I have said this before, but college football is a funny game.
If you are the quarterback, you know that if you win consistently, you will be a big man on campus. Lose, and you will find that you will receive most of the blame for the lack of success your team has.
This season for the Georgia Bulldogs has been one of disappointment and missed opportunity. Despite sporting a record of 8-2 and being ranked 10th by the BCS, the Dawgs have stumbled badly in two games.
For many programs around the country 8-2 would be a tremendous season. In Georgia, for the Bulldogs, it is not.
With two games to go, Georgia may finish the regular season 10-2 and earn a berth in a New Year's Day bowl. However, Dawgs fans will spend most of the offseason pointing fingers, complaining, and anxiously awaiting another chance.
On talk radio these days you will find many "experts" pointing their fingers and finding blame with the play calling on offense, the terrible defense, and the head coach.
Of course, the quarterback will also be the target when it comes to blame as well. As a matter of fact, many Georgia "fans" can't wait until Matthew Stafford packs his bags and heads for the NFL. I heard one guy say, "Joe Cox will be so much better."
To these fans, I ask the question: Are you nuts?
Certainly every quarterback that has ever played the game has made his share of mistakes. With the exception of course being Tim Tebow. (Please note heavy sarcasm.)
For some reason Georgia fans have expected Matthew Stafford to be the perfect quarterback. Writers on this very site have excluded Stafford from a list of "good" quarterbacks.
So forget great...he's not even good?
I am here today to state the case for Matthew Stafford.
Good? Great? Undecided?
High School Hero
Matthew Stafford was born on Feb. 7, 1988 in Tampa, Florida. After living in Dunwoody, Georgia for a short time, his family moved to Dallas, Texas.
He became the star quarterback while at Highland Park High School. In his sophomore year his numbers were outstanding (38 TDs and over 3000 yards). His junior year, however, was disappointing. He threw for only 1700 yards with 18 TDs. He quit playing baseball after that to concentrate on football.
What followed his senior year was a dream come true for any teenage boy. After missing the first two games with a knee injury, he led his team to a perfect 15-0 season and a state championship. He passed for over 4,000 yards and threw for 38 TDs.
It was Highland Park's first state championship in 48 years. It was a big deal!
He was rated as one of the top college prospects in the country. Numerous offers in hand, he chose Georgia. Stafford graduated high school early and enrolled at UGA in January 2006.
The Stafford Effect
All eyes and many high school students from Highland Park followed him to the University of Georgia. The "Stafford Effect" is what it is called at Highland Park: 35 seniors from Highland Park followed Stafford to Georgia in 2005.
In 2006 another 69 made Georgia their college of choice, followed by 75 more in 2007.
In 2008 that number grew to 106 seniors who decided to make the trek to Athens and follow Stafford's lead.
Needless to say, he immediately became a "big man on campus."
Stafford says he doubts he has anything to do with the influx of students from Dallas. Most would not agree.
A Georgia Bulldog
Stafford eventually started his freshman year, finishing the season 6-2 as a starter and leading Georgia to wins over top 20 teams in each of their final three games.
As a sophomore, Stafford led Georgia to an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii. Many in the country believed that no team was playing better than Georgia at the end of the year.
Stafford would end the season with over 2500 yards passing and 19 TDs. He threw three TDs in the Dawgs' win over Florida, threw the game winning score in overtime against Alabama, and led Georgia to a second straight win over Auburn.
Georgia headed into 2008 with high hopes, and rightfully so.
Most of the pundits who picked Georgia No. 1 in the preseason polls believed that Stafford was on the verge of a great season. Stafford and redshirt sophomore Knowshon Moreno were both mentioned as possible Heisman candidates.
But we all know how the story turns here. The Dawgs lost to Alabama at home and to Florida in Jacksonville and suddenly many were looking for a fall guy. After all someone has to take the blame...
Georgia has certainly faltered in their biggest games this year. Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Matthew Stafford. But Matthew Stafford is not the problem at Georgia.
Stafford is having one of his best statistical seasons. He has completed 60 percent of his passes. He has thrown for more yards (2,587) this season than he did all of last season. He has thrown 15 TDs and has been intercepted eight times.
Matthew Stafford is a pure pocket passer. He goes to the line of scrimmage with two plays, and according to his head coach he makes the right decision on which one to call most of the time.
He does not look to the sideline for guidance, and according to his teammates he is the leader in the huddle, on the sideline, and off the field.
His arm strength has never been questioned. Sometimes it is that arm strength that pushes him towards a bad decision. Other times, it is what adds to his highlight reel.
Good or Great?
While his numbers may not match those of certain quarterbacks around the country, they are certainly respectable for a quarterback who plays in a pro style offense.
Knowshon Moreno has rushed for over 1000 yards in consecutive seasons, and has 15 TDs this year of his own. That kind of balance on offense will certainly reduce a quarterback's passing numbers. After all, there is only one football to go around.
With the injuries and youth of his offensive line this season, I cannot imagine anyone blaming Matthew Stafford for Georgia's woes.
Stafford has been superb at times. In those games where Georgia did not show up (yes, Alabama and Florida), he has made mistakes when trying to overcome large deficits, but that is to be expected.
In the coming months, Stafford will make a very important decision.
Draft experts Pete Prisco and Mel Kiper both believe that Stafford will be a first round draft pick in the NFL draft.
Kiper predicted Stafford would be the first pick in the NFL draft when he left college. He said that before Stafford ever played a game for the Bulldogs. Prisco calls him "a strong armed, pocket passer with a little swagger." Gary Danielson calls him the "Gunslinger." They believe he is perfectly suited for the pro game.
With all that said, can we answer the question, good or great?
Stafford may not be at the "great" level just yet as a quarterback. Talent-wise, I think he is already there. If he stays at Georgia for his senior year, I believe he will get to that next level.
Is he overrated? I don't believe that he is.
If Georgia wins an SEC championship next year with Stafford at the helm, he would silence the doubters. There will be little left to argue.
I still think the best is yet to come for this young man, so be careful what you wish for, Georgia fans.
Stafford will play in the NFL soon enough. It is my hope that he stays at Georgia, and we can call him a Bulldog for one more season.