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SEC 2009 // Athens Answers

When it comes to the blogosphere, few teams are better represented than the Georgia Bulldogs. We asked the author of one of those great blogs, Doug from Hey Jenny Slater, to answer a few questions about the 2009 Dawgs.

What are Georgia fans expecting this year? The Dawgs lost an absurd amount of offense, but there's seems to be a question of whether this is a rebuilding or reloading year.

I actually asked this question on my own blog a few weeks ago. Based on that (entirely un-scientific) evaluation, it looks like our fans are expecting nine wins and a bowl invite, which, given Mark Richt's track record, shouldn't be that hard to cobble together. Only twice in his Georgia tenure has he produced less than 10 wins, and in one of those years, we managed to end up with a 9-4 record despite highly embarrassing upset losses to Kentucky and Vandy. I don't think anyone's seriously expecting an SEC title in '09, but despite the high-profile losses on offense, I think we still have enough of a talent advantage over Tennessee and South Carolina that anything lower than a 2nd-place finish in the SEC East would be seen as underachieving.

In that sense, I'd call this a "reloading year" in spite of the losses of Stafford and Moreno. Consider that if Georgia finishes 9-3 and second in the division, then grabs a 10th win in a bowl game, this team will have finished with the exact same record and conference standing as the 2008 team that was touted for a national title. Granted, that speaks to the degree to which the '08 squad underachieved, but it'd also speak to the stability and relative consistency that Richt has brought to the program.

Realistically speaking, what do you want to see in the Florida game. Do you think Georgia has a real shot at taking down the Gators, or are you hoping to lose while maintaining a modicum of self-respect?

I'm pessimistic and self-loathing enough that I never think we have a real shot at taking down the Gators, yet we've done it twice in the last five seasons, so clearly things aren't completely hopeless. There's no way I'm going to predict a win in the Cocktail Party this year, but that 9-4 team from 2006 stayed within a TD of a Gator team that ended up winning the national title, so I don't think there's any need for us to get blown off the field this time around.

Then again -- and you're sure to hear this repeated numerous times in the next couple months -- Georgia has a 7-1 all-time record against defending national champions, including LSU in '03 and '08 and Florida in the seasons following both of their first two crowns. So while a Georgia win over the Gators this year would certainly be shocking, it would not be unprecedented.

Joe Cox will be ... in 2009, while the offensive line will be ... . Please explain.

Joe Cox will be competent, while the offensive line will be strong. Yeah, those are about the most boring adjectives I could've come up with, but trust me, Georgia fans are quite happy to be carrying those descriptions into 2009.

First, let's take one thing off the table right now: Joe Cox isn't going to be D.J. Shockley this year. Before taking the reins in 2005, Shockley had playing experience in 26 games, in which he threw 130 passes; Cox, on the other hand, has only played in 11 games and attempted less than half as many throws. He does, however, have something that Shockley didn't, and that's the experience of being told "OK, kid, you gotta get out there and win this thing for us" -- you'll recall that he was the one who led Georgia back from a 13-0 deficit in the last 18 minutes of our near-disaster against Colorado in '06. I don't think Richt is going to treat Cox as a "caretaker" of the offense like we did with Joe Tereshinski, but neither are we going to be letting him rip from the get-go like we did with Shockley. I have heard many good things, though, about the leadership role Cox has assumed in the locker room and the way the rest of the team has already been rallying around him, so we'll see.

As for the offensive line, as much chaos as they endured in 2008 thanks to injuries and near-constant shuffling and re-shuffling, let's remember one very important thing: They allowed only 17 sacks all year long (tied for 21st in the nation) and paved the way for another 1,300-yard season from Knowshon Moreno. This, I think, is a testament to the miracles Stacy Searels has worked on the offensive line since we managed to bogart him from LSU in 2007. Now, granted, even as I write this we Bulldogs are grumbling about losing left guard Tanner Strickland for the season due to shoulder surgery -- but if that's the worst thing we have to deal with on the O-line this year, we're still going to be in great shape, and the line is going to give both Cox and our promising but untested stable of running backs every opportunity to shine.

Is Mark Richt coach for life? I'm looking at this sort of like Houston Nutt -- a guy who was pretty successful at Arkansas, but could never quite reach that next level. Is the inability to win a national title, unfairly or not, something that's starting to eat at some Georgia fans?

There is a very small, fringey group of Georgia "fans" (and I use those quotes for a reason) who think Richt's lack of a national title means it's time to trade him for what's behind Door #3, but outside of those yahoos, nobody's seriously itching to get rid of our fearless leader. Which is not to say that there hasn't been some grousing even amongst the sane fans about how Florida has been filling up their trophy case with crystal footballs and we haven't, but look at the guys that will be taking the field for Georgia over the next few years: Aaron Murray. Orson Charles. Marlon Brown. Da'Rick Rogers. Does that group of guys have a national title in them somewhere? Maybe, maybe not, but we're certainly going to give Richt time to find out.

Anything we wrote this week that you want to disagree with or correct?

Nothing major to disagree with -- the only thing that jumped out at me was your assessment that the plot for the South Carolina game has become really predictable because Dawg fans always "predict how badly their beloved Dawgs are going to annihilate the Gamecocks and the hated Steve Spurrier." C'mon, now -- I read the Gamecock message boards just like you do, and the 'Cock fans predict every year that they're going to cram it down our throats, too. And the fact that this only ends up happening about a quarter of the time doesn't stop 'em from being just as vocal about it the following year. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Hey -- we resemble that remark.]

Other than that extremely minor caveat, though, I think you were pretty much spot-on in most of your assessments and predictions. I think you were right to tap the brakes on a lot of the overly exuberant predictions regarding Joe Cox, just as you were correct to call B.S. on the notion that Mark Richt "performs best when expectations are low." Seriously, what coach doesn't? The whole "expectations" game, in the end, becomes almost tautological: The higher expectations get, the harder it becomes, by definition, to meet or exceed them, and the easier it becomes to fall short.

That said, I think Richt and the coaching staff recognize that last year's team underperformed given all of the talent they had at their disposal, and that's going to result in a stronger and more focused effort across the board this year. I doubt there's going to be an SEC trophy in our hands when the smoke clears, but that doesn't mean this can't be a special season in its own right; if we can maintain our 10-win average despite all the personnel losses, this season will be a big confidence-builder for a young but very talented nucleus of guys who could lead us to big things in the next few years.


MONDAY: Georgia Looks for Direction
TUESDAY: Dawg Days
WEDNESDAY: The Secret Life of Evil Richt; Does Mark Richt Do Best When Expectations Are Low?; How Deep are the Dawgs?
THURSDAY: Calling the Canines
LATER TODAY: Mark Richt Has Never Won a National Title. Does It Matter?