No matter how many ways you slice the 2009 season, the writing is clearly on the wall in the SEC—Florida is the chosen one.
However, what if Florida stumbles along the way and Georgia, well, doesn't?
Five things would need to happen to put the Dawgs in the coveted slot that many are already holding for Florida. Anything is possible. I mean, the games do have to be played before someone can crown a champion, right?
Last I checked, Georgia is undefeated just like Florida so, that gives them just as good a chance as any other Division I team.
So what are the five things that will allow Georgia to remain in the hunt?
1. Beat Oklahoma State
No way around this one, I'm afraid. The Dawgs have to come out the gate in GATA mode (that's "Get After Their A--" mode for those of you who didn't know). It's not an altogether impossible feat. The Cowboys are pretty good on offense, but they aren't unbeatable.
The Big 12 has been known to produce juggernauts, but you bring a solid defensive line to the table and those offensive lines simply are not prepared. They stumble a bit, trying to adjust to the bullrush of a hefty SEC smack in the teeth.
If the defensive line can hunker down and smack the Cowboys in the mouth from snap one, the game won't be close. Forget about Dez Bryant. He won't be a factor if the Dawgs can muzzle Zac Robinson's timing via a legitimate pass rush.
A win in Stillwater is possible and probable if the Dawgs play their brand of football.
Key Stats: The Dawgs are 14-7 versus the Big 12 (3-0 versus OSU), OSU is 19-40 versus the SEC (4-12 at home versus Top 25)
2. Stay healthy
This is an obvious one but it has to be stated. Georgia had 23 season-ending injuries last season. Jeff Owens and Trinton Sturdivant were key losses on each side of the ball and their loss set the tone for the season.
This year, so far, has seen few significant losses...so far.
However, Justin Houston is suspended for the first two games, Tanner Strickland (a key backup on the offensive line) is out for the year, and Caleb King is nursing a gimpy hamstring—all figured to be a part of the rotation this season.
However, none of the losses to this point have been on the level of what we saw last season. That, in and of itself, is a blessing.
The sustained health of both the offensive and defensive lines will be a key component of success for the Dawgs this year.
3. Beat Arkansas
We don't play the Hogs much, but the word in Fayetteville is that Petrino has his team playing significantly better football than any thought possible this early in his tenure. It's a pretty good bet that they will be bowl eligible this season and they will be hungry to make a statement in their first SEC home game of the year.
The Dawgs will face the Hogs in week three—fresh off the always-tense game against South Carolina. Arkansas will be fresh on September 19, having had an early bye week and, likely, a non-strenuous game versus Missouri State in the season opener.
By contrast, the Dawgs will have faced both Oklahoma State and, as mentioned, South Carolina. The possibility of the team coming in a bit tired or unfocused is always a possibility and that could make them upset material for Arkansas.
Watch out for Ryan Mallett, the former Michigan QB. He's 6'7", 248 lbs, and has a rocket for an arm. He's not very mobile, obviously, but I only need mention one name to Georgia fans: Jared Lorenzen (former Kentucky quarterback).
Mallett can take a hit and, just like Lorenzen, defensive lineman have been known to bounce right off of him. Furthermore, Michael Smith (rushed for 1,110 yards last season) must be contained if Georgia expects to keep the tempo in their favor.
There's no reason the Dawgs shouldn't win this game but that's precisely why it's so dangerous.
Key Stats: The Dawgs are 30-4 as the visiting team under coach Richt (8-3 versus Arkansas). Arkansas is 3-10 off a bye since 2002; Petrino is 6-8 versus Top 25 teams, overall, as a head coach.
4. Limit penalties on defense
The Dawgs played some very undisciplined ball last season, particularly in the second-half of games. Coach Martinez will need to find a way to keep his guys focused on the task at hand while maintaining defensive intensity.
There's nothing wrong with the Georgia defensive scheme. It was there under Van Gorder and it worked to perfection; the personnel is the difference, not the scheme.
Guys have to be in position to make the plays—missed or poor tackles have nothing to do with Martinez. Guys missing coverage assignments have nothing to do with Martinez. Coach Willie has been known to hit a wall, at times, where mid-game adjustments are concerned, but if he makes the proper call, the players must execute.
If the defense is focused, they will dominate. Period.
The return of Jeff Owens will solidify the line play which will help our linebackers put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If that happens, the secondary won't have to be as concerned about deep ball coverage.
Discipline + Execution = Success.
Key Stats: The Dawgs averaged 72.2 penalty yards per game in 2008.
5. Win in Jacksonville
As long as Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer remain a duo (thankfully just one more season), the SEC Championship will go through the Florida Gators. Coach Richt must remove this albatross from his neck if he ever expects to shake off the naysayers.
Florida has a loaded team on defense and will bring back a one-man wrecking crew in Tim Tebow.
Does that mean the Dawgs can't beat the mighty Gators? No. However, it does mean that we will have to do more than show up and dance around in the end zone if we expect to escape Jacksonville with a "W". If we can beat Florida, we will win the SEC. That's a fact.
Key Stats: The Dawgs are 10-2 off a bye since 2002 (including 1-0 versus the Gators under Richt).
The season is a long one and a lot of chips will need to fall the Dawgs' way if they expect to win or contend for a national championship this season.
Every game matters and, as the coaches like to say, it's important to take it one game at a time. Even so, Georgia can make a run at the title—it's not that far-fetched an idea.
Some may say it's crazy to overlook Georgia Tech and LSU. True, but, Georgia Tech's defensive line is a bit of a concern so if the Dawgs can maintain a solid run effort, the passing game will be just as efficient as last season.
As for LSU, they are a mean team to face at any point in the year but the Dawgs have had their number as of late and there is no reason to believe that won't continue.
It won't be an easy road—the road to a national title never is— but the Dawgs' journey begins September 5.