coach of the future and had found their offense of the future they went in to Sanford Stadium and made it a game. Tech was losing by sixteen at half-time.
But, 214 yards later by RB Roddy Jones and 409 yards of total offense and the Bumble Bees found themselves celebrating on their rivals field; found themselves with a win that erased all the years of misery.
No matter what now they had bragging rights for the year. In offices all across the state the bets were won by Tech fans and it was the Bulldogs fans who had to dawn the jerseys of the Ramblin Rech. Most Bulldogs fan can stomach losing to Florida and Alabama but, Georgia Tech.
Paul Johnson was a genius and the sentiment was that Coach Mark Richt must fire Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez. As Georgia heads south this year an hour to Atlanta, you can be assured there will be nothing but revenge on the minds of those in red and black.
This will be not one of those games they will want to just win but, want to embarrass in the process. The hate is alive and well in this one. Ink this one and if you are anyway near Atlanta make this a must attend.
I think Georgia takes this one on just shear will. I don't think they can go back to Athens with two losses in a row Georgia Tech. I think they find an answer to the triple optioin for this one.
Prediction: Georgia 24 Georgia Tech 21