As someone who jumped on the Georgia bandwagon early in November, I feel the need to respond to Tim Pollock's article on why Georgia will not win the title. His reasons are well-researched and well-written and his argument precise, and I commend him for that, but he makes one fatal error: Georgia will win the national title.
1. The Hype
There is a huge difference between teams that deserve hype and those that do not. The last SEC team to receive this calibre of hype was Florida in 2001. That was the last Gator team coached by Spurrier and on paper, most likely his best.
I don't think the Gators could have beaten Miami that year, but it would have been a good game. But Florida lost by three at Auburn and then lost by two at home to Tennessee in December. The game was played in December because of 9/11.
Tennessee was not playing well at the beginning of the season and Florida entered the difficult Auburn game without a close game under its belt. Had it not been for 9/11, Florida very possibly would have run the table until it played Miami. I doubt Georgia will fall victim to an event like 9/11.
2. The Schedule
Every team in the SEC has a tough schedule. It is true that Georgia, along with Alabama have the toughest in the conference, but as Pollock pointed out, Florida had the same schedule in 2006.
Given, Alabama was not the same Alabama in 2006 as it is today, but Auburn and Louisiana State are comparable. Additionally, Georgia benefits from Vanderbilt and Kentucky being very down this year and Georgia Tech being nothing but mediocre. Arizona State is a tough early season game, but it will get the team prepared for an even tougher SEC schedule.
It is likely that Georgia will slip up at some point this season, most likely in Baton Rouge, La. or Auburn, Ala., but I can't see it losing more than once. Which brings us to...
The team that has more than anyone else prevented Georgia from being the top team in the SEC East this decade has been Florida. But this isn't the same Florida.
Over the past 18 years in which Florida has defeated Georgia all but three times, Florida has had the best team all but four times. Georgia was the better team last year and the three Ron Zook seasons (2002-2004), but that's it.
Richt is a much more experienced coach than he was during the Zook years and his team is much more complete. The 2002 team's only loss was to Florida, but Georgia benefited that year from a down SEC and playing all its tough games except Florida and Alabama at home.
Now, what about Florida this year?
First, Florida has not beaten Georgia without a bye week in the preceding week since 1992, losing the only two times it had to play (2004 and 2007). This is the case this year.
Second, Florida needs to show it can stop Knowshon Moreno. Moreno ran for a Herschel Walker-like 188 yards against Florida last year on 33 carries, an average of an ungodly 5.7 per carry. Florida only surrendered 103.3 yards rushing per game, the tenth best mark in the country.
To add insult to injury, Florida only returns one starter on the defensive line, although it does return its entire linebacker core. Why should I think that Florida will be able to figure out how to stop Moreno when it couldn't last year with a more talented, more experienced line?
Additionally, Georgia's defense is the best coached in the conference and there is no way that they are not prepared for Tim Tebow. They were prepared for him last year, holding the Florida offense to less than 350 yards and only three touchdowns (the other was an interception return).
Florida needs to have improved substatially more than Georgia has or Georgia is going to have to be severely injured for Florida to stand a chance.
4. Experience in close games
Georgia's performance in close games last year is not dissimilar to that of recent conference and national champions.
Wake Forest had lost 10 games it led or was tied during the fourth quarter of in the two seasons before its ACC-title campaign in 2006.
Florida lost close games to Louisiana State and South Carolina and got blown out by Alabama the year before it won. It also took advantage of favorable officiating to beat a mediocre Vanderbilt team and struggled to beat an equally mediocre Tennessee team. Most importantly, Florida didn't have any huge wins.
However, the team learned from these close calls and the following year was able to close out games and avoid playing down to its opponents.
If anything, Georgia's experience playing close games against inferior opponents is a good thing.
Here is what Pollock wrote:
"Remember, this team did not even win the East last year. Too much has been made about their wins over Florida’s suspect defense, an unpredictable Auburn team, and a completely over-matched Hawaii team.
"On top of that, the Bulldogs were beaten at home by South Carolina. Tennessee destroyed them, and, if not for a Vanderbilt fumble—deep in Georgia territory, no less—the Bulldogs would have left Nashville 0 for the state of Tennessee."
That's very similar to the 2005 Florida team. Florida did not win the east, benefited by beating an inconsistent Georgia team, and struggled to beat an over-matched Iowa club in a bowl game.
Florida did not lose at home, but it did lose to a not-so-good Spurrier team, beat Vanderbilt on luck, and had a game against an equally good team in which it got killed (Alabama).
I cannot deny that Brandon Coutu is not a key loss. He was one of the three best kickers in the country and without a doubt the one with the biggest leg. But the loss of a couple of field goals will be more than made up for by the fact that Georgia's coaching should be much improved.
Georgia's coaching staff is without a doubt the best in the SEC, especially on defense. Georgia has averaged more than 5 defensive draft picks a year under Richt, a number that bears repeating.
Georgia produces to the NFL nearly half a defense every year. Last year it produced one from the most inexperienced and least-accomplished defense Richt ever had.
He will develop the defense, which was still top 20 last year despite its inexperience, into one of the top five in the country.
The offensive coaching underwent a huge change last year as coordinator Neil Callaway had left to be the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham. Mike Bobo's play-calling early in the season was suspect, especially in the unexplainable losses to South Carolina and Tennessee, but was much improved by the end of the season.
And that's the difference: Bobo now has a year under his belt. He couldn't adjust when South Carolina and Tennessee came out and shut down the running game. But by the end of the season, Georgia was routinely rushing and passing for 200 yards per game.
This team has the talent to win a title. It's only major weakness is its receivers, but it has experience. Mohammed Massaquoi has come through before in the clutch for Georgia.
Additionally, quarterback Matthew Stafford was expected to be a top quarterback and he hasn't showed it yet. He's thrown almost as many interceptions as touchdowns, but his accuracy and touchdown-to-interception rate did improve last year.
The offensive line is much more experienced than last year when it started three freshman. So too will be running back Knowshon Moreno, who enters the season as a legitimate Heisman candidate.
The defense, as already discussed, is much more experienced and already showed it could limit a tough offense like Florida. The defensive line is probably the most talented and experienced in the conference.
This Georgia team is deserving of its hype. Last year has prepared it for this year's tough schedule. The team has the experience it needs to win the SEC and BCS championships and there's no reason to think it won't.