The Georgia Bulldogs roll into the 2008 football season with a lot of momentum, and a lot of pressure to be great.
The Dawgs finished their 2007 campaign on a seven-game winning streak that included 42-30 and 45-20 shootout victories over archrivals Florida and Auburn.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs. Instead they grew into a national powerhouse and barely missed a shot at a seemingly improbable National Title.
Heading into the fall, Georgia returns Heisman hopeful and breakout sensation Knowshon Moreno, the rocket arm of Matthew Stafford, and a fast and furious defense. Ask anyone in the country who the most talented college football team is heading into the season, and they might just tell you the Bulldogs of Athens.
However, with a schedule that could see a game versus a ranked opponent week in and week out, the road to Miami will be a rough and brutal one.
Georgia has all of the tools needed to climb that mountain though. Ignore coach Mark Richt's comments on "this being a different team from last year's." Georgia is absolutely stacked with talent.
The offense will feature the "semi" pro spread offense of Mike Bobo. Bobo likes to mix all sorts of screens and misdirection into an offense that was originally a pro style system.
Leading the offense will be Matthew Stafford, who showed that could improve over time when he turned his 7:13 (TD:INT) ratio into a 19:10 in 2007. Stafford has a solid winning record as a starter as well. Despite his less than impressive stats, Stafford may have the strongest arm in college football and is learning to run the offense rather than show off his talent.
Even if Stafford is efficient, his stats will never be off the charts because of the offense he plays in. So, a word of advice: Just pay attention to his wins and losses (then he might seem pretty darn good).
Toting the rock for Georgia will be the sophomore sensation Knowshon Moreno. Moreno was a Kno-show in Athens before he was Knowshon, and Georgia fans were more excited about Caleb King at this time last year than No. 24. 1,300 yards later, Knowshon has become a celebrity and a household name across the nation, as well as a probable Heisman contender.
Moreno doesn't bring 4.3 speed or wrecking ball-type power to an offense, but he has a forever-running motor and is the definition of "football player." Ironically enough, his favorite sport to watch is basketball, but we won't get into that.
Behind Moreno will be the highly talented Caleb King. King hasn't seen the field in a long time, considering his horrific leg injury during his senior year at GACHS. But despite being crippled and probably getting outrun by six-year-olds, King was one of the most valuable signees UGA has had in a while.
This year we will finally get a look at his talent. King brings more breakaway speed than Moreno does and should be a great changeup tailback.
Also in the young backfield will be freshman Richard Samuel, who was a two-way star in high school and could become a star at either running back or linebacker/safety at UGA, and the shifty legs of freshman Dontavious Jackson.
Brannan Southerland is well known in Athens for being a great fullback, no matter how much the country neglects him. The value of Southerland might become clear in the early weeks of the season due to an injury he suffered in the spring. Southerland should be on the field for the Arizona State game in Tempe, but until then expect Shaun Chapas to block for Moreno and King.
None of the receivers have established themselves at UGA yet, but this may be the most interesting position on the team. Senior flanker Mohamed Massaquoi is extremely talented but hasn't had the stats to back that up in recent years. Massaquoi, however, did become UGA's go-to guy in big play situations towards the end of the year. He is ready to have a breakout final year.
After Massaquoi, the question arises: Do you go with experience or talent? If you choose experience, you get the tall and lanky Kris Durham, the speedy Demiko Goodman, senior Kenneth Harris, or junior Mike Moore—none of whom have established themselves as solid starting receivers.
If you choose talent, you get the choice of highly recruited high school phenoms Israel Troupe, A.J. Green, or Walter Hill. These four guys have impressed the players and coaches, but none have seen a hint of real college football action. Green is the fan favorite to play the other WR position, but he might need to hit the weights and sit a year before taking on the SEC.
The tight end is Tripp Chandlers, the senior from Woodstock, GA, and an established pass catcher and favorite target in big situations.
The offensive line will be young but won't be inexperienced. Tackle Trinton Sturdivant and guard Clint Boling came in as freshmen last year and started to get more press than NFL prospects Chester Adams and Fernando Velasco. Chris Davis will start at center, where he started most of last year when Velasco was out.
The other tackle position should go to Kiante Tripp, a converted defensive tackle. Vince Vance, at 6'8", 320, will be a tower at the other guard position. The line has done some shifting but has plenty of talent.
The defensive line will be anchored by defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins. Owens, who played in the shadows of great defensive linemen like Marcus Howard, Quentin Moses, and Charles Johnson, will finally get his shot in the spotlight. Many football experts have taken note of Owens, as his name is starting to come up on a lot of preseason All-American lists.
Atkins came on halfway through last season as a sophomore last year and spent tons of time wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields.
The defensive ends are questionable. As of now, Rod Battle and Jarius Wynn are expected to start on the edge. Battle will be a two-year starter, while Wynn should be finding his first substantial playing time.
Because of the ongoing nickel scheme Georgia likes to run against spread offenses, the top two linebackers you need to know about are Rennie Curran and Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe heads into the season as the leader of the defense and has star potential.
Rennie Curran, in more ways than not, is the "Knowshon" of the defense. Despite his youth, Curran plays like a missile shooting into the backfield to break up runs. He has the speed to run laterally and shut down anything. Both guys are around 6'0" and 230 pounds—Curran a bit smaller, Ellerbe a bit larger—but both are all-SEC worthy defensive studs.
The cornerback position will be lead by Asher Allen, heading into his junior year. Allen, despite all of the hype, hasn't proven himself as a shutdown corner yet. However, what we have seen from Allen is amazing speed, agility, and athleticism as a part time corner, nickelback, and return man for UGA last year.
The other corner position should go to the small but physical Prince Miller. Despite his 5'8", 190-pound frame, Miller has a great radar and can defend the ball in the air very well.
The rover will be senior C.J. Byrd, who was recruited as an athlete and will be finding his first full time starting job. The other safety spot should go to Reshad Jones, who is the most athletic of the group, and has potential to be a great one here in the future.
Finally, on special teams, you have the second-year starter at punter in Brian Mimbs. At kicker, Georgia will be bringing in highly-recruited Blair Walsh to replace NFL draftee Brandon Coutu. Walsh missed two extra points in his high school all-star debut, but he has the leg to replace Coutu. Let's just hope he can hit the side of a barn.
Asher Allen and Ramarcus Brown should assume return duties.
With all of that said, here are UGA's projected starters:
QB - #7 Matthew Stafford
TB - #24 Knowshon Moreno
FB - #36 Brannan Southerland
WR - #1 Mohamed Massaquoi
WR - #16 Kris Durham
TE - #86 Tripp Chandler
T - #77 Trinton Sturdivant
G - #60 Clint Boling
C - #63 Chris Davis
G - #72 Vince Vance
T - #75 Kiante Trippe
DE - #99 Jarius Wynn
DT - #95 Jeff Owens
DT- #56 Geno Atkins
DE - #41 Rod Battle
LB - #35 Rennie Curran
LB - #33 Dannell Ellerbe
CB - #2 Asher Allen
S - #9 Reshad Jones
S - #5 C.J. Byrd
NB - #3 Bryan Evans
CB - #23 Prince Miller
K - Blair Walsh
P - #32 Brian Mimbs
PR - #2 Asher Allen
KR - #2 Asher Allen
Key reserves: Caleb King, Tavarres King, A.J. Green, Demiko Goodman, Kade Weston, Akeem Hebron, Bryan Evans