Ohio State of Mind: How Similar are Today's Georgia Bulldogs to 2002's Buckeyes?

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Ohio State of Mind: How Similar are Today's Georgia Bulldogs to 2002's Buckeyes?
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

If the Bulldog faithful are clear on anything, it's this: Not many outside the Bulldog nation think the Dawgs can win in Stillwater on Sept. 5.

The current arguments are valid. We don't know how good our pass rush will be, we are questionable in our secondary, we do have an unproven man at the quarterback position, and No. 24 is no longer carrying the ball for us.

All we have is one of the best offensive lines in the nation, led by All-American Trinton Sturdivant, a talented group of linebackers spearheaded by Rennie Curran, and two of the best defensive tackles in the country in Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins.

Even still, we will be opening on the road against one of the most powerful offenses in the country in Oklahoma State.

Stillwater will be anything but a cakewalk for the Dawgs, and many expect us to be schooled by the Zac Robinson Trio and promptly dispatched back to Athens, whimpering like little puppies.

So, despite the presence of my clearly Georgia leanings, it is not lost on me that this first game will not be easy.

However, that said, no one thought much of The Ohio State University in 2002 either—remember them?

Now, before all the naysayers and historians jump on me for comparing a National Champion to this Georgia Bulldog club of 2009, please keep in mind that in 2002 Ohio State was not picked to go to the title game.

They were coming off a disappointing 7-5 season that ended in a heartbreaking bowl loss to South Carolina and saw the departures of both Jonathan Wells (RB) and Derek Ross (CB) to the NFL ranks.

As a matter of fact, the book on Ohio State in 2002 was that they had a questionable offense led by a mediocre quarterback in Craig Krenzel and a talented but unproven running back in Maurice Clarett—Maurice Hall was the better performer in the spring, but Clarett eventually won the job.

The offensive line was good, but depth was a concern, and many were holding their breath because an injury to any of the starting five would surely spell trouble for the line overall.

As for the quarterback situation, there was Krenzel, a junior at the time, Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, and Scott McMullen.

It's likely the only thing that kept Krenzel in the starting role was the youth and inexperience of Zwick, the highest rated quarterback in the nation coming out of high school that year. Even head coach Jim Tressel was quoted at one point as saying his team was "striving for mediocrity at that position"—not exactly a glowing endorsement.

Ohio State had a phenomenal defensive line with a front four that was hailed as one of, if not the best in college football that season, touting Will Smith, Darrion Scott, Tim Anderson, and Kenny Peterson—a combination that accounted for more than 165 tackles the prior season.

They also had a talented stable of linebackers to go along with a brilliant safety in Mike Doss and a stellar kicking game led by Mike Nugent and Andy Groom.

The Buckeyes were searching for a new talent at running back—Jonathan Wells graduated and went on to be drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002.

Wells was no Knowshon Moreno, but his legacy in Columbus is sealed by one very big game against Michigan in 2001, where his 129 yards rushing and three scores aided in the Buckeyes winning at Michigan for the first time in six years.

He finished the season with 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns.

His possible replacements for the 2002 campaign were Lydell Ross, Maurice Hall, and Maurice Clarett. Clarett was nothing more than a freshman phenom at the time, and no one knew how explosive a player he would become for Ohio State at that point.

The Dawgs have faced similar criticism thus far.

Our defensive line is not as highly touted as Ohio State's, but with the return of Jeff Owens and the continued great play of Geno Atkins, the only missing ingredient is a pass rusher.

Roderick Battle has shown some signs of life at the defensive end position, and if Justin Houston can return to his G-day form following a two-game suspension, then there is little reason to doubt that Georgia could be a wrecking crew on the defensive front.

Joe Cox is unproven, and many doubt he will be able to lead this team to many victories.

However, like Krenzel, Cox may not have the big arm or the NFL potential, but he does have the ability to lead his team and make the throws that count when they are necessary. He won't light up the stat sheet with huge numbers, but he won't break your heart with mistakes either.

At running back, there isn't a Maurice Clarett lurking in the spot once held by the now departed Moreno, but Richard Samuel has come into his own, and at only 18 years old, he is learning how to be a good tailback in a big hurry.

He may not dominate like Clarett, but he has the tools to be very good at this position. His size, his tough running style, and his ability to hit the hole hard and fast makes him a good candidate to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Our secondary is a question mark, no doubt about that; it may be the one area that is worthy of concern.

Reshad Jones is back for another season but has moved from free safety to strong safety, where it is hoped he can use his big hit ability to provide help in stopping the run.

Bryan Evans will be the new free safety, and he has the speed to keep up with the best of the best in the SEC if he plays like he is capable.

The corners are the question mark, but like the Buckeyes in 2002, the corners may be irrelevant if the defensive line gets pressure on the quarterback and the linebackers can contain the run and take advantage of the gaps opened by the defensive tackles.

Is it a stretch to say that this 2009 Bulldog Football team is going to win the National Title just like the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes? Of course it's a stretch, but prior to that first snap, prognostication and pontification is always on tap—just ask Lou Holtz.

However, one last tidbit worth noting is that Ohio State was ranked No. 13 by the AP Poll to start the season (just like Georgia), and many were skeptical that they would be able to defeat their first opponent, a Big XII team that featured a powerful offense and a record-setting quarterback (just like Georgia) of its own in Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury.

Ohio State went on to beat their Big XII foe 45-21 on their way to securing a National Championship.

Again, this is all conjecture on my part—just having a bit of fun and injecting a touch more positivity into the minds of some of the doubting Dawg faithful.

Is there a National Title at the end of the FBS rainbow for the 2009 Georgia Bulldogs? Odds are good that the answer will be "no," but as the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes can attest to you: That's precisely why they play the games.

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