Well Georgia fans, it's almost here. The 2009 season kicks off in just 30 days. Georgia will head to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to open the season against the 11th-ranked Cowboys. Georgia begins the season ranked 13th in the newly released USA Today poll.
This should be a very entertaining opener. Georgia brings many question marks into the new season. Who will step up and replace the offense provided by Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno? Will the defense regain the junkyard dawg mentality that seemed to be missing last year?
Georgia has plenty of talent returning, and barring injuries should have another great year under head coach Mark Richt.
This year's opener will be a challenge. Oklahoma State has many offensive weapons and will challenge the Georgia defense early. As openers go, this one should be one to talk about for years to come. That thought brings us to our main topic.
The season opener is always a highlight. No matter who the opponent, excitement is in the air. Georgia has always played very well in season openers. The Dawgs are 88-24-3 all time on Opening Day. In Athens, the Dawgs are 48-10-1. The last time the Dawgs lost on Opening Day was 1996—an 11-7 loss to Southern Miss. Not a memory worth reliving.
Many openers are nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Most powerhouse teams will schedule a lesser opponent to warm up against before moving to the meat of the schedule. I looked back at the Georgia season openers in this decade and found several that were much more than a glorified scrimmage. Here are a few that I look back on with a smile.
August 31, 2002 vs. Clemson Tigers
David Greene and DJ Shockley led the way on this particular Saturday. Both threw touchdown passes (DJ threw two) to help give the Dawgs the early lead. Musa Smith led the way on the ground with 105 rushing yards and Fred Gibson chipped in with a 91-yard kickoff return for a TD. Clemson would fight back and tie the game late, leaving Billy Bennett to play the role of hero. Bennett hit on a 43-yard field goal with 5:19 remaining to give the Dawgs the lead. Clemson would miss a 46-yard FG attempt as time expired, leaving the Dawgs with the 31-28 victory. These two teams would take the opener to Clemson in 2003. There was no drama in that one, as the Dawgs blanked the Tigers, 30-0.
September 1, 2007 vs. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State came to Athens for the 2007 season opener. This turned out to be another case of the SEC flexing some muscle. The first half of this one was a battle, as both teams traded scores. Matthew Stafford would throw for two TDs and 234 yards. Sean Bailey would contribute 87 of those yards. On the ground, Thomas Brown would score twice, and Knowshon Moreno would contribute 73 yards. But in the end, the real star was the Georgia defense. The Dawgs shut out the Cowboys in the second half and gained the 35-14 win. Of course the venue will change to Stillwater this year, as the Dawgs return the favor.
September 3, 2005 vs. Boise State
So I would have to say that this one tops my list. DJ Shockley has always been a favorite of mine, and this would be the year DJ got his chance. Boise State was coming in with a lot of hype. Upset in the making was the talk all over the country. As I watched this one at Sanford Stadium with 92,746 of my closest friends, I must admit I was just a little nervous.
Of course, we know now that the hype and the talk was simply that. Boise State was over matched from the beginning. The Dawgs treated Jared Zabransky (a really good QB) like he was in middle school. Zabransky finished his day early, after going 8-17 and throwing four interceptions. How did my man DJ start the season? He simply threw for 289 yards and rushed for 85 more. He threw for five TDs, and ran for another. Six TDs on opening day. Georgia demolished the Broncos, 48-13. Now that is how you open the season.
So there you have it...Just a few openers that sit firmly in this Dawg's memory banks. I believe this year may give us another one. Georgia has a lot to prove this year, and playing well early is a must. Coach Mark Richt is known for his ability to get the best out of his team on the road. Under Coach Richt, the Dawgs are 33-2 vs. non-conference opponents, and 27-4 at the opponents' home field. So my guess is the Dawgs will be ready. Let the countdown begin!